Saturday, July 30, 2016

Monthly Rewind: July

3 Things About My Life This Month

A homemade lemon cheesecake with peach slices!

1. I spent an amazing final week in India. Our last week was filled with visits from family--I got to see my cousin after eight years and she's the only one who's around my age and it was so nice to catch up! My grandmother's best friend also flew down from North India to spend the weekend with us. She has a close friend who lives in the same city but who has a huuge house and we stayed up late watching movies, drinking wine, and grilling tandoori chicken and paneer on his barbecue. We also went on a long four kilometer walk on this road that's shaded by banyan trees, planted by a childless couple a few years ago. It was beautiful and I'm so grateful to have left India with so many wonderful memories.

2. I was on, arguably, the worst flight of my life. From Frankfurt to Newark our flight back home from India was turbulent and terrible. I was asked to participate in all kinds of additional security screening both in Frankfurt and in Newark (because, you know, I look low-key terrifying apparently) and, to top that off, they lost one of our bags on the flight. So. We did get our bag after three days, thankfully, but it was an experience I don't want to repeat.

3. I'm kind of getting into...booktube? I've enjoyed a lot of mediums of the book blogosphere that aren't traditional reviews, from podcasts to interviews and blog tours, but I've found it really tough to get into booktube. I don't find a lot of booktubers I like to listen to or watch or, really, whose tastes align with mine. I follow the bloggers I follow because I trust their recommendations implicitly but it's harder for me to know that on booktube because so many of the videos are fun tags. So, if you have recommendations of booktubers I should watch, let me know!! I really want to get into this sphere of book blogging but I don't know where to start or if I'm doing it right so...HALP!

Top 3 Books I Read this Month

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The Rose Society is the sequel to The Young Elites and is even better than its predecessor--a definite favorite of 2016. Hope and Red is a novel I practically just finished and I'm so impressed by it. It's an adult fantasy that took me by surprise and I'm really looking forward to the sequel already! And, of course, The Wise Man's Fear is brilliant. The sequel to The Name of the Wind, this book is as engaging as its predecessor and Patrick Rothfuss does not disappoint.

3 Most Popular Posts this Month

1. Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

2. 2016 Releases from the Second-Half of the Year that I Cannot Wait to Read

3. Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Post I Wish Got a Little More Love

Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

I am just so impressed by this series. I've been struggling to find a YA Fantasy series that I can really get behind, especially since fantasy is the new "in" trend in YA now, and it isn't until I picked up this series that I actually found it. Most YA fantasy reads like fantasy-lite, rip-offs of epics like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones that have been re-written, with a few more love triangles and a lot less politics. It's a disservice, I think, to young adults who genuinely love fantasy and can take on the vicious, often violent nature of adult fantasy, including the complex world-building. I have high standards for my fantasy, so a lot of fantasy-lite that many readers have been loving have failed to make me join the bandwagon. But I totally adore this series--it's vengeful, full of politics, unpredictable (really!!) and the characters are all good and bad, falling into shades of gray. The Young Elites is great and its sequel is even better, which is a tough act since most YA Fantasy novels that even start off promising quickly veer away into disappointment. But not Marie Lu's sophomore series. Read. It. You won't be disappointed.

Posts I Starred in My Blog Reader this Month

Jennifer Aniston wrote this fantastic piece in the Huffington Post titled, "For the Record" talking about media--mainly paparazzi--coverage of the lives of celebrities and particularly celebrity women and what those expectations can do and how harmful they can be. Essentially, it's about objectification. Of course, I am all about women ranting about female injustices. Duh, I loved this piece.

Here's an article I came across titled, "Why You Could be Better Off Alone." I think everyone gets a lot of crap for being single or, more so, for doing things alone. For eating alone. For sitting at a table alone. For taking a vacation alone. I love doing things with my friends but too often I've just decided to not experience something if my friends weren't free or couldn't join me--and that's doing a disservice to myself. I firmly believe that you shouldn't let the perceptions of others dictate whether or not you do something by yourself. If we could all stop being sympathetic to the person eating their lunch or dinner by themselves and instead appreciate their courage and gumption and let them enjoy their time with their thoughts, I think we'll all be better off for it.

