Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: Cold Magic by Kate Elliott

Title: Cold Magic (Spiritwalker, #1)

Author: Kate Elliott

Rating: 4 Stars

It would be a lie to say that very few things really get me excited – because I fangirl a lot - but the words “fantasy” and “steampunk” mixed together with other historic words like “Rome” really, really get me excited. I mean, Cold Magic might as well have been written solely for me with an enticing summary like that. And, honestly, the story within these pages does not disappoint. Not only is my first venture into the works of Kate Elliott a strong one, but it is one that has hooked me completely. You can trust that I will soon be devouring much more than just this trilogy by Elliott - much more.

Cold Magic takes place in a re-imagined world, one where ice reigns supreme and cold mages are now in power, their only threat the mysterious spirit world and its hunters. Cat, the protagonist of our tale, is a curious and lively young girl, nearly twenty, whose friendship with her cousin Bee is more of a sisterhood than anything else. The Barahal family has taken Cat in after her parents drowned when she was young and ever since she could remember, she’s never felt like an outsider in her aunt and uncle’s home. Thus, when a cold mage, Andevai, storms in to marry the eldest Barahal daughter, Cat willingly binds her life to his. As she will soon learn, though, nothing is as it originally seems, least of all her bloodlines.

Although Cold Magic starts out relatively slowly, and it even often bogged down by lengthy descriptions and seemingly unnecessary conversation, it is a fast-paced and well-crafted read. As a heroine, Cat shines; flawed in her stubbornness and sharp tongue she may be, but she’s also intensely resourceful and shockingly relate-able, unafraid to appear vulnerable though she is a strong woman. I wasn’t a huge fan of the fact that much of the plot of this story focuses on Cat escaping Andevai, who is sent to kill her, but I was pleasantly surprised that this allowed for so much more depth to be added to the story. For one, I love the world Elliott has built and her world-building is impeccable. I hardly thought it dragged the story down, though I know many readers did, and I loved all the glimpses into multiple perspectives we were given.

Furthermore, Andevai is not a creature to be missed. Goodness, does this cold mage have my heart or what? Although he appears vain, snobbish, and aloof at first glance, throughout the story we slowly come to see that there is far more to him. I loved the slow and steady manner that Cat’s reactions towards him changed and though I ache for more interactions between these two, Cold Magic offers plenty of charged air and promising chemistry. In addition to Andevai, though, Bee had to be my next favorite secondary character. I love that Bee and Cat stick up for each other like sisters, despite the struggles that come their way. I find that literature in general has a dearth of realistically portrayed friendships, but this one remained the focus of the novel and a strong center point of the series, which I appreciated.

All in all, Cold Magic is a delight for fantasy lovers. While it contains only a few steampunk elements, the politics, intrigue, and lore that Elliott has built is more than satisfying. Furthermore, with such engaging and three-dimensional characters set up, this trilogy will undoubtedly only get better from here on out. Andevai Cold Fire, here I come!

Summer Series Reading Challenge: 11

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Series Review: Immortal Beloved (#1-3) by Cate Tiernan

A HUGE thank you to Lauren @ Love is Not a Triangle for convincing me to pick up this series - I loved it! You can read her fantastic review of Immortal Beloved HERE

Title: Immortal Beloved (Immortal Beloved, #1) 
Author: Cate Tiernan
Rating: 4 Stars

Not for the first time, I am intensely annoyed at whoever named this book. Actually, this series as a whole. If you're anything like me, then you've been burned by the YA Paranormal Genre too many times to count and have solidly shut and locked that door behind you, burning the key while you're at it. Yup, that's right, I have moved onto brighter - more satisfying - pastures. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I was recommended Immortal Beloved by a close and trusted friend. In my mind, the words Immortal Beloved = Vampire Romance = Run Away Screaming. Not a very promising start for a series, but I was reassured - multiple times - that this book had nothing to do with vampires and I am incredibly glad I picked it up. Folks, sit up and listen because this, this is good Paranormal YA. (Yes, it exists! It's not a myth!)

When Nastasya, an immortal having lived on Earth for well over four decades, witnesses her best friend paralyze a cabbie driver with his dark magic, she gets the wake-up call she deserves. For many years, Nastasya has partied and sinned with a group of immortal friends, fed-up of seeing her lovers and children grow old and die. Now, however, Nasty is disgusted that she could become the person she has become and she quickly flies to Boston to attend a rehabilitation center for immortals run by River, a woman she briefly met in France many years ago. As Nasty will realize, though, rehabilitation for immortals doesn't simply mean becoming a good person, it means embracing the emotions she's shut herself off from for centuries.

What I love about Immortal Beloved is that it is a primarily character-driven novel. We become one with this snarky narrator and her struggles soon seem like ours. As Nasty learns to give up her old habits of drinking, as she soon becomes immersed in the organic lifestyle at River's, as she begins to open herself up to other people - new friends, both immortal and mortal alike - her transformation is remarkable. It isn't easy and it is littered with dark thoughts, sharp flashbacks into the past she has lived through and tried fruitlessly to forget. Tiernan crafts Nasty in such a way that her voice is relate-able and real. It's common for humans, not just immortals, to stamp down on bad memories and seeing Nasty learn to face her past and her fears is an experience that readers can connect to. Furthermore, Nasty's past allows us a glimpse into different windows of history. Seeing Nasty herself change from those time periods to embrace the present makes us all the more cognizant of what we have today.

One of my favorite aspects of this story, though, is the romance. Reyn, another immortal Nasty meets, is strange and aloof, but the chemistry between him and Nasty is palpable. If anything, these two circle each other, both uncertain of whether or not to start something new. It simmers, is shockingly sweet, and remains a very small element of the novel overall. Nasty's narration is hilarious and gripping, one you won't want to stop reading, and the thought Tiernan has put into creating an immortal character - one who has suffered through so much, century after century - is admirable. I absolutely adored this introduction to the trilogy and cannot recommend it enough for fans of YA who believe the paranormal sub-genre is dead. Clearly, it isn't.

Title: Darkness Falls (Immortal Beloved, #2) 
Author: Cate Tiernan 
Rating: 3.5 Stars

As a sequel, Darkness Falls is definitely a much stronger book than Immortal Beloved. For one, it delves even deeper into Nastasya and her psyche, particularly her fears of working her magic. At River's, she begins to learn how to use magic without taking energy from others around her, but Nasty remains afraid that the darkness in her bloodline will curse both her and those she gets close to. Thus, the title of this book is both apt and reassuring - Darkness Falls. It is the journey to seeing Nasty come to terms with who she is and what she can do that makes this book all the more rewarding by the end. 

Unfortunately, though, I can't admit to enjoying this installment as much as the first one. For one, I found myself confused by Nasty's continued involvement with the townspeople. While I love that it opens up a different side of her, it serves no true purpose to the plot. Additionally, Nasty herself was quite - for lack of a better word - stupid during many moments in this novel. Very obvious conclusions that she should have been able to draw were not drawn until the last minute and made for monotonous reading at times. Yet, my biggest qualm is that this novel failed to further the romance between Reyn and Nasty until the very end. I was hoping for budding sexual tension, but was sadly disappointed on that front. 

Nevertheless, this book is a winner, through and through. Nasty is a riot, as always, and her narrative voice is so compelling. Furthermore, this book delves into her past, especially her relationship with her best friend Incy, and seeing their roles as men and women change over time is note-worthy. Nasty grows tremendously in this novel and I love that her growth in each book is so distinct and realistic. Darkness Falls is a good, solid YA, full of strong friendships and impeccable character growth. I cannot wait for the final installment in this trilogy. I doubt it'll disappoint; after all, Cate Tiernan doesn't seem to know the word. 

