Enchantee Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Enchantee

Author: Gita Trelease

Published By: Macmillan Children’s Books

Expected Publication: 21st February

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: PASS-Sophie and Camille have several conversations which don’t revolve around men, and Camille talks to Claudette and Sandrine at the casino in a discussion which doesn’t involve men.

I received this book from Macmillan Children’s Books through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

As always, thank you so much to Macmillan and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early, it was one of my most anticipated debuts of 2019 so it was great to have a chance to read it before publication.

I was super excited to read Enchantee, fantasy mixed with history is basically my kryptonite, given that I love both magic and history, and the idea of magic mixed with the French Revolution was just so brilliant I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it. Obviously when your expectations are so high, there’s always a chance of disappointment but thankfully, that didn’t happen here and Enchantee was just as brilliant as I was expecting it to be. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns… 

I really love Gita Trelease’s writing, I was hooked on her prose from the very first line (which is killer by the way) and that didn’t let up through the whole book, I’m not a particularly visual reader, but the way that Trelease wrote made me feel like I was in the grimy streets of palace and the beautiful halls of Versailles, experiencing Camille’s adventures alongside her, which is the mark of an amazing book for me. Her prose was gorgeous, but not so dense that it felt overwritten which I liked.

I also liked that the chapters were relatively short, they did get a little longer later on in the book, but for the most part, they were pretty short, which meant I could read 4 or 5 odd chapters a day, which is always good (plus, I was so engrossed in the plot that I wanted to read 4 or 5 odd chapters a day).

I thought the magic system was AMAZING. The whole idea of it, basically there are 3 different types of magic, la magie ordinaire, which is small, little tricks, glamoire which is disguising yourself and la magie bibelot which is making ordinary objects sentient. The idea is that magic is fuelled by pain and sorrow, so the more magic used, the higher price paid by the wielder, which I liked, magic should always have some sort of cost and that was right at the heart of Enchantee. It was also nice for once to have a magic system that was relatively easy to follow, I love fantasies, but the worlds and magic systems can sometimes be overly complicated, which wasn’t the case here.

The main character Camille was absolutely amazing. She was really easy to root for, her parents had died, she was trying to protect her little sister from their abusive older brother and she’s just trying to do her best to make sure that she and her little sister are able to live comfortably. What I liked most about Camille was that she was so flawed, she’s scared and she makes mistakes but she’s just doing her best to provide for her sister and make a better life for her and you could just really root for her. I also loved that her relationship with her sister, Sophie was so pivotal to this book, everything that she does, she does because she wants a better life for her sister, they had such a lovely relationship and being someone who particularly loves sister relationships in books, the one between Sophie and Camille made my heart soar. It’s really hard watching as Camille descends further and further into Versailles and loses more of herself, because you grow to care for her so deeply and honestly I was worried for her life at several points!

Camille and Sophie also have an older brother Alain, he was awful, an abusive, alcoholic who tries to take advantage of his sisters’ generosity, none of the characters in this book are morally perfect but he was the one character that I couldn’t really find anything redeemable about.

The romance in this was a lovely, slow burn one that I could really root for. So often I feel myself getting tired of YA romances because they all feel SO samey, but I loved Lazare and Camille, they were both so awkward and cute and really felt like kindred spirits, and their first kiss scene…..I mean WOW. Both she and Lazare are hiding a ton of secrets which makes their romance very complicated, but it’s so fun to watch them dance around each other trying terribly to hide their respective secrets. Lazare was amazing as well, I loved the biracial representation (this book is #ownvoices for that), and Lazare’s feelings of not being considered French or Indian came across as very realistic struggle.

I also really loved the hot air balloon aspect, I wasn’t expecting to, I didn’t really know how it was going to fit with the French Revolution, but it really did, I loved how Trelease used the balloon as a metaphor for the freedom the people are hoping is provided for them through the revolution, and as a way to connect both Lazare and Camille as both are looking for the hope & escape that the balloon provides them.

Chandon was probably my favourite of the court characters, he’s charming and kind of slippery and just generally so much fun. He’s also gay and I loved getting to see historical gay representation because yes, gay people did exist in the 18th century!

I loved everything about the Versailles that Trelease recreated in her book, it was beautiful and magical and dazzling but you discovered alongside Camille all of the dark underbelly of the court, yet you still found yourself addicted to the place, it was honestly like I was experiencing everything alongside Camille. It would have been so easy for Trelease to characterise the nobles of Versailles as “evil” especially given the timing of the story, but she doesn’t, instead they are all fully formed, complex humans and Camille discovers that there is a lot more to them than meets the eye.

I LOVED the magical dress that Camille used to help disguise herself at Versailles, I have a thing for gorgeous magical dresses (after Caraval) and this one was just brilliant, it’s somewhat sentient, so it helps Camille out a lot throughout the book but it’s also weirdly sinister and dark and I loved that. There’s a masquerade ball scene quite late on in the book and I JUST….a masquerade ball in 1700s Versailles? YES, YES, BOOK YOU HAVE STOLEN MY HEART.

The main villain, without wanting to reveal too much, is appropriately dark and twisted and really quite scary, it takes a while for him to be truly revealed but there is a dark undercurrent throughout the book and Camille is never quite sure exactly who to trust.

I loved the little name drops of actual historical people through the book, we see Lafayette and Jefferson and it just made my history loving heart leap a little to see real people mentioned in the book!

Trelease doesn’t go too much into the French Revolution but honestly I didn’t mind that, I actually preferred how she introduced an undercurrent of unease and unrest throughout the book and we just get the first explosion of Revolution because that’s not what the book was really about, it’s not about this big historical event, it’s about Camille and her internal struggles more.