Obsession of the Month

If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have noticed that I sped through the entire Elemental Assassin series this past month. Yes, all fourteen released full-length novels and three of the novellas that are most important to the series. So, it's safe to say that I've obsessed with Jennifer Estep and her adult urban fantasy series, starring Gin Blanco and her whole crew of friends and family. I'll be posting a series review of the books that have been released (there are, so far, two more scheduled) later this month but let me just say: this is one hell of a good ride. Few writers can hold my attention for fourteen books, but Gin's adventures just get more and more interesting. They're never repetitive or boring or tedious, which can sometimes even happen after THREE books with the same protagonist, so I don't know how Estep does it, but it works. In fact, Book 12, Black Widow, is my favorite of the series and, IMO, the best book. Book 12. If you haven't already, and are a fan of UF, definitely don't miss out on this.

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to Next Month

1. Friends! I didn't manage to meet a ton of my friends in July, but I'm hoping to catch up with them in August--even some friends who live farther away!

2. Mentor! Wellesley's Hindu Chaplaincy is going through a weird phase right now, where our old chaplain left and an interim will be in place this year and then we'll finally get a new, official one the year after that. I'm really close with the chaplain and was so, so sad that she would be leaving Wellesley but, as luck would have it, she's moving to NJ! So I'll be seeing her next month, along with her family--who I am also irrationally attached to. She's been a mentor, teacher, friend and older sister to me during my time at Wellesley so I'm really looking forward to spending some time with her and introducing her to my family.

3. I'M GOING TO PARIS! As many of you know, I will be studying abroad in the South of France next semester. It's a program arranged through my college--although I applied to study in a different university from the one the program is linked to--and we have an eight-day orientation in Paris before we make our way to the South of France to meet our host families. I'm so, so excited about this entire semester since I've never been to Europe and this will be my first time--and what better city to begin my European journey with than Paris?

I'm also incredibly nervous, though. Of course, nervous about speaking French for four months, nervous about taking classes in French, nervous about conversing with my host family, nervous about the inevitable culture shock, nervous about making friends, nervous about signing up for my courses, etc. But I'm also nervous that Paris will...disappoint. I've been dreaming about Paris for YEARS. I've been seeing it in movies and television, envisioning it in my favorite books and memoirs and now...I'm so scared it won't live up to my expectations.

But, despite my fears, I can't really imagine that I won't love my time there. There are a lot of unknowns and new experiences which will be charging at me, head-first, all at the same time, but I'm sure that being in Paris will make them a whole lot more manageable.

What are you looking forward to next month? What books did you read this past month that were fantastic? Any exciting trips or plans to round out the summer? I'd love to hear in the comments below! (And don't forget to recommend me booktubers and, as always, books! If you have any places I shouldn't miss out in Paris--or all of France, for that matter--please let me know! I've never been to Europe and could use any and all advice!)

Monday, July 25, 2016

ARC Review: Vicarious by Paula Stokes

Title: Vicarious (Vicarious, #1)

Author: Paula Stokes

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: August 16th, 2016

Paula Stokes is full of surprises. When her debut, The Art of Lainey, burst onto the scene, ticking off all the right boxes for Contemporary YA, I thought for sure that I had discovered a new go-to author for the genre. Imagine my surprise when her sophomore novel, Liars, Inc. was full of mystery; a thriller featuring diversity in multiple ways. I knew her next contemporary novel would be stellar, but Girl Against the Universe surpassed my wildest expectations. So, when Vicarious fell into my lap, I knew only one thing: I would not be disappointed. And I was absolutely right.

Stokes's latest is a far cry from any of her previous novels. And, I suspect, to a large degree it's wildly different from most other YA novels out there, even within its genre. Winter, our heroine, owes everything to her older sister, Rose, and foster brother, Gideon, who helped her escape North Korea and, later, trafficking in California. Now, Winter works for Gideon, recording dangerous activities to create ViSEs. With a ViSE, not only can you see from the eyes of the recorder, watching as they bungee jump or escape the cops, but you can feel their neural impulses--the adrenaline, the fear, the excitement. While Rose spends her time in clubs, dealing with her past the only way she knows, Winter trains, making herself impenetrable and working her body to withstand even the most deadly of actions. But when a ViSE of Rose's murder turns up in Gideon's office, Winter is determined to find and avenge her sister's death--no matter the cost.