Title: Eternally Yours (Immortal Beloved, #3) 
Author: Cate Tiernan
Rating: 4.5 Stars

I've found it increasingly difficult to be satisfied with conclusions this year, but thankfully, Eternally Yours lived up to all my expectations - and then some. Nasty continues to shine, both as a character attempting to attain more from her immortal existence and as a narrator who never fails to make me laugh. After the events of Darkness Falls, Nasty is a changed immortal and Eternally Yours captures her mindset perfectly. Now, finally settled into River's and with close friends - not to mention a budding romance with immortal hunk, Reyn - Nasty finally feels at home. Yet, dark forces are still at work, slowly trying to bring down the power of the eight immortal houses and the battle is no longer about Nasty - it's about all the immortals.

What I love about Eternally Yours is that Nasty is still as insecure and afraid as she was in the beginning of Immortal Beloved, but at the same time, she isn't. It isn't easy to face up to your past, embrace magic you formerly saw as dark, or break centuries of evil family tradition to become a good person. And Tiernan, keeping up with Nasty's persona, doesn't make this change easy on her. Nasty is still struggling, just as most patients in rehabilitation centers do, and though the problems she faces are different, her growth and gradual change isn't. I love that her character is flawed, both weak and strong, both introverted and social, both reckless and thoughtful. Nasty has become so much more than her past and she truly comes into her true, flawed self in this book in a way she never has before. And I love that.

Moreover, her relationship with Reyn finally sails. I was disappointed by their minimal interactions in Darkness Falls, but this installment finally makes us see that their chemistry is more than just physical. Reyn and Nasty have an unlikely relationship, but one that is even stronger for their past and together, they truly understand one another. Nevertheless, their relationship struggles through its ups-and-downs, blundering along and never wholly certain of any outcome. Yet, though their path was littered with strife, it was an utterly satisfying read. Eternally Yours is the perfect conclusion to this series, neatly wrapping up all loose ends and leaving us confident and sure of Nasty's future. We've seen her through her worst and though we know she'll undoubtedly face her rough patches, her growth has been so phenomenal and carefully crafted that we have hope and trust that she'll find a way to keep leaving. (Not like she has much of a choice...) Truly, I cannot recommend this series enough. Stunning from start to finish, the Immortal Beloved Trilogy is simply not to be missed. Not at all.

Summer Series Reading Challenge: 8, 9, & 10

Monday, July 29, 2013

ARC Mini-Review: Torn by David Massey

Title: Torn 

Author: David Massey

Rating: 3. 5 Stars

Release Date: July 30th, 2013

I've been struggling to write a review for Torn for quite some time now. I'm not exactly sure what I can say about this book, to be honest. It is a stirring, strong, and heartfelt story, but I've come to realize that it doesn't completely make a lasting impact on you. Its short length works perfectly for its subject matter - after all, none of us want to read an excruciatingly long story about war, no matter what Leo Tolstoy may believe. And debut author David Massey packs a punch in those pages, just maybe not enough of one.

Torn follows Elinor, a medic who is stationed in Afghanistan. While the first few chapters lag, detailing her daily routine and initial difficulties fitting in, the plot quickly turns to a group of child soldiers, specifically the ghost of a girl Elinor keeps seeing. In terms of its historical significance and accuracy, Torn is spot-on. It perfectly conveys the danger of war, the horror of seeing young Afghani children with weapons, and it even touches upon the political sphere surrounding the issue. As a history buff, I ate all this up. Elinor forms a bond with Husa, one of the children is found and taken political prisoner, and their growing relationship is sweet and touching to see unfold.

While I found the romantic element of this novel a little unnecessary - it doesn't require a romance to keep the pace or plot - I wound up really liking it. I do think it's a quick love story, one that doesn't take up much of the story at all, but it remained realistic enough with the backdrop of war and the dialogue kept me flipping the pages for more. Where I think this story falters is in its ultimate portrayal of all the characters. I thought the ending was rushed and the punch I was looking for, or even just the tug to be saying goodbye to these characters, never truly came. I did enjoy this story a lot - and I think Massey is incredibly talented for writing such a realistic female narration - but I ultimately think I hoped for a read that would leave more of an impact on me, especially as the subject matter is so serious. For those who shy away from issue books, though, this is likely to be a contemporary novel that will resonate. As someone who seems to be in the pursuit of getting my heart kicked by books, this fell just a little short of what I was looking for. Massey is a debut author to look out for, though, and I will certainly be snatching up anything else he writes - and soon.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mini-Reviews: The Painted Veil & Love Is the Higher Law

Title: The Painted Veil

Author: W. Somerset Maugham

Rating: 3 Stars

I read this, cover-to-cover, in one sitting and ended the novel perplexed, haunted, and utterly unsatisfied. The Painted Veil has been likened to my ultimate favorite, Gone With the Wind, and I was expecting quite a lot from this slim novel. In some ways, it definitely delivered, if not exceeded my expectations. I adored the vain and foolish Kitty, her equally mistaken-prone husband who wasn't merely the victimized party of adultery. I pondered over the ambiguity of equality in the novel, the concise but weighty conversations between this couple. And I more-or-less devoured the entire story, until the end when I felt an immediate sense of loss and set out to find the movie, in the hopes it would satisfy me in a way the book did not.

And it did. The movie version of The Painted Veil follows the book quite closely, but it is a romance. It portrays the politics of China in a way the book ignored, for the novel is the story of Kitty, the main character who is found cheating on her husband and taken to live with him during a cholera outbreak in China. Granted, I enjoyed the romantic renditioning of this couple far more than I did the destructive journey they shared in the book, but that is not why I liked the movie better than the book. Instead, I have to admit that I appreciated the solidarity of the movie's ending. In the film, there is no doubt that Kitty grew and changed, despite retaining many of her original characteristics. In the book, on the other hand, it is hard to say whether Kitty, in the long run, has truly changed. Whether the circumstances of her journey to China and her husband's death really made that lasting impact. I, like the film director, would like to think so, but one can never be sure. Which isn't strictly a problem, but the entire novel was filled with ironies, with parallels, with so much broken and in the process of breaking that I needed something solid to grasp onto by the end. And I didn't get that. Walter's death in the book is the ultimate irony and his last words are a kick in the gut. In the movie, however, they are merely bittersweet. And I adore that bittersweet tension reminiscent of Gone With the Wind far more than the tense and confused churning of The Painted Veil.

A novel isn't meant to do anything. It isn't meant to offer likable characters or an engaging plot or interesting dialogue and definitely not closure. A novel is whatever the author wants it to be and I love, understand, and appreciate The Painted Veil for its ambiguity and despair and foolish characters. Yet, as a reader, I must admit I didn't enjoy it the way I thought I would. I'd recommend this classic to those willing to charge through a novel wrought with depression and those willing to mull over societal issues, most importantly gender equality. For those of you who read the synopsis of this novel and think it would make a perfect and bittersweet romantic set-up, I'd highly recommend the film. It's beautiful.

Title: Love Is the Higher Law 

Author: David Levithan

Rating: 5 Stars

When it comes to Love Is the Higher Law, I hardly know where to begin. Or, perhaps, when. September 11, 2001 is a date ingrained in the memory of every person, regardless of whether or not they are American. And yet, for us Americans, this date is so much more. Within the pages of this novel, David Levithan not only captures the horror, the fear, the utter astonishment that an event like 9/11 could have on a nation, but he also manages to convey the hope, the beauty, and the love that emerged during this time too.

