Saturday, January 23, 2021

Blog Tour and Book Sketch: Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift

By: Dana Swift
Published By: Delacorte Press
Release Date: January 19, 2021
Series: Wickery #1
Pages: 448
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Buy the Book: Macmillan

Goodreads Summary: Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who's mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery's most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross...and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery's fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it's complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

The first book in an epic, heart-pounding fantasy duology about two royal heirs betrothed to be married, but whose loyalties are torn, and a ruthless enemy who threatens their world, perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal, and Renée Ahdieh.

First Thought After Finishing: Excuse me while I scream and wait very impatiently for the next installment!

I cannot resist a fantasy novel boasting a unique magic system and an arranged marriage, so I knew that Cast in Firelight had to be on my TBR. This was my second book of 2021, and my first fantasy book after a major fantasy hangover, and yet I was quickly drawn into the story and enjoyed the adventure.

Adraa has always known her future—train in magic, marry Jatin, and unite the lands of Belwar and Naupure. Only Adraa is not looking forward to her future. She and Jatin are rivals, not lovers, and she dreads her royal ceremony test where she must prove her skill with magic in front of her kingdom. Adraa wants to be the best maharani she can for Belwar, but no country is perfect, and she soon discovers that criminal activity is rampant. When her path crosses Jatin’s, with both under assumed identities, she finds an unlikely ally and partner. But the truth will always come out, and Adraa must decide which she wants to save—her country or her heart.

If you love strong, princess-saves-herself type heroines, then you will want Cast in Firelight to be on your TBR. Adraa is fierce, independent, and passionate, though not without her insecurities. Although she does not necessarily want to accept her arranged marriage, she uses her frustration and dislike of Jatin to push herself to be a better witch. I would have liked to see more of their rivalry instead or (or in addition to) the budding romance under the false identities, if only because there was a hint of sizzle in their dislike.

The world and its magic system was highly inventive, with nine gods and goddesses each represented by a different color. Witches and wizards had a forte in one of the nine colors, supposedly as a blessing from that god, so any spoken spells showed the color of their forte. The world itself drew from Indian influences, which the author explained was done for her children, and it added another depth to the fantasy setting. I hope we are able to learn more about the gods and their interactions in the world in the sequel.

Intrigue and suspense are definitely woven throughout the plot, which kept me turning pages so that I could learn who was truly trustworthy. Although readers can guess at some of the story aspects, there are a few surprises along the way. However, there were a few scenes that surprised me in a different way—these seemed to come out of nowhere and not quite fit the arc of the story. I found myself rereading a few pages to see if I had missed a lead-in, but to no avail. Even though I was momentarily pulled out of the flow of the story, once those scenes had passed, it was easy to be swept up in the world again.

Overall, Cast in Firelight is a strong debut, and if you like secret identities in a fantasy world, you should definitely add this to your TBR! The ending definitely left me wanting the sequel, so I will be looking forward to its release next year!

Most Memorable Aspect: The color-coded magic system based on the nine gods and goddesses.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Dana Swift started making up fantasy worlds when she was eleven years old and hasn’t stopped since. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned degrees in English and Advertising. While in college, Dana competed as a saber fencer and learned a thing or two about fighting, parrying and how it feels to fall in love with your sparring partner. She currently lives with said husband in Miami, Florida.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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Thursday, January 7, 2021

Book Sketch: The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

By: Greta Kelly
Published By: Harper Voyager
Release Date: January 12, 2021
Series: The Frozen Crown #1
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: AAdult
Source: Netgalley
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.

A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir's gates, but to those behind the palace walls.

And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.

First Thought After Finishing: I need the sequel immediately!

Any novel billed with both magic and treachery is one that makes it onto my TBR list immediately. I was very excited to get a copy of The Frozen Crown on Netgalley, and the intriguing synopsis of this book did not disappoint! From the magic system to the political intrigue, this book kept me turning page after page to see what would happen next.

Askia is the rightful heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh, but political maneuvering of her cousin has kept her from her throne. Instead, her country is embroiled in a war with the Roven Empire. Orphaned and desperate to win back her country, Askia has traveled among war camps, fought with her army, but now must journey to a foreign court to gain allies to defeat Roven. However, once in Vishir, Askia discovers that the real battle is just beginning. Forced to navigate secrets, political alliances, and budding romances, Askia must decide how much she is willing to sacrifice for her country—or for herself.