Winter is a completely bad-ass protagonist. She's focused and no-nonsense, so while some may dislike her serious nature, I appreciated her upfront honesty about her own personality. Her past is a vicious monster--and not just the fact that she escaped from North Korea. There's also the immense debt she feels she owes to both Rose and Gideon for making sure she escaped the trafficking situation they were caught up in in California. The combination of these two make Winter's past a depressing part of the novel. But, Stokes is careful to accompany Winter's darkness alongside plenty of action, not to mention lighter scenes and even humor from other, secondary, characters. Winter's relationship with her sister isn't perfect--after all, Winter doesn't understand why Rose uses her sexuality and is constantly seen with different men--but she adores her older sister as well. Even though Rose dies early in the novel, I still felt as if I knew her character, and most importantly her relationship with Winter, very well.

One of my favorite aspects to this story, though, is the romance. It takes a backseat throughout the novel but it's a slow-burn that utterly won me over and had me swooning from the beginning. Jesse is a friend of Winter's, someone who also works for Gideon and has had a tough past of his own. But he genuinely cares for Winter and watching as he breaks down her barriers and convinces her of his affection, despite her past and the demons she carries, is a highlight of the story. Their friendship is rock-solid, the trust between them a pillar for Winter to find support upon in the face of her sister's death. I also love that their relationship isn't always easy--not for Winter and certainly not for Jesse. But it's so rewarding and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it develops in the sequel.

Vicarious is a thriller from start to finish. I found myself flipping these pages, wondering at who could have killed Rose, where she was at the time of her death, and the people she spoke to. As Winter interrogates those in her life, she uncovers secrets about her sister that she never even suspected and the influx of clues and leads, not to mention dead-ends, makes for an exciting read. Add in the complex personalities of Winter--and Jesse's utter charm--and I'd have been sold. But Stokes also has another trick up her sleeve--the ViSEs. And, damn, they are cool. I love how the ViSEs were an integral aspect to Rose's death but, also, we get to see them filmed and in action later in the novel. Clearly, they're going to be playing an even bigger role in the sequel and I loved the futuristic tint that the ViSEs provided to this world, which is otherwise identical to ours.

The best part about Vicarious are all the twists and turns that you won't see coming. I was shocked and reeling by the end of this novel and though it is a part of a duology, with this portion of the story wrapped up, I want the sequel--now. Yet, for all its seeming perfection, I will say that I had a few sliiight issues with Vicarious. Namely, that I found it to drag a little in the middle. There are a lot of back-to-back sequences with lots of action, whether it be Winter tracking down her sister's body or haunting the places she frequented or visiting people that only Rose knew. There are also a lot of really intriguing ViSEs that we get to see--ViSEs that Winter finds of Rose and her adventures. But then, somewhere in the middle, I found myself flipping the pages and wondering when the action would pick up again. I think that with so many fast-paced scenes, the slower moments feel a little too slow. Thankfully, it doesn't seem that way for too long and Stokes regains her momentum, stunning readers with more action-shots, ViSEs, and plot twists.

Thus, all-in-all, I'm totally impressed and utterly in love with this book. It is clear that Stokes's research is impeccable and her incorporation of diverse characters, their heritage and their struggles, is admirable. Even if you're not looking for more diversity in YA, the mystery, the plot twists, and the thrills will keep you glued to your seat. And for fans of deeper connections, complex personalities, and tough relationships--Stokes delivers on that as well. Vicarious has something in it for everyone--read it, at least so that I'm not counting down the days to its sequel by myself. ;)

If you're interested in my GIF-ridden pre-review of the novel, you can find it here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: The Young Elites by Marie Lu

Title: The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1)

Author: Marie Lu

Rating: 4 Stars

In the back copy of this novel, Marie Lu writes that her protagonist is a villain, not a hero. It is this fact that makes The Young Elites stand out from a sea of fantasy-lite YA fiction. When we first meet her, Adelina is in prison for the murder of her father. Right off the bat, our heroine is not a good person--and I loved this. Lu wrote Adelina as a flawed, deeply dark individual and though she's not usually correct, I found that I could understand and relate to her, on some human level, and that has made all the difference.

The world of The Young Elites isn't wholly unique--after all, the main conflict of this book lies in the fact that a fraction of the community is gifted and a group of them rebel against the government to end discrimination against their kind--but the surrounding backstory to this set-up certainly is. When a blood fever sweeps across the entire nation, killing off all inflicted adults, the children who survive are changed. They return alive, but with certain features marking them out to be malfetto, some of whom even have magical abilities which make them Elite. Thus, the Young Elites. When the crown prince, Enzo, also survived the blood fever, the kingdom decides that he is unfit to rule. Enzo, however, is determined to have his throne and forms The Dagger Society, consisting of Elites who use their powers with the intent of saving others like them. When he saves Adelina from her execution in the brink of time, Adelina joins their cause, training her powers for the first time in her life. But Adelina's magic is dark--she is an illusion-weaver--and the Inquisition who captured her still holds her younger sister, turning her a spy for the only organization that has ever taken her in and treated her like family.