What makes Levithan's novel such a poignant piece is not its subject matter, but rather the way in which it is written. Everything about the novel is so subtle, telling a story of three teens, all who view the event of 9/11 in a different and gripping manner. On every page is a simple sentence, one line, that conveys the weight and truth of this event. It is a slim novel, but one that demands to be read slowly and savored, with each emotion creeping up inside you when you least expect it. Claire, Jasper, and Peter are not fully actualized characters, though we see the recuperation of New York City through their eyes. While they all share distinct voices, distinct character traits, and distinct flaws, this is not a story of them. No. Love Is the Higher Law is the story of New York and all its people. With Claire, Jasper, and Peter, the trauma and hope, the strength that rises from the ashes of a fallen city, all of it is felt so acutely. And, at the same time, just like how the magnitude of that day is still impossible to feel, this book is too.

If anything is clear from reading this novel, it is that David Levithan loves New York City. With its bustle and its crowds, with its millions of people wandering selfishly with not a care for others, he brings this city to life and, most importantly, the goodness of the human heart. Now, looking back nearly twelve years later, it is impossible to think of New York being this torn. And yet not so impossible at all. Even now, the remnants of 9/11 remain. Ground Zero. The shining height of the new Twin Towers. Of a city rising once again, refusing to be trod upon. A city, though once afraid, and perhaps still afraid, willing to face that fear. Every day people walk into and out of New York City, remembering all the lives that were lost. Every day people will walk into and out of the new World Trade Center, remembering all the people who used to work there, on those very same floor numbers. With that remembrance, with that hope, we keep persevering...and what more could we possibly ask for?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Just Another...Book Crush (#6): The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I started reading Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolat Series awhile back, but I keep coming back for more, unable to get enough of Florand's writing or characters. (And, if we're being honest, the dream of going to Paris and meeting one of these tasty hunks is the only reason I still sit through my dreary French classes!) Quite simply put, they are far more than their chick-lit covers suggest they are and if you're a fan of strong characterization with smoldering romance, Florand never disappoints. I'm thrilled to have her on the blog today to talk about her latest book in the series - and possibly the best one yet.
Dominique Richard's reputation says it all--wild past, wilder flavors, black leather and smoldering heat. Jaime Corey is hardly the first woman to be drawn to all that dark, delicious danger. Sitting in Dom's opulent chocolaterie in Paris day after day, she lets his decadent creations restore her weary body and spirit, understanding that the man himself is entirely beyond her grasp.
Until he touches her. . .
Chocolate, Dominique understands--from the biting tang of lime-caramel to the most complex infusions of jasmine, lemon-thyme, and cayenne. But this shy, freckled American who sits alone in his salon, quietly sampling his exquisite confections as if she can't get enough of them--enough of him--is something else. She has secrets too, he can tell. Of course if she really knew him, she would run.
Yet once you have spotted your heart's true craving, simply looking is no longer enough. .. 
I love my literary allusions. The Chocolate Kiss is rife with fairy-tale motifs. The Chocolate Rose uses the Beauty and the Beast theme, one I love. All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate (the novella in Kiss the Bride) is full of little Superman jokes, although no one ever catches them, alas. Turning Up the Heat is infused with O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi”. Coming up this fall, I have a novella Snow-Kissed that works with the Snow-Queen story and the novel The Chocolate Heart, which plays with the Persephone myth, and A Rose in Winter (in the collection No Place Like Home) that plays with Little Red Riding-hood.

But The Chocolate Touch has none of those. I almost feel that these two characters and their setting are, by themselves, their own magic. It is, in its way, a very straightforward story. I was doing research in a real chocolaterie in Paris (Jacques Genin’s place off République), when I began to have this increasingly powerful vision of a woman sitting in a salon very like Monsieur Genin’s real one, and of a chocolatier hero who was growing increasingly fascinated by her. And this became Dom and Jaime’s story. Dominique Richard is the top rival of Sylvain Marquis in The Chocolate Thief and Jaime Corey is Chocolate Thief heroine Cade’s rebel younger sister. So you see that Dom and Jaime have some interesting relations with whom they have to deal—Sylvain is not at all happy about having his fiancée’s sister get involved with Dom, for example. Nor is anyone else in Jaime’s family.

These secondary characters and their very strong opinions are part of the baggage that Jaime and Dom carry, and yet the story is not really about these secondary characters. It is all about them. They were just so powerful and I loved them so much that the story almost wrote itself. I couldn’t wait to write the next scene, to see what these two would say and do with each other next, as they grew into each other and in doing so grew into themselves.

I think of my stories often afterward in tones. From my point of view, The Chocolate Kiss, for example, is zinging with energy, often conflictual, in a fairy-tale setting. The Chocolate Rose has this bright, expansive, sun-filled joyousness to it, like its hero and its Provençal setting. The upcoming Chocolate Heart is dark and angsty. But this story, The Chocolate Touch, is the one I think of as the sweet one, the tender, emotional one.

And that may be why I love this couple so much. They make me feel tender toward them. I love their courage and gentleness with each other. And I feel a little protective of them as I offer them to you, because I do hope you love them, too.

I’ll leave you with a little glimpse of Jacques Genin’s salon, that helped inspire the setting for this particular story. 

Have you been to Paris? Are there any little spots there that you particularly remember as magical or that have inspired you? Or are there any places you dream of visiting? 

Just Another...Book Crush!

Coming up with my most recent 3 Book Crushes was very hard, because I have been on quite the lucky reading spree the past few weeks and have been discovering so many great books and great authors. I finally decided that I would quite literally have to make it the “most recent”, and so, in reverse order, I name below the three most recent books I have read that made me say, “Wow!” Two of them are only 0.99 right now so—go grab them!

Making It Last, by Ruthie Knox. This is a very similar concept to my own novella Turning Up the Heat (a married couple that needs to reaffirm and renegotiate their commitment to each other and who they are in their marriage). So when I heard Ruthie was doing a story along these lines, I was dying to see what an author with such a different, strong voice would do with the idea. And it is such a sweet, vivid, sad, optimistic, powerful story! Real but romantic and full of heart. I loved it and highly recommend it.

Confidence Tricks, by Tamara Morgan. Author Elyssa Patrick had invited me to participate in an anthology that included her and Tamara, which of course got me curious about this author. And when I saw “playboy thief” and “expert con woman who can beat him up”, well, it was all over for me. I love a good thief caper! And this one was hilarious. I dare anyone to read the first chapter, with our hero Asprey on the ground with the heroine’s stiletto at his throat, and not fall in love with him. And her! I could not stop laughing throughout this book, and yet at the same time, it’s a very intelligent story with a lot of heart. The hero and heroine are both priceless.

The Story Guy, by Mary Ann Rivers. This was just an amazing story. What a wonderful debut. Exquisite, erotic, heartwarming, with just a beautiful way of capturing emotions. I wrote a line in one of my recent books about how love sometimes is just holding hands tightly as we face the avalanche, and I think this story captures that so well.

It’s been a summer of great reads, so I could keep going (Virginia Kantra’s Carolina Girl, Theresa Romain’s Season for Scandal, Jeannie Lin’s Sword Dancer, Donna Kauffman’s Honey Pie, Eloisa James’s Once Upon a Tower...), but you told me to pick the most recent three! 