In many ways, this book combined the best of YA and adult fantasy genres. The book was faced-paced with just enough world-building to appreciate the political dynamics. The magic system and guilds were very intriguing, especially Askia’s brand of witchery. There were definitely many powers and forces at play in the book, and it kept the storyline quite interesting trying to figure out how they would all interact together.

Askia is a strong female, forged through a difficult past, bound by loyalty to fight for her country. She wants to remain independent, to win her allies through her own merits and through the importance of her cause rather than playing romantic games. This is not to say that there are no attractions in this novel, or no good males, but it is not the overall focus. Instead, Askia spends most of her time training to be a better warrior, a better witch, and better able to navigate court politics. I enjoyed watching her come into her own, confront her past, and find a strength she didn’t know she had to make the difficult decisions.

I do wish that there had been a bit more world-building, especially at the beginning—the initial pages were a bit confusing, but the action quickly made up for that confusion. I would also have liked to see more time given to the relationship between Askia and some of the other characters. There is so much more I could say about this book, but it would be a shame to spoil anything. Many of the characters are more than they seem, and the truth only begins to come out the more that you read. I will be interested to see how the world expands in the next book, how the hints of romance play out, and how the characters will rise to new and unexpected challenges.

Most Memorable Aspect: Askia’s brand of witchery and her strength.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Blog Tour and Book Sketch: A Golden Fury by Samantha Cohoe

By: Samantha Cohoe
Published By: Wednesday Books
Release Date: October 13, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Macmillan

Goodreads Summary: Thea Hope longs to be an alchemist out of the shadow of her famous mother. The two of them are close to creating the legendary Philosopher’s Stone—whose properties include immortality and can turn any metal into gold—but just when the promise of the Stone’s riches is in their grasp, Thea’s mother destroys the Stone in a sudden fit of violent madness.

While combing through her mother’s notes, Thea learns that there’s a curse on the Stone that causes anyone who tries to make it to lose their sanity. With the threat of the French Revolution looming, Thea is sent to Oxford for her safety, to live with the father who doesn’t know she exists.

But in Oxford, there are alchemists after the Stone who don’t believe Thea’s warning about the curse—instead, they’ll stop at nothing to steal Thea’s knowledge of how to create the Stone. But Thea can only run for so long, and soon she will have to choose: create the Stone and sacrifice her sanity, or let the people she loves die.

Alchemy is a subject I find fascinating. There are so many things we still do not understand about the world, and sometimes it’s hard not to dream about a touch of magic in everyday life. Who wouldn’t want to have the Philosopher’s Stone? This book explores that exact question.

Thea Hope is an aspiring alchemist living in the shadow of her famous mother, but she dreams of finding her own fame one day. She will uncover the secrets of making the Philosopher’s Stone, reunite with her love Will, and live happily ever after, as the fairy tales say. Only life is not a fairy tale. Her mother is trying to keep the alchemical secrets to herself, and with France on the brink of revolution, Thea will be sent to England for her own safety. Despite staying with a father who never knew she existed, Thea is determined to live out her dreams. However, secrets and betrayals abound, and Thea will have to navigate dangerous waters if she wants to survive, let alone make the stone.

This book drew me in from the very beginning. I loved the premise, and who wouldn’t want to be engrossed in historical France and England? I wanted to learn more about Thea and her mother, and I wanted to see if they would be successful making the stone. I felt Thea’s longing for her one real friend and love, and, of course, the chance of learning alchemical secrets fascinated me. And then all of the action started. The mark of a good book is one that can make you feel strong emotions, and A Golden Fury certainly accomplished this. From wanting to see more of the Comte, to wishing I could reach through the pages and shake a character or two to make them see reason, emotions were definitely high throughout this book.

The magical effects of the stone are felt throughout the book. The further alchemists descend into their work, the less lucid they become. This led to moments of wondering who could be trusted, if the budding romances were motivated by real feelings or by greed (and maybe a touch of Stockholm Syndrome), and it also made me keep turning pages to uncover the truth about all of the characters and see if Thea would prevail despite all the odds. The stakes in this book were certainly high—lose friends, lose sanity, or lose life—and this made for gripping reading.