The Young Elites is so well-crafted. This entire narrative is sprinkled with Adelina's childhood memories; growing up in a household where her beauty was deformed by her missing eye and changed appearance; where her father resented her and loved her beautiful, unmarked younger sister; where at times Adelina resented her sweet younger sister for escaping the fever unscathed and for currying her father's favor in the wake of their mother's death. It's a painful past, but one that gives Adelina purpose and for all her swirling darkness, I found her to be instantly relatable. I was caught between her loyalty for her sister and her devotion to the Daggers just as she was and, truly, cannot say that I would have acted any differently had I been in her shoes, with her past. Lu makes us understand Adelina on a deep, nearly psychological, level and I appreciated those glimpses into who she truly was.

What makes The Young Elites such an impressive novel is its development of Adelina's powers. Training sessions in Fantasy novels can be a chore, at times, but watching Adelina hone her abilities, which remained hidden throughout her childhood, was a highlight of the novel. Further, the schemes of The Young Elites and their plans to put Enzo on the throne, alongside their flaws in only rescuing Elites and ignoring the plight of non-Elites, drew me into the politics of the world. Further, ever small tidbit of information that Lu gives us in the first three-quarters of the novel all comes back, tying together this piece and ending it all with a series of plot twists and conclusions I could never predict. It's been so long since I read a YA novel whose ending I didn't see from a mile away so I applaud Lu on her superb plot-crafted with this novel. It's just remarkable.

The secondary characters, consisting of Adelina's sister and father and Enzo and the Daggers, not to mention the Head Inquisitor Teren, are all so well-developed. I knew nearly all of them just as well as I knew Adelina and that is no easy task. The romance, which feels more like a character development choice than a true romance, was unique and intriguing in a way I haven't seen too often. There's a spark between Enzo and Adelina from the beginning but the complications that exist in their relationship are too great for anything to truly blossom between them. But, Enzo's affection is a huge turning point for Adelina's own growth and I loved watching as her attachment to the Daggers changed her, fundamentally.

This sophomore series from Lu impressed me immensely. I thought her debut was a little too familiar--similar enough in plot and characters to so many other dystopians that I lost interest--but I dare you not to be wholly entranced by this world and characters. I have no idea what will happen in the sequels--this is one of those series!--but I am confident that it will surprise me at every turn.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Title: And I Darken (The Conquerors Saga, #1)

Author: Kiersten White

Rating: 4 Stars

I've never disliked White's novels. I thought her Paranormalcy trilogy was unique in defying the kick-ass heroine trend by presenting a protagonist who cared about her appearance, dresses, and the color pink. The plot itself never stood out, but it wasn't a BAD debut. Her more recent endeavor, Illusions of Fate, proved that she could write a well-developed fantasy and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it. But all of those novels had some distinct characteristics that were classic White. In comparison, And I Darken feels as if it was written by someone else entirely. Needless to say, I am thoroughly impressed by just how far White has come in her writing career and this book--this book!--is absolutely stunning.

In truth, And I Darken is a simple story. It is a historical fiction novel set during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Lada, the second legitimate child born to Vlad Dracul and his only daughter, loves her country Wallachia. Growing up alongside her younger brother Radu, Lada idolizes her father and does everything she can to be indispensable to him. It is Lada, not Radu, who learns to fight and hold her own. It is Lada who rides like a man and swears like a sailor. Radu, gentle and sweet with the face of an angel, grows up in the shadow of his older sister, ignored by his father and bullied by Lada who tries to toughen him up in a world where he sobs for every difficulty. Theirs is an interesting relationship for Radu and Lada love each other very much but the way in which they express that love is defeated by one another. When the two siblings are roughly thirteen, they travel to the capital of the Ottoman Empire and are kept there as collateral, their lives dependent on their father obeying the sultan. While Radu embraces his new home, turning to Islam and finding his place in a way he never found before, Lada never forgets Wallachia and swears she will return, no matter the cost.