Admit it: you really, really want to go to that salon and eat some of that chocolate right now. I certainly want to! I absolutely love this series and cannot recommend it enough. I love how Laura describes this book - it really is spot-on - and I'm looking forward to trying the books she recommended. I haven't heard of any of them, which is both strange and exciting! Thank you so much for stopping by, Laura! :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: Seeing Me Naked by Liza Palmer

Title: Seeing Me Naked

Author: Liza Palmer

Rating: 4 Stars

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how different this novel is from Palmer's latest, Nowhere But Home. And yet, both novels are written beautifully, gripping and energetic in their depth. I love the voice of these narrators, so honest and raw, yet flawed too. Usually, once I've read at least two books by the same author, I can sense a pattern of sorts. With Liza Palmer, her writer's voice is present and very much there, but subtle. What truly shines, instead, with her works is her talent for capturing the hearts of many different types of protagonists and thoroughly ensuring that her readers are enmeshed in their struggles. Seeing Me Naked, much like my first Palmer novel, only managed to both impress me and delight me - a feat which is rare, but all the more rewarding just the same.

Elizabeth has always lived under the shadow of her father, the famous novelist Ben Page. In fact, her entire family has. Whether it be her older brother, Rascal, who also made it big in the writing industry, or simply herself, a pastry chef, none of the siblings have been good enough for Ben Page or quite been able to live up to his expectations. Nevertheless, despite the broken family that plagues her, Elizabeth is happy and content with her role as a chef in a famous restaurant in L.A. Until, that is, she is offered a new job, one she knows her father will be disappointed by. Until, that is, she meets Daniel, a basketball coach who forces her to re-evaluate everything she thought she knew about love. And, really, life itself.

Seeing Me Naked is such a beloved novel merely because it follows a woman who, for all intents and purposes, seems content with her life. Elizabeth is wealthy, she has a stable job, and she has a boyfriend who she sees rarely, but still one who understands her, loves her, and is always willing for some great sex when he's not traveling on work. Thus, to see Elizabeth wake up to the reality that is her broken family, her terrible boyfriend, and a job that really isn't fulfilling her as much as she thought is both a unexpected and needed surprise. From the beginning itself, though, Elizabeth is a heroine we cannot help but feel for and sympathize with. After all, there isn't anything much like a family dinner gone bad, a father flirting with her son's latest blonde toy, and an inevitable sense of loss to kick start a novel. Seeing Me Naked isn't, though, a story of depressed and broken families. Palmer strikes a perfect balance between the serious issues Elizabeth faces with her home life and the heady rush of romance she shares with Daniel.

And Daniel. I am a sucker for the sweet guys, not the alpha males, so Daniel immediately won my heart. After winning a set of free cooking lessons from Elizabeth, Daniel's shy demeanor in the kitchen wins our heroine over too. What I love about their romance is that it isn't filled with drama, but it isn't easy either. It isn't the main focus of the novel at all, but Daniel provides Elizabeth with a stability she never had in her last relationship and, furthermore, her shows her that the love she's used to seeing at home isn't the type of love she should settle for. Palmer's novels are all about character and all about growth, so the journey Elizabeth undertakes in pursuing her dreams and goals is one you can't help but root for. Additionally, the tender family moments in this, especially Elizabeth's strong bond with her older brother, made me love the book all the more. Palmer manages to capture family relationships in all their messy strength and flaws, a talent which few authors share, but which this author has in spades. Although I haven't been too interested by the synopses of Palmer's other novels, I don't doubt that I will be reading more - much more - of her in the future. Here is an author whose books are comfort, words are chocolate, and stories take on a life of their own. I don't need anything more.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: Heir to Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters, #4) by Juliet Marillier

Title: Heir to Sevenwaters (Sevenwaters, #4) 

Author: Juliet Marillier

Rating: 5 Stars

One of my English teachers once told my class that instead of telling her daughter the fairy tales of Disney legend, the classic Snow White and Sleeping Beauty that had the gallant princes arriving to save the day, she'd always change the ending so that the princess saved herself or, better yet, saved the prince too. When her daughter, only a mere seven years old, got cancer, we all visited her - and still do visit her - in the hospital and would help tell stories; stories of women strong enough to fend for themselves and fight back all that life threw at them. Although, after a point, it would be difficult to come up with new tales, I know the story I'm going to tell her when I see her next. The story of Heir to Sevenwaters.

Heir to Sevenwaters is a new leaf from the original Sevenwaters trilogy. Whereas the first three books in this series were full of constant strife and issues such as rape, abuse, and sexual harassment to name a few, the problems Marillier tackles in this installment are far lighter. As always, these books are about the women of Sevenwaters; about the courageous journey these young girls take and the obstacles they manage to overcome, time and time again, despite their plain status. In that regard, this novel is no different. Yet, the oppressive and terrifying presence of the Lady Oonagh is finally lifted and, truly, Sevenwaters seems all the lighter for it. Now, Lord Sean's daughters are growing and the house is a circle of joy for Lady Aisling is expecting again and this time, she is certain that her child is the long awaited son and heir to Sevenwaters.

During this time, Clodagh's twin sister, Deirdre, is set to be married and though the family is concerned for Aisling's old age, health, and the future of her baby, they struggle to maintain a facade of happiness for Deirdre's marriage brings a needed alliance. For the wedding, Johnny has arrived with his men, among them Aidan and Cathal. Aidan and Clodagh met the summer before and, once again, the two are drawn to each other. Cathal, the rude friend of Aidan, however, warns Clodagh away from the handsome man. As Cathal and Aidan continue to stay at Sevenwaters, Clodagh cannot help but notice how strange and distant Calath is. When her younger brother, Finbar, is finally born safely into the world, she becomes the sole keeper of her sibling, helping to care for him while her mother recuperates. All is not well at Sevenwaters, though. Hidden enemies seek to undermine the family and the Fair Folk of the forests have moved on, leaving behind the tricksters. Thus, when Finbar is exchanged with a changeling, Clodagh knows she has no choice but to go into the Otherworld and bring back the true heir. Along the way, however, she will uncover more not only about her companion, Cathal, but also about, surprisingly, herself.

Unlike its predecessors, Heir to Sevenwaters takes awhile to really reach its true plot thread, the journey to the Otherworld, but the novel never lags because of it. Instead, I appreciate that the beginning of this novel is focused on Clodagh and her life in Sevenwaters. Although she is known as the daughter whose sole skill lies in her household duties, as Sevenwaters sinks into chaos, both of a political and emotional nature, Clodagh manages to hold her own and stay strong for her family, remaining a constant rock of support for them. As such, when her journey in the Otherworld proves to be full of challenges, it is not much of a surprise to see Clodagh tackle them. We see her growth both during times of magic, but also during times of difficulty in everyday life. Furthermore, Clodagh is a heroine whose strengths lie in her realistic portrayal. Unlike Liadan, who seems forever strong, Clodagh isn't ashamed to cry or show her fear. Instead, it is her perseverance despite the burdens placed before her that make her such an engaging heroine. While she lacks physical prowess, the burning strength of her heart and her courage more than make up for any shortcomings she may have, making her one of my - if not the most favorite - Sevenwaters women.

And yet, Heir to Sevenwaters would be nothing without its leading man, Cathal. From the beginning itself, Cathal is a slightly shady character. We see his sarcastic tongue emerge and his ominous warnings about his own friend cause us to doubt his character. Nevertheless, as the story progresses, we begin to peel back the layers Cathal so carefully hides under and discover the heart of the man underneath. A man who is tortured and broken, forced to grow up with the belief that he is unloved and constantly hunted by the fey. A man who is powerful and strong, one whose capacity for love is tremendous and whose sacrifices are oft unnoticed. While Clodagh and Cathal slowly, tortuously, fall in love, the perfection of their union is made all the more obvious. While Clodagh sees herself as others see her, as nothing more than the perfect housewife, Cathal is able to see beyond her plain exterior to the incredible woman she is inside. Similarly, Clodagh is willing enough to look beyond the facade that Cathal puts up and see that he is, in every way, her equal. Together, Clodagh and Cathal are able to weather the worst of storms, including the deadly new villain this book introduces. One who is, thankfully, no Disney character like Lady Oonagh but clever and cunning, a true force to be reckoned with. As Clodagh and Cathal race to rescue the baby Finbar, though, their love story unfolds beautifully, one that made my heart beat erratically and swoon more than I can count. In all honesty, I could discuss these two and their never-ending depth for ages, but I hope you will discover it yourselves. Next to Sorcha and Red, these two are the most fleshed-out, well-deserving, and beautiful couple in this series. And I hope this won't be the last I see of them because I am so in love with their love.