Unfortunately, for me, the ending of the book did not quite live up to the beginning. There were several fledgling plot lines that never seemed fully realized, and more than once I felt like I was getting whiplash from characters’ behavior. It seemed like the book didn’t quite reach its full potential. I wanted more vivid descriptions, more time to savor building tension, and more of a resolution to the story threads that were started. However, I know other people did not have these issues, so don’t let that stop you from reading this! There were still plenty of enjoyable aspects throughout the book.

Travel through time and enjoy the mystic nature of alchemy. I’ll be interested to see what Samantha Cohoe writes next!

Most Memorable Aspect: The inclusion of research from historical alchemists.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

Samantha Cohoe writes historically-inspired young adult fantasy. She was raised in San Luis Obispo, California, where she enjoyed an idyllic childhood of beach trips, omnivorous reading, and writing stories brimming with adverbs. She currently lives in Denver with her family and divides her time among teaching Latin, mothering, writing, reading, and deleting adverbs. A Golden Fury is her debut novel.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Monday, October 12, 2020

Book Sketch: The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli

By: Kristen Ciccarelli
Published By: Harper Teen
Release Date: November 12, 2019
Series: Iskari
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: Warning--May contain spoilers for The Last Namsara or The Caged Queen.

At the end of one world, there always lies another.

Safire, a soldier, knows her role in this world is to serve the King of Firgaard—helping to maintain the peace in her oft-troubled nation.

Eris, a deadly pirate, has no such conviction. Known as the Death Dancer for her ability to evade even the most determined of pursuers, she possesses a superhuman power to move between worlds.

When one can roam from dimension to dimension, can one ever be home? Can love and loyalty truly exist?

Now Safire and Eris—sworn enemies—find themselves on a common mission: to find Asha, the last Namsara. From the port city of Darmoor to the fabled faraway Star Isles, their search and their stories become woven ever more tightly together as they discover the uncertain fate they’re hurtling towards may just be a shared one. In this world—and the next.

First Thought After Finishing: Kristen Ciccarelli saved the best for last!

This was unquestionably my favorite book of the trilogy. Pirates, deception, enemies-to-lovers, and mythology are all woven together to create a compelling story that kept me turning page after page. This book can be read as a standalone, but it is definitely much richer if you have read the other two books first.

Safire has sworn to protect King Dax with her life. So when a thief infiltrates Firgaard, Safire will stop at nothing to neutralize the threat to the kingdom’s safety. Only Eris is far more that Safire ever bargained for. What starts as a series of lures and traps ends in an intercontinental quest with life and death stakes. Can they find Asha before it’s too late? And if they do, can they save not just the realm, but also their hearts?

Are you looking for a book full of action with dragons and an expertly crafted slow-burn romance? Look no further than this book! After the slow pace and political intrigue of The Caged Queen, The Sky Weaver is exactly what you would want in the final installment of a trilogy. Eris and Safire each have their own missions, but events beyond their control draw them into a tenuous alliance that takes them far away from Firgaard and into the legendary Sky Isles. But working together is nearly impossible, as both are trying to undermine the other. Still, there is an undeniable pull between both characters, a sizzling tension that leaps of the page and is every bit as captivating as the piratical action.

Both the dragons and the mythological storylines are back in full force throughout this book. Dragons are personified with human feelings and emotions, and the development of one dragon in particular was just as touching as anything with the human characters. The snippets of mythology included here also culminate brilliantly into the climax of this story. This book already had a dual POV between Eris and Safire, which I loved, but the way the myths were included made this more like a triple POV, making me appreciate the full scope of the story even more.

This book is wonderfully crafted and will make you feel all of the emotions. More than once I found myself waiting with bated breath to see what would happen, or rereading paragraphs just to savor the moment with the characters, or just wanting to reach through the pages and hug everyone there. The Sky Weaver cemented the fact that I will read any future novels by Kristen Ciccarelli. If you’ve been on the fence about this trilogy, definitely add it to your TBR. The last book alone makes the read worth it, but throughout the trilogy, you can find everything that makes fantasy the best genre to read.

Most Memorable Aspect: A perfectly-written enemies-to-lovers romance and the bond between a girl and her dragon.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Book Sketch: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

By: Kristen Ciccarelli
Published By: Harper Teen
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Series: Iskari
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: Warning--May contain spoilers for The Last Namsara.

Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. Roa and Essie called it the hum. It was a magic they cherished—until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax—the heir to Firgaard’s throne—was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered.

Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen. Only as queen could she save her people from Firgaard’s rule.

Then a chance arises to right every wrong—an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa discovers she can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.

First Thought After Finishing: No sophomore slump here!

I really enjoyed The Last Namsara, and I was eager to dive into The Caged Queen. Although this is technically a companion novel and they can be read out of order, I would definitely recommend reading them in publication order. The following review will be spoiler-free for The Caged Queen, but it contains spoilers for The Last Namsara.

Dax and Roa are the new king and queen of Firgaard, but their rule is far from easy. Roa is an outsider, a Scrublander from the House of Sky, desperate to save her people from starvation. Dax is a new ruler, trying to help his childhood friend while doing good for his land as well. But Roa cannot let go of a tragic accident in the past, instead clinging to her sister’s spirit and chasing the hope that she can somehow bring Essie back. Schemes and secrets abound on all sides in Dax and Roa’s unstable kingdom, threatening to tear both the kingdom and the couple apart. With Asha and Torwin gone, Dax is on his own to save what he cares about most. Can he unravel the plots against him before it’s too late?

The Last Namsara was full of action, but this book was much more psychological, which I found fascinating. Roa made no secrets of her emotions toward Dax and his kingdom, and she quickly found herself embroiled in plots to destabilize his rule. Dax, on the other hand, was an enigma through most of the book, keeping me guessing where his loyalties and his heart truly were. Although Dax generally came across as weak in the first book, he really found his own strength in this story. By the end of the book, Dax will become one of your favorite characters.

One of the best parts of the first book was the mythology and lore included, and that was back in this story as well. Short stories from the world were interspersed with the actual storyline. Along with this, there were a fair number of flashbacks to Dax and Roa’s childhood, which really rounded them out as characters. Roa especially needed this, because she was far harder to like. Still, the character growth and development were wonderful throughout the entire book.

Overall, it was enjoyable to read a story that was both a sequel and a companion novel. I appreciate the fact that we got more of the world from different perspectives, and it allowed me to like the world even more. The tension between the characters in an enemies-to-lovers romance, the uncertainty from unreliable narrators, and dangerous stakes made this book a page-turner despite the slow pace. After this, I can’t wait to see what Ciccarelli has in store for the final installment of the trilogy!

Most Memorable Aspect: The short stories within the story, and the royal schemes.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Sketch: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

By: Marie Rutkoski
Published By: Farrar Strauss Giroux
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Series: The Winner's Curse
Pages: 416
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Library
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: Warning--May contain spoilers for The Winner's Curse.

Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

First Thought After Finishing: I’m so glad I don’t have to wait another year for the final book of this trilogy!

Everything that made me love the story in The Winner’s Curse is back in full force in The Winner’s Curse. This book raises the stakes with more trials and tribulations for Kestrel and Arin, more (potentially deadly) scheming, and more of their fatal attraction. There was no second-book slump here!

In a desperate attempt to save the Herrani people from certain death at the hands of the Valorian general, Kestrel made a bargain with the emperor of Valoria: She would marry his son the prince and one day become empress. To prepare for her fate, Kestrel moves to the mainland palace, where she is pulled into the emperor’s schemes and thrown together with her betrothed. But as always, Kestrel has schemes of her own. With the truth of her love buried deep in her heart, Kestrel continues to plot for a better future. Meanwhile, Arin has to find a way to protect his people from the inevitable war that was only delayed, no matter how far he has to travel or how much he has to sacrifice. Will their paths bring them back together, or will they be torn apart forever?

Most fantasy books have kick-butt heroines fighting in armor, but The Winner’s Curse diverged from this norm. In this book as well, Kestrel is every bit a warrior with her intelligence, and she does so while in a ball gown. Everything I loved about Kestrel in the first book made me love her in this one as well, especially her inner strength and musical talent. As a pawn in the emperor’s schemes, Kestrel is forced to make brutal choices that weigh heavily on her conscience and only serve to drive a further wedge between her and Arin. The emperor would make Machiavelli proud, but his son is a different man entirely. Verex befriends Kestrel, though he has no real desire to marry her. I was quite thankful that this did not become a love triangle.