And I Darken alternates between Lada and Radu's third person PoV from their birth roughly to the age of thirteen. Their childhood relationships with each other, their father, their friends and Wallachia itself are important to understanding these two protagonists and their vastly different natures. Once they arrive in Edirne, Lada and Radu begin to change over the course of the next three years into people they can barely recognize. Radu learns to fight, not with his hands and fists but with his cunning. His handsome face is trusting and allows him to enter circles that Lada cannot, making him indispensable as a spy. Of the two, it is Radu who understands human nature; who can watch and learn from body language the truth of what is being said. Lada, meanwhile, continues her studies, both educationally and physically, training day and night. The evolving relationship between these two siblings broke my heart time and time again because there is a great deal and love and affection between them but there are also misunderstandings--a pattern that anyone with siblings will understand (I know I did).

What I love most about Lada and Radu, though, is that they don't take on traditional gender-roles. In fact, you could argue that Lada is more of a man than Radu because of her brute strength and Radu uses his appearance to his advantage in a way that Lada perhaps should have learnt. Watching Lada, especially, navigate the different types of power structures that her gender can take on--whether it be the power that comes from being a woman in the harem or that of a servant girl rising the ranks--she is shocked and surprised to learn that she can use her body and men to her advantage instead of constantly trying to imitate them. There's also a fascinating discussion, here, of privilege--of the fact that Radu can be soft and gentle but is still afforded an education and can chose to marry whomever he wishes because he is a man. Had Lada acted the way he does, she would not have been given the education she possesses and, what's more, she would have been married off at the first opportunity. It's a really subtle, but important, message of gender roles that White imbibes throughout this narrative and I must applaud her for it.

I cannot lie--there is a love triangle to be found within these pages--but before you run away from this novel, let me tell you that I absolutely loved this love triangle. In a masochistic kind of way because it hurt, but it also hurt so good! I've been waiting for YA to get off its heteronormative high horse and embrace love triangles where not all members are necessarily straight and nor do all members put their love above all else. And that's exactly what we get here. Lada and Radu befriend Mehmed, the third in line for the throne, and their friendship grows and develops into something much more. But it's so much more than a simple romance. It's an affection that changes Lada and Radu's relationship and, further, it makes Lada question what she truly wants from life. Mehmed, as a sultan, will own a harem and have many wives--a concept that Lada rejects entirely. There are so many intricacies to the relationship between these three--their friendship and romance and reliance on one another for Mehmed trusts few others the way he trusts these two siblings--and I love that their story arc is intertwined with politics and passion, equally.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect, though, about this novel is its discussion of Islam. Radu embraces Islam and eventually converts, an action that Lada, who has little love in her heart for God, condemns. But White writes about Islam in a positive light, never preaching but rather teaching a few of the basic principles and how they bring Radu and Mehmed peace. It's a bold move, especially in a time period that is fraught with anti-Muslim sentiment, but she couldn't have done justice to the Ottoman Empire without writing about Islam. Moreover, the Ottoman Empire spans many different nations and I enjoyed getting to meet characters from all parts of the world with allegiances that didn't always lie with the Ottoman Empire or the sultan himself. White's world-building in this historical fiction piece is well-researched and flawless. I don't know how accurate it truly is, but it certainly felt extremely authentic.

I'm curious to see how this narrative progresses and am terrified for the future of these characters. White has made me care about Lada, Radu, and Mehmed immensely and to see them get pieces of what they've always wanted is going to be an interesting journey. Lada's story arc, especially, is inspirational and touches so close to home for it is the journey of a girl who is struggling to find her place in a world of men. For me, the only downfall of this novel is that I didn't love Mehmed with the passion that Lada and Radu did. I understood why they loved him, but I didn't share their sentiments and that distance made it slightly difficult for me to root for Mehmed, in this narrative. But perhaps I am not meant to cheer on the sultan who has nearly everything. Lada and Radu, the two royal siblings of Wallachia who, against all odds, are thriving in the Ottoman Empire, are my heroine and hero. I will follow them to the ends of the earth.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

ARC Review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

Title: A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles, #1)

Author: Amanda Bouchet

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: August 2nd, 2016

A Promise of Fire fell just short of being truly remarkable. This debut romantic fantasy, straddling the line between New Adult and Adult more than anything else, is impossible to set down. I read it in a single setting and am thoroughly impressed by Bouchet's writing, world-building, and characters. Are we sure she's a debut author? I've been burned far too often by new-to-me authors this year, so color me surprised that Bouchet lived up to my expectations--and then some. But, as most of you will know, fantasy is my favorite genre. I am nearly impossible to please when it comes to a fantasy novel--everything has to be just perfect in a way it doesn't with nearly every other genre--and in that regard, A Promise of Fire fails. Yet, though it may not be a favorite, or even close to one of the best fantasy (and even romantic fantasy) novels out there, it's still really damn good.