Heir to Sevenwaters is the perfect introduction to a new era of Sevenwaters. While far less dark than its predecessors, this series still contains its tell-tale signs of struggle, of pushing its protagonists to their limits and forcing them to discover new, hidden, and stronger parts of themselves. Additionally, old characters are still very much present and it was a pleasant surprise to see Ciaran play such a vital role, both in this book and hopefully in the rest of this new trilogy. Ultimately, Heir to Sevenwaters is the type of fairytale I'd have wanted to hear as a young child; one where a mere Cinderella-esque housewife transforms into a woman who can fend for herself, save the future of her family, and rescue her own prince too.

Summer Series Reading Challenge: 7

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Showcase Sunday (#26)

Showcase Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Vicki at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Its aim is to showcase our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders this week.

For Review: 
I received this one awhile back but can't wait to start it! Malachi!<33 font="">
I wasn't expecting this in the mail, but I will hopefully get the time soon to ship it off to a friend who most certainly will enjoy this, even if I won't. :)
Admittedly, my excitement for this one has gone done after being disappointed by Bitten, the first in Armstrong's older adult series. BUT, I am still curious to read this one. It's rather big, but I'm looking forward to it. *fingers crossed*
I love this series and this book is no exception. You can read my review for it HERE and look out for Laura Florand later this month since she'll be stopping by the blog! :D

pic name pic name pic name
Nightshifted (Edie Spence, #1) by Cassie Alexander
I've heard so many good things about this series, so I can't wait to start it soon! 
Rosemary and Rue (October Daye, #1) by Seanan McGuire
Heidi @ Bunbury in the Stacks keeps talking up this series and I can't stand to be out of the loop, so I'm jumping into this one soon for sure! :)
Railsea by China Mieville
I'm kind of scared of Mieville, to be honest, because his books seem so OUT THERE, but I desperately want to give them a try, so here's hoping this one works for me! *fingers crossed*
pic name pic name pic name
Raven Flight (Shadowfell, #2) by Juliet Marillier
I've been on a Marillier binge with her Sevenwaters series and am hoping this proves to live up to my expectations too. We'll see.
Cold Magic (Spiritwalkers, #1) by Kate Elliott
It seems this is one of the few solid trilogies out there and now that the entire series is released, I'm looking forward to devouring them. My first Kate Elliott, so hopefully it'll live up to my expectations!
Haze (Shadows, #2) by Paula Weston
I have a British librarian in my library who was kind enough to lend this to me. Sadly, she is returning back to UK for retirement, which means I won't be getting such easy access to AUS/UK novels, but I can't wait to read this in the meantime! :)

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss 
I couldn't wait to read this but I really wanted to experience it on audio, so FINALLY my copy arrived from the library. I have HIGH expectations, so let's hope they're all met! :D

I'm getting incredible lazy these days, so I actually have borrowed many more books from the library, but since I've already read them, I figured there's no point in sharing. Among those were Sarah Addison Allen's novels, Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart, the Sevenwaters series, Liza Palmer's books, and even a splash of Jennifer Crusie. Anyway, what books have you been reading this summer? Link me up! :)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

ARC Review: The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand

The Chocolate Touch is the fourth book in the Amour et Chocolat Series, a romance series made up of companion novels that feature romances in Paris with plenty of chocolate and desserts. You don't need to read the previous books to read this one and this review is spoiler-free for the previous books. You can read my reviews of the previous novels in this series HERE.

Title: The Chocolate Touch (Amour et Chocolat, #4) 

Author: Laura Florand

Rating: 4 Stars

Release Date: July 30th, 2013

Ever since The Chocolate Thief, I've been a die-hard fan of Florand. Although none of the books in this series have come as close to my heart as her first one, her works are gems. Not only are they swoon-worthy and engaging, impossible to put down once begun, but they are written with a sensual and gripping style that draws you into the lives of the characters. Florand seamlessly manages to add depth to mere chick-lit, allowing her books to transcend from simple pleasure to true enrichment. With The Chocolate Touch, Florand finally managed to re-ignite the flame she lit with The Chocolate Thief. Although her second and third books were delightful reads, somehow their large male leads never appealed to me, which isn't to say I didn't still swoon, but simply not as much as when I heard the name Sylvain Marquis. Now, with her latest, The Chocolate Touch, Florand returns to the love story of another chocolatier (let's just be honest - I go for the chocolate guys more than the macaroon or pastry chefs!), Dominique Richard. Fans of Florand's prior books already know him as the womanizer who is Sylvain's biggest opposition, but unraveling his hidden layers - a dark and violent past - is something to truly look forward to.

The Chocolate Touch really shines, though, not with its sexy hero, but with its heroine, Jaime Corey, the younger sister to Cade. Jaime is a broken and lost woman, only recently discharged from the hospital after a horrible incident. As such, her body is weak, her family is overly concerned, and she begins to doubt herself. As such, out of all of Florand's protagonists, Jaime probably lends herself most easily to depth. Although she is in Paris to recuperate and regain her strength, her mind has now grown weaker than her body, confused and a mere shell of the confident and sure woman she once used to be. Jaime and Dominique clash in a tidal wave of sexual passion when they meet, but as they spend more time with one another, they grow to unravel the dark layers and multiple secrets that each of them hides.

Florand takes her time to build the relationship between Jaime and Dominique, allowing them to slowly stumble upon hurdles and reveal their secrets at a steady pace. Of all her romances, this is perhaps the most heart-breaking. With The Chocolate Thief, Cade and Sylvain went through their own individual growth and revelations. With The Chocolate Kiss, Philippe and Magalie overcame their pasts. Now, in The Chocolate Touch, Dominique and Jaime have to learn to trust again, live again, and hope again. It's a much more difficult journey, but it never seems that way because the balance between romance and depth is intricately struck. Furthermore, the metaphors that I seem to tire of quickly are kept to a minimum, which is a refreshing change from the overdose of castles and princesses we were bombarded with in The Chocolate Kiss. If anything, the romance in this installment revolves around the basest feelings and emotions: comfort, security, tenderness. Jaime and Dominique are lucky enough, despite their dark pasts, to find this in one another and it is those emotions that makes them hold on and stay. In many ways, these two are very similar - chasers of danger, unafraid of their own safety, and extremely insecure. Yet, although both Jaime and Dominique view themselves as powerless beings, they lend strength to each other which makes their bond all the more tight and all the more meaningful too.

In fact, this latest Florand romance was well on its way to becoming my favorite, but the last three-four chapters seemed to drag unnecessarily. It seemed as if the conversations were traveling in circles and, really, the conflicts were solved, so the petty arguments and prolonging of the story were a little grating. With the exception of that, though, this book was a gem. From the beginning to the end, Jaime and Dominique's tender romance made my heart flutter, break, cry, and re-build, all in a short span of just hours. I'm so very glad this series isn't about to end anytime soon as each consecutive book is just better and better. With Paris as a backdrop, chocolate as a given, and Florand's writing, it's safe to say I'm hooked. And don't regret it one bit.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mini-Reviews: The Disenchantments & Somebody to Love

Title: The Disenchantments 

Author: Nina LaCour

Rating: 3.5 Stars

It is difficult for me to fathom now, looking back, that I considered abandoning this novel many times during its first quarter. The Disenchantments starts out as a dull book, which hardly seems possible as it begins with a group of friends setting on a road trip to make music, but dull it certainly is. And then, suddenly, everything begins to pick up and from that point on, it hits you – or it hit me, at any rate – like a ton of bricks that this book; this book is so, so good and it’s only going to get better. I don’t get that feeling a lot when I’m immersed in a novel, but when I do get it? I perk up, listen, and stick with the novel. And I am incredibly glad I did.