All budding romance took a backseat in this book, though Kestrel and Arin’s feelings are certainly forefront in both of their minds. Arin was rather stubborn in his determination to erase his feelings, even going so far as to make questionable decisions in foreign countries. Still, despite all of the struggles, there was a faint thread of hope. Every time that Arin and Kestrel were brought together, no matter how dire the circumstances, the undercurrent of romantic tension was palpable.

This book introduced new, interesting characters, especially in Arin’s travels, as well as raised the stakes for all political and royal parties. I can’t wait to see how everything comes together in the final book of this trilogy. There is so much more I could say about this book, but really, you just need to read it for yourself.

If you haven’t picked up The Winner’s Curse trilogy by Marie Rutkoski, what are you waiting for? This is one trilogy you won’t want to miss!

Most Memorable Aspect: All of the political scheming by Kestrel.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Sketch: Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

By: Tricia Levenseller
Published By: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 27, 2018
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King
Pages: 341
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: Warning--May contain spoilers for Daughter of the Pirate King.

Alosa's mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he's under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father's justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

First Thought After Finishing: I’m going to miss all of the adventures of Alosa and Riden!

I picked up Daughter of the Pirate King in April, and I couldn’t believe I had waited so long to read it! It was such a fun escape, especially right at the beginning of the Covid-19 quarantine, and their rollicking adventures kept me turning page after page. Daughter of the Siren Queen picks up right not long after the first book ends, and there are more hijinks, heists, and heated moments filling every page!

Alosa is a woman on a mission to fulfill her pirate dreams: Find the hidden treasure, take her rightful place as the new pirate queen, and exact revenge on her enemies. But while making her plans back at the Keep, she realizes that she doesn’t know her father quite as well as she thought. Suspicion leads her to investigate and uncover long-held secrets that will change her life forever. Before she can finish plotting and planning, Alosa is once again racing across the ocean with her crew and Riden by her side. This may be her most dangerous adventure yet, but she’s not the daughter of the Pirate King and Siren Queen for nothing. She’ll make her dreams come true, or die trying.

The fierce and feisty heroine is back for another round of adventures in Daughter of the Siren Queen. While the first book was nonstop adventure, this book has more introspection and soul-searching from Alosa. After uncovering her father’s secrets, she has to come to terms with her childhood and everything she thought to be true. But that is not to say this book isn’t full of action. There are plenty of high-stakes battles from feuding pirates, not to mention page-turning tension. Alosa also has to confront the siren half of her nature if she wants to find the treasure and keep her crew safe. Once again, this is a battle of inner strength, and I could really appreciate the transformation that Alosa goes through in this story.

One of the best parts of this book was getting to see more of Alosa’s crew and the bonds between all the members. The crew epitomizes squad goals that takes sisterhood to new levels with their quick wit, fierce loyalty, and mutual respect. I’m sure there won’t be more books written in this world, but I can imagine all of the female pirates having the most interesting backstories with such exciting futures.

Finally, there is the relationship between Alosa and Riden. The tension isn’t quite as high as the first book, but there are definitely more intimate moments. We finally get to learn about Riden’s past, and it made him even more endearing. These two complement each other so well, and I couldn’t help cheering for them as they found happiness with each other.

With this duology, Tricia Levenseller has made it onto my auto-buy author list. I can’t wait to read more of her books!

Most Memorable Aspect: The bonds between the female pirate crew.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Book Sketch: American Panda by Gloria Chao

By: Gloria Chao
Published By: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Series: None
Pages: 311
Genre: Contemporary
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

First Thought After Finishing: Such a sweet romance story, and I loved learning about Chinese/Taiwanese culture!

I’ve had American Panda on my shelves for a while, and when I was looking for a humorous book for a readathon, this one jumped out as an obvious choice! It was a perfect palate cleanser after reading a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books, and I loved the added elements that made it more than a contemporary YA romance!

Mei is a seventeen-year-old freshman at MIT, one step close to fulfilling her parents’ dream of her becoming a doctor. There’s only one problem—she doesn’t think she can handle being a doctor. Biology doesn’t interest her, and she’s more than a little squeamish about medical issues. She’s also not ready to be paired for marriage with the boy of her mother’s choosing. But after everything her parents have sacrificed for her, how could she ever tell her parents the truth? Instead, she keeps hiding pieces of herself—her hobbies, her crush, even her reunion with her estranged brother. But secrets always have a way of coming out, and what will happen when her parents finally discover the truth?

