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.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Book Sketch: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

By: Kristen Ciccarelli
Published By: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 2, 2017
Series: Iskari (#1)
Pages: 421
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

First Thought After Finishing: What a great debut!

Dragons are some of my favorite mythical creatures, so any time that there is a book about them, that book is automatically on my TBR! Admittedly, this book sat on my shelf for a bit before I read it, but it turned out to be great to binge-read the trilogy. Here there be dragons, but there is so much more.

Asha is the Iskari, the death bringer, but also the one keeping her people safe from dragons. After nearly dying in an attack by Kozu, the first dragon, Asha lets her scars serve as a constant reminder of what can happen to her and her people if she fails in her mission. But being the daughter of the king also comes at a price. She has an arranged engagement to a man she doesn’t love, and her actions and words are always under scrutiny. When Asha is offered a deal to break her engagement, she jumps at the chance. But that isn’t the only deal that Asha receives, and secret deals bring hidden stories to light. Soon, Asha has to choose between her duty and her heart.

I love mythology, and one of my favorite aspects of this book was reading stories and lore from the world interwoven with the present-day narrative. This brought another level to the story, and Asha’s love and knowledge of the folklore made her more likeable. These stories also give hope that dragons and humans can coexist rather than the current practice of slaying them to keep cities safe. Thank goodness for the old tales! I hope to see even more of them in future books.

In many respects, Asha was a formidable character. Physically strong and confident despite an early accident, she faces her fears on a daily basis to protect her home. As a royal, she had to follow certain rules, though she never quite felt passionate about them. Asha could have been embittered and entitled, the perfect protégé for her father. Instead, when a slave named Torwin showed her kindness and flouted the rules, risking his life, Asha’s worldview began to change. Together, they formed a terrific team, especially when you add her cousin Safire, who Asha protects at all costs. Asha’s other family members are more enigmatic, and I longed for multiple POVs to have the full picture. However, it was the feeling that something was not quite right that kept me turning pages.

This story has many familiar elements of fantasy, including an evolving knowledge for the reader of what is true, high-stakes battles, familial and political drama, shifting loyalties, and young love managing to bloom against all odds. If you are a fan of the genre, you will definitely find something to love in this book.

Most Memorable Aspect: The folklore and the dragons.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Book Sketch: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

By: Marie Rutkoskir
Published By: Farrar Straus Giroux
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Series: The Winner's Trilogy
Pages: 355
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Library Audio
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

First Thoughts After Finishing: I should have read this trilogy years ago!

A few years ago, I took a break from reading YA books. During that time, The Winner’s Curse was published. As it turns out, I missed out on some good books in those years. However, with Marie Rutkoski’s new book set in the same world, as well as the love for this trilogy, I knew that I needed to catch up on my reading, and I am so glad I did!

As the daughter of the Valorian general, Kestrel has two choices: Join the military or be married. Not ready to settle for either fate, she spends her time practicing her music or visiting her friend Jess. When the friends are out together and happen through the Herrani slave market, Kestrel finds herself making a purchase she never anticipated—a young male slave named Arin—for an exorbitant sum. Once Arin begins working at Kestrel’s house, she cannot seem to avoid him. He becomes her escort, her shadow of sorts—and yet he is a Herrani, and she a Valorian. Nothing could happen between them. But the winds of unrest are gathering, bringing change on the breeze, and neither Kestrel nor Arin could be prepared for what will happen.

This book has elements of several genres—fantasy, historical fiction, and dystopian. The world is complete with carriages, fancy dresses, and land battles and class warfare that left Herrani enslaved to the Valorians. Into this complex, tumultuous world are placed Kestrel and Arin, who must navigate a nearly-impossible situation. Kestrel quickly became one of my favorite females in fantasy. She has to train as a fighter, but unlike most females, her fiercest weapon is her mind. Kestrel is constantly strategizing, whether it is at the game Bite and Sting to outwit her opponents or devising military maneuvers for conquering lands or saving her own. Add to that her brilliant talent for music, and I was sold.