Nina LaCour’s sophomore novel is nothing like her debut, Hold Still, which reeks of depression and sadness amidst its beauty. The Disenchantments is about nothing as serious as death, but it is just as valuable and important. Colby and Bev have been friends since childhood, always intent on skipping college and flying straight to Europe after high school. Thus, when Bev announces that she did, in fact, apply to college and get in, Colby is stunned. Unlike Bev, his future has no direction. No concrete plans. And he suddenly is stuck with two tickets to Europe and a whole bunch of uncertainty. If there’s anything I love, it’s a book about self-growth. The Disenchantments is a wacky sort of novel, flying everywhere and nowhere at once, but everything comes together by the end. 

Colby and Bev go on separate journeys; he realizing what life will be like without Bev constantly by his side and her realizing what life will be like now that she’s made such a huge decision. For Colby, the possibilities are now endless and that, more than anything else, scares him. He could go to Europe. He could go to college. He could do anything. LaCour captures the helplessness that teens feel when finally thrust upon the vast world so perfectly and though Colby and Bev aren’t your average teens and their story isn’t the typical one, it still resonates. Its message is hopeful and meaningful, the journey Colby takes is one of great importance and by the end, you cannot help but feel as if you can tackle the world. The Disenchantments is not a perfect novel, but it spoke to me, and at the end of the day, I really can’t ask for much more.

Title: Somebody to Love (Gideon Cove, #2)

Author: Kristan Higgins

Rating: 3 Stars

Somebody to Love veers away from the typical Kristan Higgins path - which is both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it's refreshing to have a protagonist who is a single mom by choice, not by circumstance; who isn't actively pining and seeking her Mr. Right; whose is perfectly happy with her life the way it is. And yet, Parker, the heroine of our tale, is rich. Very rich. In fact, she writes best-selling stories for children and gives all the proceeds to charity because she doesn't need the money. As such, when her father loses all of his - and therefore her and her son's - money, she is forced to spend the summer in Gideon Cove fixing up the shack her aunt left for her and hopefully selling it so she and her son can find a place to live. Into this mix enter James. Or Thing One. James is Parker's father's lawyer, Harry, and as he listens to his boss, Parker is unable to see him as much more than a minion of the father who has never had any time for her. James and Parker have a past, though, one that finds the time to catch up with them when James is sent to help Parker settle into Gideon Cove. Needless to say, with a hot summer, cool water, and past memories, the sparks are sure to fly.

Quite simply, my issue with Somebody to Love is the fact that Kristan Higgins wrote this on a beach with many half-naked men who had great abs. While Parker and James are well-developed, interesting, and mature characters on their own, their romantic development consists of ogling. Which is all fine and dandy the first or even the second time, but after a while even I got tired of reading about the fine and sweaty abs this lawyer had. (Why does he have abs? He's a LAWYER. Is he benching his law books or something?) While Higgins makes you realize why this couple will work for each other, there's a lot of filler tension and drama that does little or nothing for the plot. Also, James is not the most stunning of heroes. Okay, backtrack, I don't mean his abs aren't stunning, because I'm sure they are, but compared to the past Higgins heroes, he simply isn't as memorable. Yeah, he's sweet and him and Parker have that one-night-stand-in-the-past thing going on, not to mention the whole you're-the-bosses-daughter/father's-employer situation, but it all reads a little too bland. Cliche. Boring. I've come to expect vivacious and different characters from Higgins but Parker and James are characters you can find in any romance.

Nevertheless, this was still a solid and engaging read. There are plenty of wonderful moments, forged friendships, and there's nothing quite like Gideon Cove. Also, Malone comes back to steal the show - so much so that you're wondering to yourself, "James who? Abs what?" I loved seeing him, Maggie, and the rest of the Gideon Cove gang back once again. Additionally, Higgins's trademark humor is still present and the inclusion of Parker's son, Nicky, was adorable and the moments with him were heartfelt. Higgins captured the mother-son bond in this perfectly, both the actual affection and also the complications of being a single mother and dating someone new. All in all, Somebody to Love is a quick summer romance, perfect for the weather these days and sure to delight. Just don't expect the same caliber of the first Gideon Cove novel going in.

Summer Series Reading Challenge: 6

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

Title: Nowhere But Home 

Author: Liza Palmer

Rating: 4 Stars

Nowhere But Home is the quintessential comfort read and I devoured it in one sitting on this rainy afternoon. Liza Palmer is an author I've had my eye on for awhile but I never seem to have caught hold of her books. As such, when I saw both this and Seeing Me Naked on the shelves of my library earlier this morning, I grabbed them. And I'm so glad I did. 

Palmer writes of family, hope, and love. Nowhere But Home is a distinctly character-driven novel, following Queenie Wake as she returns to her small town of North Star that she has been so desperately trying to escape for years. Now, after a series of firings have left her hopeless, she rejoins her older sister, Merry Carole, in celebrating the fact that Cal, Queenie's nephew, is the star quarterback of their football team. The Wake's are the lowest of the low in North Star, forever living under the legacy of their mother, JB Wake, and her whoring days. As such, Queenie and her sister are treated, for the most part, without much respect, and Cal's rising to the ranks of the town elite is a huge thing for the sisters. It may just be, after so many years, their stepping stone to happiness. 

In many ways, Nowhere But Home seems like a classic Southern novel. White trash girl returns to her roots, discovers that her life is so much more than she made it out to be, and finds a way to live in the town she thought she hated. Very "Sweet Home Alabama". And yet, Palmer manages to make this novel one infused with warmth, with depth, and with emotion. From the beginning itself, she draws you into Queenie's life, making you feel for her situation despite the fact that it so very out-there and different. It is Palmer's writing and her three-dimensional characters that make this novel simply stand out. Although Queenie may be facing the watching eyes of her town and living under the rotten reputation of her no-good mother, she is still going through other issues too; everything from being jobless to landing at a crossroads in her life, not knowing what to do or what path to take. Stay in North Star? Or run away from her past and troubles yet again? With an honest narration and unflinchingly relate-able voice, Queenie's story becomes your own and her journey of growth, self-discovery, and ultimate love is truly one to behold. 

Furthermore, Palmer's latest is a story of family. Merry Carole and Queenie share a tight bond as sisters, one forged by their upbringing, and as Queenie stays on at North Star, their bond only becomes stronger. Not only is it one infused with understanding, but it is a realistic portrayal of sisterhood; not always easy, but always comforting nevertheless. In addition to Queenie and Merry Carole, though, all the women in this book are so very strong. Our classic high school cheerleader-esque women who have grown up and continued to be bitches are revealed to have unexpected layers of depth and the tight-knit group of friends that Queenie forms in her town are a force of love and comfort to be reckoned with. I laughed, nodded, and teared up with these women, so much so that I feel as if I know them intimately myself. It's all just so very real, as is the developing bonds that Queenie forms with her nephew, Cal. I was very pleasantly surprised by the fact that this novel is not merely Queenie's, it is a novel of this town and these people who, despite being at the bottom wrung of the social ladder, have not yet given up. 