I love books with a college setting, especially ones that make me feel like I’m right there on the campus. American Panda has so many great details about MIT, including special vocabulary, great descriptions of their special buildings, and more. It made me remember my own college days, where we used acronyms for everything and had our own special traditions involving clock towers and fountains. I also found myself identifying with Mei more than I expected, despite the cultural differences. She wanted to please her parents, but she also wanted to follow her own artistic path; my parents had hopes of me going to medical school, but I was a music major instead. The difference is that Mei had generations of cultural tradition and responsibilities heaped onto her shoulders. Her mother especially was overinvolved in her life, always trying to care for her daughter but smothering her with guilt at the same time. The voice mails and “horror” stories her mother told were quite comical to an outsider but were certainly a lot for any teenager to handle.

Mei’s romantic adventure was also entangled with her journey to independence. As much as she liked Darren, she always worried about what her parents would think about the fact that he wasn’t Chinese. Still, the attraction was undeniable. They had such a sweet courtship—Darren was just the kind of guy that anyone would want for a first boyfriend. Still, Mei had to work through years of emotional baggage to be able to find her own happiness. Her brother ended up coming through for her in this respect, just like a big brother should. Unlike some books, where the side characters don’t seem to fit in or aren’t that likeable, all the characters here were integrated into the story and helped it come to life.

I always appreciate “heavier” contemporary books, and this one certainly delivered. All the heartache was also balanced with laughter and smiles. I look forward to reading more from Gloria Chao!

Most Memorable Aspect: All of the references to Chinese culture and the MIT descriptions.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Book Sketch: Beach Read by Emily Henry

By: Emily Henry
Published By: Berkley
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 361
Genre: Romance
Reading Level: Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: King's English

Goodreads Summary: A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They're polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She'll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he'll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

First Thought After Finishing: I wish this book had more pages!

I love reading contemporary romances in the summer, and when I started seeing Beach Read all over Instagram, I knew this had to be on my TBR this summer. So many people loved this book, and after reading it, I can see why. This isn’t a lighthearted, cute read, but it was absolutely the perfect book for the last week of summer.

January Andrews loves romance, loves love, and loves happily ever afters. At least, she did. That was all before. Before she realized that her carefully cultivated life had been a lie. Now she wants nothing to do with happy endings. There’s only one problem—she’s a romance writer, her next book is due, and she’s broke. So she’s going to spend the summer in her father’s beach house overcoming her writer’s block. But she never expected that her college nemesis-slash-crush, Augustus Everett, would be living in the house next door. After a disastrous book club event, they make a deal: They’ll trade genres. January will write the next great American novel, and Gus will exchange killing the cast for pairing them up instead. But this is just writing. Everything will be purely professional. Nothing could possibly go wrong…right?

As an aspiring author, I really enjoy reading books with authors as characters. It’s like doing research while also having a fantastic story—the best of both worlds. This book gave me not one author but two, which made it twice as good. I loved seeing both of these authors’ perspectives, their different methods of researching and writing, and their motives behind their stories. It was like a story within a story, and I was just as intrigued by the books January and Gus were writing (please, someone actually write them!) as I was by the romance developing between January and Gus. After finishing this book, I wanted to dive back into my own story and work through my own writer’s block!

Both January and Gus are vivid characters, and both of them made me want to reach through the pages to give them a hug. January’s disillusionment with happy endings, and Gus’s realistic-bordering-on-pessimistic life attitude were both very relatable. To me, romance novels are always better when there is a clear reason for the characters to be together beyond physical attraction, and Gus and January definitely have that. They both have their baggage, but it is this baggage and a touch of “opposites attract” that helped to bring these two together. As Gus’s backstory was revealed, it became more and more clear why January and Gus just belonged together. Add to this palpable chemistry, sizzling banter, and sweet (or sexy) moments between the characters, and I was more than a little bit swoony for their romance. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a Gus of my own.