Cat, the protagonist of our novel, hails from Fisa, the northernmost kingdom, home to powerful magicians and a bloodthirsty monarchy. She is a Kingmaker, a rare breed born only once every hundred or so years, and has spent much of her life regretting her powers. Tortured as a child, escaping with only her life, and now living with a circus troupe in the southernmost kingdom of Sinta--safe--for eight years, Cat has learned to let down her guard and, grudgingly, allow other people in. Until, that is, she is kidnapped by Griffin and his crew of three other men. Griffin and the majority of his people are non-magical and, against all odds, Griffin has placed his sister on the throne of Sinta. But he needs magical aid to keep her there and there is no one more powerful than Cat to help him. Cat, however, is stubborn and dangerous--a deadly combination--and there are people and forces scarier than Griffin after her blood. If she can escape unscathed, it will be a miracle. If she falls for Griffin and drags him down with her...there might be war.

The sparks between Cat and Griffin are flying off the page from their first encounter. Cat has grown up tortured and terrified and, as such, she's skeptical of love, trust, and friendship. Griffin slowly, but surely, gains all three from her over the course of the novel. Their constant verbal sparring, false barbs, and hate-to-love story arc makes up the majority of this novel--and I loved it. Both Cat and Griffin are perhaps a little too similar to work well together, but they match one another and challenge each other in a way that few others are able to. Without a doubt, their romance is the highlight of this novel and though this slow-burn is painful, at times, the pay-off is completely worth it.

The world-building of this realm, ruled by three kingdoms, is also expertly written by Bouchet. While it takes awhile for the full extent of the world-building to come to light, it all eventually does. Everything from tales of the lost princess of Fisa to the manner in which royals murder one another for power, not to mention the worship of Greek Gods and Goddesses, is fascinating and unique. I'm not completely certain why these people worship Zeus, Hades, Poseidon and the likes, but seeing as they're a violent and warring people, perhaps it makes sense. All this, alongside two factions of people--those who can perform magic and those who can't--with some tid-bits of Greek mythology, such as an Oracle, make this a fascinating realm. The politics, in particular, between these three realms are well-done but I definitely believe that Bouchet has a ways to go in expanding this world and making certain distinctions--or blendings, rather--of Greek mythology and magic a little clearer. Yet, with the romance as the central aspect to this novel, not to mention the character relationships between Cat and Griffin, plus his close friends and teammates, the world-building was satisfactory, to say the least.

Where this novel falters, for me, is in its--rather unnecessary--prolongation of events. Cat isn't the most mature 23-year-old in the world and her stubborn nature causes her and Griffin to want very different paths for their future, mostly because Griffin doesn't know the whole truth about Cat's past. It's a harmless and rather easy-to-guess plot twist that is heavily hinted at, roughly half-way through the novel, but Bouchet keeps her lips sealed and is sitting on this "reveal", probably for the sequels. I get rather easily irritated when characters fail to communicate or can't guess at obvious secrets, so I found myself exasperated with Cat and Griffin towards the end of this novel. It doesn't help that Bouchet could have easily turned this novel in a more political direction and rather fails to, opting instead for more near-death experiences and romantic moments.

Like I said, this novel thrives on the romance. And it's a well-written, remarkable love story--don't get me wrong--but by the conclusion of this story, I wanted more politics and plot twists and something more to prove that this trilogy had a backbone of fantasy alongside the romance. It is inevitable that the sequels will have to bring on the politics at the heart of this story--I hope--and Cat is a strong, capable heroine--one who is powerful and can hold her own, as shown multiple times throughout this story--so I will, without a doubt, be picking up Bouchet's sophomore novel. A Promise of Fire is at its best when the sexual tension between Cat and Griffin sizzles, the slow-burn romance dominates, and the world-building is developing. It's un-put-down-able as Cat conquers her inner fears and her past, learning to love and trust and find her own family. Only towards the very end, when it explodes in romance did it let me down, slightly. For lovers of YA Fantasy, A Promise of Fire is better than fantasy-lite, and for those who adore a healthy dose of romance, Bouchet's debut can't disappoint. For those hard-core fantasy lovers like me, I think this novel will strike a cord--and definitely prove read-able. And, who knows, perhaps the sequels will have even have my heart.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)