A novel of this nature, though, wouldn't be complete without a love story. Queenie bumps into her childhood crush, Everett Coburn, on the first day she returns and from that moment on, their tumultuous and passionate past comes crashing back. Everett and Queenie have history - a lot of it - and it is painful. Although Everett and Queenie have only a few interactions throughout the novel, the ones they do have are filled with unspoken words, longing, and carry so much weight. In fact, the bulk of their love story lies in their past and in moving on and finding a way to be together despite it. Everett doesn't need to charm us (his name does a pretty good job, actually), only because Queenie is already in love with him and, as with every emotion in this novel, we feel it so acutely. I love these types of love stories - subtle, yet deep, focusing on the true emotions that inspire long-lasting relationships. Truly, it seems that in every aspect Palmer simply shines. I adored this story of small town Texas and of big city dreams; of passions found and of passions lost; of closing the door to the past and looking ahead to the future. With such beautiful writing, realistic characters, and emotional words, there is no doubt that I will be returning to North Star - and Palmer - very soon. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: Riveted by Meljean Brook

Title: Riveted (Iron Seas, #3) 

Author: Meljean Brook

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Riveted is definitely Meljean Brook's best to date and I'm only upset I now have to wait to read more by her. Needless to say, it'll be tough to follow this one up, but if anyone can pull it off, it'll be her. Riveted takes a pleasant detour from the world we've come to know from Meljean Brook and introduces to a completely different aspect of this realm: the icy north, home to legends of magic and mystery. In reality, however, the tribes of Iceland are made up women who are forced to keep themselves hidden from the rest of the world. When David, a geologist, goes searching for his mother's people in the north, the only link he is able to find is Annika, a woman serving on an airship. Surprisingly enough, for him, Annika proves to be more than a mere source of information...she may even become an unexpected friend, ally, and lover.

What makes Riveted so very different from other novels is the fact that it centers around a secret society where women and their partners can live together away from the prying - and judgmental - eyes of the rest of the world. Annika, the adopted daughter of her mother, accidentally lights a fire in her tribe and for her mistake, her sister takes the fall and leaves. Now, Annika has sworn to protect both her family and find her sister before returning home, but David Kentewess proves to be a true test of her faith. David yearns to seek Annika's people to put his mother's memory to rest, but Annika can never tell him the truth, both because she values his opinion and is sworn to secrecy. As such, it is a difficult and unique situation that is struck up between these two - one that makes for a scintillating and steamy read.

Annika, from the beginning itself, is vivacious and independent. Not only does she not care what others think of her, but her own opinion of herself is so vastly different from the truth. Where Annika sees herself as the Annika "Rabbit" of her childhood days, life has forced her to mold into a strong and courageous young woman whose bravery and intelligence is unrivaled. David similarly suffers from issues of self-confidence, shying away from his own reflection because of his mechanical limbs. As Annika and David begin to know one another, though, they also begin to see beyond the outer layers of falsehood into the true soul that lies beneath. Without a doubt, this is my favorite Brook love story to date, merely because of how slow, sure, and awkward the interactions between this couple were. Annika and David needed to not only understand one another, but also trust each other in a world that had made them estranged from all others. In each other, though, they saw the reflections of their true selves - the best gift of all.

As with all of Brook's books, Riveted is primarily character-driven, but it has its share of intriguing villains and machinery (trolls!). Although the action isn't as high as with the previous two novels in this series, the overall book itself benefits. Furthermore, Riveted isn't in need of an epilogue novella to tie its loose ends and secure our feelings towards this couple - the book itself is sufficient. Annika and David are perfect for one another, both balanced and loyal from beginning to end, unlike the tumultuous relationships between previous Brook pairings. Quite honestly, their story ends on the perfect note and leaves you with nothing more than a gaping smile, full heart, and contented sigh. If that isn't the best you can ask for from a book then I don't know what is.

Summer Series Reading Challenge: 5

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ARC Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Title: The Bitter Kingdom (The Girl of Fire and Thorns, #3) 

Author: Rae Carson

Rating: 5 Stars

Release Date: August 27th, 2013*

*Fun Fact: MY BIRTHDAY! Which means you should all treat yourselves to this book on my behalf! :)

Goddamn. Rae Carson, you are a genius. A genius among geniuses. If you only promise to write books that are this good in the future, I will raise a pedestal in your honor. No joke. 

The Bitter Kingdom is damn near perfect. Hell, it probably is perfect but since I'm too blinded by the perfection that is Hector, I'm unable to call anything else perfect in comparison to him. *swoons*

Top 5 Reasons To Read The Bitter Kingdom. (In case you needed any convincing...which you HOPEFULLY don't because if you do, you are INSANE.) 

1. HECTOR! As if there was a better reason to read this book. The Bitter Kingdom has a few glimpses into Hector's mind and what I loved about these were that they were short, concise, and yet carried so much weight in the story. The Bitter Kingdom is not a loud, in-your-face conclusion the way Clockwork Princess is. Quite thankfully, there is no endless drama and breaking of hearts and tears and useless epilogues. Instead, there is a slow, steady, and loyal burn of everything from trust to friendship to romance. The Bitter Kingdom is one of those conclusions to look back upon and smile; one that will induce a warmth throughout your whole body. It is simply so very sweet and true and the strength of the romance in this installment lies not with sexual tension (Carson teased us enough with CoE!), but rather with simple one-line statements that cause your stomach to flip and flutter. Furthermore, Carson doesn't try to additionally build the existing relationship between Hector and Elisa. Instead, what she does is portray them as equals and convey to us the strength of their bond. It's beautiful and will leave you grinning like a complete fan-girl or just sighing softly as you flip through these pages.

2. Elisa. I just love this girl. From Book 1 to Book 2, we've seen her grow and change tremendously and it truly seems as if Elisa is at her peak by the end of Crown of Embers but Carson continues to push her, to test her, to see how far she can go and how strong she can become. And I love that. And, best of all, I love that she grows into her own in this novel without the guidance of the people she's always had. Without Hector, without Ximena, without Alejandro or her father or her sister, Elisa finds herself and becomes who she truly is, stripped away of all that. And it's more than a little marvelous to witness. 

3. Storm! Honestly, the only other book I've read that features a close friendship between a man and a woman is Through the Ever Night. I absolutely loved the tight friendship between Aria and Roar in that book and I love the bond that forms between Storm and Elisa in this one. It's more subtle and Storm doesn't have the charismatic aura that Roar possesses, but I loved these two just the same, if not more. 

4. Mara. Elisa and Mara truly grew to care for one another and become a support system for each other in Crown of Embers and while that continues, it also changes in this installment. One of the most egregious faults with this book probably lay in its subtlety of everything. From the romance to the friendships to growth, nothing is overly emphasized or stressed, rather being touched upon and intricately woven into the plot line. While this worked out perfectly for me, mostly because it felt so much more realistic and the development I wanted between the characters already had such a strong foundation, it might affect other readers a bit more. Doubtful, but it might. On the other hand, though, I truly appreciated the skill with which Carson wrote this piece. 

5. THE MINES OF MORIA! YOU SHALL NOT PASS! Seriously, I'm not even kidding, there ARE mines in this book. Admittedly, when I first saw the mention of "mines" and "snow" and "mountain" all I could think about was Lord of the Rings and I was a little worried Carson would try to pull a Tolkien. But, thankfully, she doesn't and the adventure scenes in this are riveting, well-written, and covered with plot-twists. I love that The Bitter Kingdom finally reveals to us the extent of world-building in this realm, its past, its present, and tackles on so much more too. Very lightly, Carson touches upon more religious themes, but mostly she discusses different cultures, diplomacy, and co-existence. Like its predecessor, this novel contains a LOT of politics and political intrigue, full with Megan Whalen Turner-esque twists that will come barreling out of nowhere. And it is so, so good. 