Arin was harder to get to know, despite the third-person point of view that allowed us to see his actions. It was difficult to determine my feelings about him until partway through the book, and even then the constantly-shifting events and loyalties made me question those feelings more than once. However, there was no denying the romantic tension between Arin and Kestrel—it practically radiated off the page into something palpable. The tender moments they shared were certainly swoon-worthy, and I cannot wait to see what will develop between them in the next book.

This book was a quick read despite all of the events taking place in what seemed like a few short pages. The writing was lyric and beautiful, and the cast of supporting characters brought vibrancy and life to the story. The story may have been written years ago, but it can still very much stand beside the fantasy stories of today in all aspects. If you have not started this trilogy, add it to your TBR today!

Most Memorable Aspect: Kestrel’s wit and cunning, and certain musical and pier scenes.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Book Sketch: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

By: Tricia Levenseller
Published By: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King
Pages: 311
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Bought (OwlCrate)
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship. More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

First Thought After Finishing: Why did I wait so long to read this book?

Not long after I joined Bookstagram, there was a fair amount of hype about Daughter of the Pirate King. Sometimes that makes me nervous to start a book, but in this case, there was nothing to worry about. I flew through this novel in one day, and it was every bit as enjoyable as the hype had promised it to be.

Brave, fearless pirate Alosa has been sent on a mission by her father to retrieve a map that will lead to untold riches for the pirates. So Alosa devises the perfect scheme—fall into enemy hands, search their ship undetected, and prove herself as the best of the best. Alosa has no reason to doubt her skills or her success, and she is fully devoted to her mission. Only Alosa never bargained for Riden, the first mate of the enemy ship. The more time she spends with him, the harder it is to separate the prisoner role she is playing from her own feelings about Riden. But as a pirate, she should know that schemes always abound, and this mission may prove to be one too many for the pirate princess.

“Oh, the ridiculous things one has to do when one is a pirate.”

Alosa is everything one could want in a heroine—fierce, witty, and cunning. Her confidence in herself and her skills is a refreshing change of pace from main characters who are convinced they are “nothing special.” Alosa doesn’t need anyone to validate her, and yet, she desperately wants the approval of her father. This vulnerability, along with her humor, makes her quite likeable. Then enter Riden, the charming yet sly love interest. He is wonderful in his own way, and the banter between him and Alosa is very entertaining.

“Everyone has something dark in their past. I suppose it’s our job to overcome it. And if we can’t overcome it, then all we can do is make the most of it.”

Moreso than the budding romance, this book is nonstop adventure—escape attempts and capture, working against the clock on dangerous searches, and twists that might be predictable but also keep the story engaging. With the high stakes on the high seas, the schemes, and the romantic tension, there is never a dull moment. Both of the main characters also have their secrets, and those revelations have set the stage for a sequel that I can’t wait to read.

This was Tricia Levenseller’s debut book, and if all of her other books weren’t already on my TBR, they would be after reading this one. If you are looking for the perfect book to escape reality for a few hours, look no further than Daughter of the Pirate King!

Most Memorable Aspect: Alosa’s confidence and witty humor.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Feature: Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer

Witches of Ash and Ruin
By: E. Latimer
Published By: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Series: None
Pages: 384
Genre: Fantasy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Buy the Book: Amazon

Goodreads Summary: Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer's motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don't stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that's impossible to put down.

~ ~ ~ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ~ ~ ~

E. Latimer is a fantasy writer from Victoria, BC. Her middle grade novel, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray was published by Tundra Books, and was recently nominated for the Red Maple Fiction Award.

In her spare time, she writes books, makes silly vlogs with the Word Nerds about writing, and reads excessively.

Her latest novel, Witches of Ash and Ruin, will be released Spring/Summer 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Find her online:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads



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