Author: V. E. Schwab

Rating: 4 Stars

I'm obsessed. I'll admit that I avoided picking up A Darker Shade of Magic when it first released because of its minimalist, and rather unappealing, U.S. cover (I cheated and am using the UK cover on the blog--I'm sorry, okay? I just want my blog to look pretty!). But, damn, what a remarkable story. Schwab's debut, The Near Witch, was a novel I found to be entirely dull and, consequently, I've largely ignored her other novels. Until, that is, an ARC of This Savage Song arrived on my doorstep and I proceeded to be enraged, enthralled, and all-too-emotionally-unstable on a train ride back to college. I've since wanted to read her entire backlog but, having started with A Darker Shade of Magic, I wonder now how I will manage to read anything else, forget another one of Schwab's novels. I want to live, breath, and die in this world with Kell, Lila, and Rhy. I want to forget that I live in America, not London--not even Grey London--and escape back into this beautiful, wonderful book. Like I said, I'm obsessed.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of the most innovative fantasy novels I've come across. Kell is one of two people in the universe who can travel between worlds--Grey, or normal; Red, or magical; White, or caught in-between magic and its evil counterparts; and Black, or a world consumed by dark magic and now simply a wasteland. As an Antari, or blood magician, Kell is revered in his land and has grown up as the adopted prince of the realm. Truly, though, Kell feels as if he is little more than a puppet to the crown, sworn to deliver messages to the rulers of the Grey and White worlds. While Kell finds family in Rhy, his brother and the true prince, there is a restlessness in him--a yearning, if you will--for something of his own. It is this that fuels his life as a smuggler, bringing objects from different worlds back to Red and vice-versa. It doesn't matter that this is treason--is illegal--because either than Kell, there is only one other known Antari, Holland, and he is being held captive by the twins who rule White. When Kell's smuggling lands him with a dark and dangerous object, it throws Kell's life and the stability of his world into chaos. Into this enters Lila, a thief who has lived on her own for far too long. When she steals this object--a stone--from Kell, their lives become inexplicably intertwined and, surprisingly, Kell finds that he needs Lila's help to destroy the object and restore peace to the lands.

From early on, Schwab makes this tale irresistible. Whether it be her descriptions of these worlds--each similar, but eerily different in their politics and the manner in which magic works within them--or even just a description of Kell's magical coat, her world-building is spot-on and impeccable. Her characterization, too, is mesmerizing for I am in love with Kell, Lila, and Rhy even after having spent such little time in their world. Rhy and Lila are easy to root for and connect with--after all, Rhy is a prince of a magical kingdom with no magical ability of his own but he is charming and sweet, the type of royal who is loved by his people and will do everything in his power for them. Lila, on the other hand, is stubborn and hesitant to trust, yearning for a place to belong but relishing the thrill of adventure. I admired her strong will and her fearlessness in traveling to worlds she only barely knew about. If there is a definition of "kick-ass" then, surely, her name is beside it for she can wield her knife and fend for herself, saving even Kell multiple times, but she's also emotionally strong for surviving the hard hand she drew in life and still persisting despite it all.

Kell, on the other hand, is tough to read; his serious nature makes him a hero who isn't likely to win our hearts with a joke or smile--those are rare, and far between--but his loyalty, his innate sense of good, and his all-too-human penchant for making mistakes is charming. There is so much more to his character than we are able to uncover in this novel but I loved being inside his head and, most of all, watching his interactions with Lila. They irritate each other, but they also challenge one another and their adventure allows them to understand one another in a way that only the best hate-to-friendship arc can achieve--I loved them. Together, apart, you name it; I am wholly enthralled by this world and its characters. The villains are terrifying, the stakes are high, and the ending is not easy or wrapped up with a bow--at least, not for these characters since the repercussions of these events will, I am sure, be felt for a long time to come.

A Darker Shade of Magic can be read as a stand-alone, though--BUT, I must say that I am so very glad it is not. I want more of this world and characters and I am confident Schwab will deliver in the sequel. The politics of this universe leave much more to be explored and even these characters, as deeply as we know them now, have many more layers to peel behind--of that I am sure. I don't care, truly, if no one else ever picks up this book. I am selfish about my favorite books--I like to keep them close to my heart where few others can peer closely enough to see their titles. So, read this--if you want--but know that I loved it. And I so rarely love a book.