If you haven't already figured out, The Bitter Kingdom is not only a must-read, it's a must-pre-order-now-and-make-a-pedestal-for-Rae-Carson-already read. In fact, if there are any qualms I have with this book, it is only that there wasn't nearly as much making-out between Hector and Elisa as I wanted. Granted, even if this whole book was just making-out between Hector and Elisa, it STILL wouldn't be enough, which just goes to show how unbelievably amazing this novel is. Rae Carson, you have my heart. Just don't go breaking it with your next series. Or making it weep for swoon-worthy guys like Hector. Honestly, my heart can only take so much "When will my Prince Charming Hector come?" longing. 

 THANK YOU Flann for sending this one my way! In case you don't already know, you made my YEAR.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters, #3) by Juliet Marillier

Title: Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters, #3) 

Author: Juliet Marillier

Rating: 4 Stars

Ironically enough, I wound up loving Child of the Prophecy more than its predecessor, Son of the Shadows. For many, this original concluding foray into Sevenwaters was a disappointment, sadly lacking in comparison to the beauty that was Daughter of the Forest and the epic that was Son of the Shadows. As someone who left the latter feeling more than a little disappointed and was prepared to feel the same way from this installment, Child of the Prophecy proved to be a pleasant surprise. A very pleasant surprise. I wound up devouring this over a brief weekend in NYC, unable to set it down on the subway, train, or bus. And yes, I did get many strange glances at my oft grief-stricken expression, not to mention the stray tears, but it was so, so worth it. If, like me, you've been putting off this series under the assumption that this novel is the weak link, let me convince you otherwise; truly, it isn't. 

What makes Child of the Prophecy a difficult novel to like is the fact that it is a difficult novel to enjoy. Sorcha and Liadan, our past heroines, are women who have grown loved and sheltered in the woodlands of Sevenwaters. Fianne, however, has grown up secluded near the ocean with only her father. Niamh, Fianne's beautiful mother, committed suicide shortly after Fianne was born and, as a result, Fianne has always wondered why she was never enough to keep her mother alive. Furthermore, Fianne's limp and sorceress status keep her secluded from others; all except Darragh who patiently befriends her and loyally returns for her every summer, though he is a traveling man. As such, from the beginning itself, Fianne is a very different heroine, one whose path does not merely lie in testing her endurance, but also in discovering her own path. 

Our novel truly begins, though, when the Lady Oonagh, Fianne's grandmother, blackmails her granddaughter into infiltrating Sevenwaters and preventing a prophecy from coming true. Johnny, the son of Liadan and Bran, is the titular child of the prophecy upon which the hopes of Sevenwaters lie as they face a perilous time nearing war with the Britons, specifically the Northwoods who neighbor Harrowfield. Fianne, though recognizing the evil intents in her grandmother's plan, is powerless to stop her as the Lady Oonagh threatens to kill Ciaran, Fianne's father. Thus, Fianne travels to Sevenwaters, little realizing that her extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins will fill her heart with love and weaken her resolve. Fianne, who has known little of love in her life and has seen its destructive hand in her family, will now discover the true power, both of family and, most importantly, of love. 

Fianne, from the beginning itself, was a protagonist I loved, merely because of her flaws. Unlike Sorcha and Liadan, Fianne is not without her evil attributes. In fact, on more than one occasion Fianne commits acts with terrible consequences, choosing not to intervene and prevent certain actions from unfolding. While this may indicate the presence of evil, what it really indicates is a character who is confused and afraid. Fianne fails to see her own beauty, both outward and inward, and also fails to recognize the power she holds. All these qualities make her an easy pawn for the Lady Oonagh and the struggles Fianne must face mold her character into one with many, many grays. It is difficult to decide if Fianne can even be considered a good person after all the evil she has done, no matter the good she does as well, but these are the precise reasons I love her character so. Fianne is not the perfect heroine Sevenwaters usually gives us. Along her way she finds way to defy her grandmother, to stand up to her and to stand up for what is right, and though she returns to being a pawn, time and time again, each time she learns and her experiences steadily give her the confidence she needs in herself to finally overcome evil. Without a doubt, Fianne's growth as a character is the best this series has delivered so far, and likely will be for her circumstances lend themselves to so much room for improvement. Fianne's steady will, her courage and determination to find a way to do right while leading her grandmother to believe she is doing wrong is such a tricky and difficult path, but she treads it realistically, with equal parts despair and hope. Although I was not comfortable with some of the decisions she was forced to make at the hand of her grandmother, I recognized their worth in her growth as a human and, ultimately, appreciate their value. 

Marillier wouldn't be herself, though, without rich secondary characters as well. We meet almost the entire Sevenwaters cast again, sans Red who has sadly passed away by this point, and are exposed to the changes that have taken place in the past eighteen years. While our favorite characters remain the same, time has changed them and their circumstances as well. Additionally, there is a slew of new characters, all in the form of Fianne's numerous cousins, all of which I loved. Yet, the secondary character who stole my heart - and Fianne's too! - was Darragh. Darragh and Fianne are childhood friends and while Fianne cannot see it, Darragh slowly falls for her with time. Now, however, entrusted with the Lady Oonagh's deadly task, Fianne sends Darragh away, fearful that her grandmother may threaten to harm him next. Thus, Fianne and Darragh are often apart for most of the novel. Although Darragh always returns to Fianne, their moments are short and their romance is not an overwhelming majority of the novel. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is perhaps the most subtle of Marillier's romances, but one of the most beautiful nevertheless. While Darragh and Fianne are kept apart, their memories of one another never are and through small thoughts and subtle gestures, the longing these two share is built-up. Although I don't parade as a hopeless romantic, the truth it, the sheer longing and uncertainty and love and affection between these two had me shaking with emotion near the end of the novel, despite the lack of emphasis it was given in the book. Darragh's kindness and his love give Fianne the strength to persevere on and while he isn't a leader like Red or Bran, his innocence and gentle nature are exactly what Fianne need, not to mention his loyalty and undying faith in his best friend, despite the horrors she confesses to him. For me, at any rate, these two definitely join the ranks with Sorcha & Red and Liadan & Bran. Without a doubt. 

While Child of the Prophecy was a surprisingly quick and engaging read for me, it did have its low points. For one, the portrayal of the Lady Oonagh was disappointingly Disney-like for my tastes. After shrouding this evil sorceress for two novels and building up her legend, actually meeting the woman was a disappointing shock. Marillier failed to convey the true hatred that resided within Lady Oonagh's heart and her dialogue depicted her as a blood-hungry witch. Additionally, the death of a major character, both from Son of the Shadows and this novel, was dealt with very sloppily, in my opinion. For fear of spoilers, I won't mention any names, but this character and Fianne shared a large story line, one that was integral both to Fianne's growth and the plot of the novel. Thus, to see the character killed off in a quick and hurried fashion, mostly as a matter of convenience, was confusing, to say the least. In some ways, this novel didn't carry forth the same level of well-rounded excellency as Marillier's novels always do, with a few points shoddily disregarded or merely disappointing, but ultimately, one cannot deny that Child of the Prophecy is an excellent conclusion to this original trilogy. Not only did it exceed my expectations, but it wormed its way into my heart as well. Well and truly, Child of the Prophecy is far from being the disappointment of this series. In fact, I suspect there isn't one to be found.

You can read my reviews for Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows, Books 1 & 2 respectively, HERE and HERE.

Summer Series Reading Challenge:4