The setting and small-town vibes play an important role in this book. I could almost imagine myself on the Michigan coast, sitting on a porch with a cup of coffee and looking out on the waves. I also loved the other characters sprinkled throughout the story—Pete, Maggie, and Shadi. There was wonderful friendship, and despite all of the issues with biological family, Pete and Maggie definitely filled that void. I also enjoyed reading the texts, notes, and letters that were included throughout the story. The letters especially added so much, and that ended up being one of the most touching scenes in the book.

Beach Read may not have been an upbeat lighthearted read, but it ended up being so much better. It was the perfect summer read that I wanted to last far longer than it did. I hope that Emily Henry writes more books like this, because every single one will go on my TBR. If you are looking for a romance with great depth to the story and a wide emotional range, look no further than Beach Read.

Most Memorable Aspect: The story-within-a-story aspect, the setting, and Gus.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Sketch: The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings

By: Samantha Hastings
Published By: Swoon Reads
Release Date: July 14, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Netgalley
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Identical twin sisters take turns swapping places over the course of a summer in order to pursue their secret ambitions in Samantha Hastings' Victorian YA romance.

1851. Bounced from one begrudging relative to another their whole lives, orphaned identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter have always relied on each other for love and support, even though the sisters couldn't be more different.

Brash Sophie wants to be an inventor, and demure Mariah wants to be an artist. Both long to visit London for the summer—Sophie to see the Queen’s Great Exhibition and Mariah to study the world’s finest collection of paintings. But when their cantankerous aunt answers their letter pleading for a place to stay, she insists she only has time and room to spare for one of them.

So, Mariah and Sophie hatch a clever scheme: They will travel to London together and take turns playing the part of "Sophie".

At first the plan runs like clockwork. But as the girls avoid getting caught by increasingly narrow margins and two handsome gentlemen—both of whom think they’re falling in love with the real Sophie Carter—enter the equation, the sisters find they don’t have the situation quite as under control as they thought.

With all sorts of delightful Parent Trap-style identical twin hijinks, The Invention of Sophie Carter is the perfect light-and-sweet palate cleanser.

First Thought After Finishing: What a fun trip back to historical London!

I’m a fan of historical fiction and foreign settings, so I knew I had to read this book. Samantha Hastings is also a local author, which made me even more eager to dive in. This book was a fun summer read full of sisterhood bonds, adventure, and romance.

Sophie and Mariah Carter maybe next twins, but they couldn’t be more different. Sophie is outspoken, always wanting to know how things work and to take care of their little family. Mariah longs to find love and acceptance. To get away from a bad situation, Sophie writes her aunt in London and asks for help. Her aunt agrees to let her come for a season, but only Sophie. So the twins hatch a plan—they’ll both go and pretend to be one person. Mariah will look for a husband, and Sophie will find an apprenticeship to an inventor. But the best-laid plans are never quite reality. Both twins discover hidden secrets about themselves, and each other, and find adventures they never dreamed of. But as the season draws to a close, they realize they can’t stay “Sophie” forever. Will they lose everything they worked for, or will all their dreams come true?

As an only child, I love books about sibling bonds—especially twins—because it’s one more way to live vicariously. The bond between Sophie and Mariah was felt throughout the whole book, even as they started to find their own paths as individuals. I can only imagine how difficult it is to find an individual identity when one has always been part of a set, and this book handled it very well. I also enjoyed the journey to London as well as the past. The excitement of seeing a new city and being on the brink of so many advancements was also quite fun. Both twins grow into their own strength—one quiet, one more exuberant—and it was quite an emotional journey.

The two budding romances were definitely the stars of this book. Reading Victorian classics has given me a soft spot for rich British gentlemen who are unapproachable or unavailable, and these stories helped me relive those romances that I love. The references to other great novels as well as the appreciation for an intelligent, independent female helped endear both of the male leads to me. Both of the romances are also wrapped up in family obligations, secrets, and class politics, which kept the tension high throughout the story. Although there were some family members that I wanted to reach through the pages and shake, there were other family friends whose witty repartee or unwavering kindness struck just the right balance to all the hardships the twins faced.

After everything Sophie and Mariah went through in their childhood, it was so easy to root for both of them finding their happily ever after and have all of their wishes come true. This book certainly runs the reader through a range of emotions, which made the story all the more impactful. Samantha Hastings has woven a story that will transport and delight readers, and I look forward to seeing what her next novel will be!

Most Memorable Aspect: The sisterly bond between the twins.

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