Friday, July 8, 2016

2016 Releases from the Second-Half of the Year that I Cannot Wait to Read!

Turns out I never wrote a post about the books I'm looking forward to in 2016. I've already read a decent number of ARCs of books that are releasing in the latter half of the year--some amazing, some disappointing--but here are some that I haven't got my hands on but which are releasing between July-December that I am dying to read.


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The Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Bardugo's Six of Crows was one of my favorite books from last year and I fully intend to re-read it in preparation for Crooked Kingdom. This book is going to be SO GOOD. I just know it.
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
Confession: I never finished reading Kristoff's debut trilogy. And not in a I-have-yet-to-read-the-third-book way but in a I-only-read-book-one way. I liked it but I guess not enough to continue. Either way, this book looks and sounds AMAZING. I mean, a school of assassins? I'm in.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
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The Midnight Star by Marie Lu
I wasn't a huge fan of Lu's debut series but I devoured The Young Elites and The Rose Society in a weekend and need to know how this series ends!
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
I have no idea what this book is about and I don't care. Because Laini Taylor.
A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
I usually stay away from debut authors these days since I've been burned far too many times by their work, but I can't resist a hate-to-love romance with a fantasy background. It's my weakness.


Made for Sin by Stacia Kane
Kane writes the Downside Ghosts UF Series which is a favorite of mine! We haven't gotten a new book in that series but we are getting another novel by Kane and I am 100% all over this. Not so much the cover but definitely that synopsis! ;)


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Interference by Kay Honeyman
Sadly, not many people know this author but her debut was AMAZING and I've been waiting for her to write another book for years and here it is! It's not historical fiction, like her first novel, but I have high hopes for this one and I doubt I'll be disappointed. 
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
I would never have picked up a book with this synopsis had it not been for Melina Marchetta's name on the cover. I've read every single book she's written and I've loved them all. I'm really, really excited by her latest and cannot wait to read this and cry, as I am wont to do with her books.
Beast by Brie Spangler
I am a sucker for a "Beauty and the Beast" re-telling, this one featuring a transgender Beauty. I've been reading a lot of debuts by authors who are writing about LGBTQIAP+ issues and while I haven't enjoyed very many of them, I am hopeful for this one.

What are books that you are anticipating for the second-half of 2016? What should I add to my list that I missed? Any other recommendations from this first-half that didn't quite catch my eye?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Release Day Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Title: This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1)

Author: Victoria Schwab

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: July 5th, 2016

This Savage Song is, truly, an utterly savage mindfuck.

I knew next to nothing about this book before I dived into it. I couldn't get the title out of my head, I knew Schwab was a brilliant author and, despite not having taken a risk on an ARC in a really long time, I was really in the mood for a change of pace. And, let me tell you, I loved This Savage Song. It made me uncomfortable, reflective, and a shaking mess of uncontrollable feelings--all of which sums up to a fantastic, thought-provoking, and most importantly unique novel.

If I had to sum up this novel in one GIF, I'd have to use this one:

Every time I thought I knew who was good and who was bad, who was right and who was wrong, who was conning the other...well, it was like the Red Wedding all over again.

The atmosphere of this book feels very dark and intense to me, too...I felt hunched over the pages in some heightened state of emotion constantly, despite the fact that this is solidly a paranormal novel. It isn't real but it felt real...

The characters are what are at the heart of This Savage Song. Schwab has created a world in which acts of violence--rape, murder, and mass-killings--all have their consequences which result in the manifestation of monsters. These monsters plague our modern world and This Savage Song is all about the monstrosity that humans are capable of and the humanity that monsters can exhibit. That's not to say that there isn't action and a very exciting plot line, but I felt drawn to this story by the personalities of these two protagonists--vastly different from one another in every way, yet feeling inexplicably similar.

I love when authors, and all types of celebrities with the power to make others listen, use their fame to further some sort of agenda. Whether that agenda be to bring attention to a topic or shed light on the truth about an issue, I appreciate a work of art much more when there's more to it than a mere job. And with This Savage Song it's clear that Schwab wants us to consider the weight of our actions. Our violent actions, in particular, which seem to constantly be in the news. And she wants us, further, to think not only of those actions and their consequences, but also of others. Of other people. This Savage Song made me think, long and hard, even after I'd closed its pages and I can only hope that its sequel inspires a similar level of thought and contemplation.

Anyhow, I highly recommend this. Pre-order it. Get excited for it. Generate hype around it. It just can't disappoint, as far as I can tell, and I have a ball of anxiety sitting low in my stomach just contemplating the future of these characters in the sequel. *shudders with anticipation*