Some people have said that the pacing lagged a little in the middle, but I don’t really agree, I felt like the pacing was pretty solid throughout. There are places that are perhaps slower than others, but I felt consistently engaged and excited by the story throughout, even in the quieter moments which I feel is a true testament to the writer. The ending chapters in particular were brilliant, I was on the edge of my seat wanting to see how everything worked out in the end.

I know there’s going to be a sequel and I’m super excited to be released back into the world Trelease has created here, but for those who don’t like cliffhangers, the book does end in a very satisfactory way that allows it to stand alone.

Overall this book was an incredible, magical romp through 1789 Paris and Versailles, with a sympathetic, flawed and brilliant MC, a wonderful sibling relationship at the heart of it, fabulous writing which completely threw you into the world & a simple, but incredibly effective magic system.

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will either be of Hamilton and Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship or of A Curse So Dark and Lonely depending on which I finish first.

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Alex and Eliza (Alex and Eliza #1) Review

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Book: Alex and Eliza (Alex and Eliza #1)

Author: Melissa De La Cruz

Bechdel Test: Fail-All the conversations Eliza has with other women in this book revolves somehow around Hamilton.

This month on the blog is Hamilmonth, in honour of me going to see Hamilton for the first (and I’m sure not last) time in London with my friends next week (yes, I’m ridiculously excited about it and will not stop talking about it), so I decided to read the two Hamilton related books that I had on my bookshelf in the weeks leading up to going to see the show, and to kill two birds with one stone, this is also my #RockMyTBR book for February. I was really looking forward to this one, since obviously I love Hamilton the musical, but I found it a little disappointing. There were a LOT of historical liberties taken with the plot, it was rather slow and the main characters felt like cardboard cutouts, not fully dimensional flawed people. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Their romance shaped a nation. The rest was history.

1777. Albany, New York. 

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball. 

Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

Obviously my biggest problem with this book was the historical inaccuracies. The entire plot with Livingston was completely plucked from nowhere, Eliza wasn’t engaged to anyone else before Hamilton as far as I’m aware and in fact Henry Livingston was already married by the point this action took place, if De La Cruz had wanted to introduce a romantic rival for Hamilton then she could have at least picked someone who in reality wasn’t married at the time. The stuff with Benedict Arnold did really happen (something I didn’t know about before reading this book) but there is no way that Hamilton would have deserted the army & even then he wasn’t actually given a command until 1781, the book has it a year earlier. Also the Schuylers actually approved of Hamilton, which was why Eliza was the only Schuyler sister who didn’t elope so the whole plot about him not being allowed to marry her because of his status was pure fantasy. Angelica had married John Church three years before, so she would have been married at the opening of the book, not halfway through, plus the author completely ignores the fact that the Schuylers owned slaves, despite the fact that Eliza professes her vehemence for the practice and desire for black and white people to be equal. Both Laurens and Lafayette were already married by this point, and De La Cruz portrays them both as bachelors who are interested in Eliza.  I can deal with a little creative license and I get that there isn’t much to draw from historically, since Eliza burned all Hamilton’s letters, but still, if you can’t get even the facts that we do know right, then you have no place writing a historical fiction novel. It did expand on some stuff that the musical left out, which I appreciated but that doesn’t take away from the many historical inaccuracies.

The chapters were relatively nice and short, and I liked the chapter titles, although I didn’t get the point of the little subheadings saying where each chapter took place, especially given that there weren’t all that many different settings in the book.

I did love the sibling relationship between the Schuyler sisters, their banter was great to see, although I felt like Angelica’s wit was dummed down somewhat to make Eliza seem like the smarter Schuyler sister, which wasn’t great, in fact I was kind of disappointed with how Angelica was portrayed. It was nice to see more of Peggy though, since she is barely seen in the musical.

I don’t really know much about Catherine Schuyler (the Schuyler matriarch) but she was made out to be really awful here. Still it was nice that Eliza’s older relatives were included in the story, since so often parents and other adult relatives are left out of YA books, I particularly liked her Aunt Gertrude, she was a hoot!

I will say that the story reads far younger than it is meant to, it’s meant to be for a YA audience, but the writing style and language choice suggests it was written for a younger audience.

There was also quite a lot of infodumping, I get that the author wanted to show she had done some historical research (though clearly not enough) but there were passages that were clearly there just to show what the author had found out about Hamilton and that kind of took me out of the story.

It was incredibly slow paced, not much happened for most of the book, I mean I get it’s a romance and that’s not what I usually read, but the whole book was basically just Alex and Eliza dancing around each other, and despite Eliza initially not liking Hamilton, she seemed to change her mind incredibly quickly. The dialogue was also a bit stilted and cheesy at times, in fact their entire romance came across as kind of cheesy to me.

Alex was a little more shy than I had expected, not at all like the over-confident Hamilton of LMM’s version of Hamilton, but I kind of liked that, I thought he was very sweet and endearing. I also didn’t know that Hamilton was ginger before reading this book! I did like Eliza but I felt De La Cruz was trying to portray her as the perfect woman and a lot of “not like other girls” stuff slipped through, which I didn’t love.

The attempted rape scene, in addition to being historically inaccurate, was entirely unnecessary to the plot and really should not have been included at all, considering that the whole thing was fabricated, De La Cruz could have found another way to get Eliza out of her engagement to Livingston.

The ending was far too rushed, Eliza and Alex are reunited, engaged and married all within 3 chapters and I couldn’t help but feel like if De La Cruz had lost some of the filler, then those parts could have been expanded on and it wouldn’t have felt like the book came to such an abrupt conclusion.

Overall, I did enjoy parts of Alex and Eliza but there were far too many historical inaccuracies and liberties taken for me to get fully invested in the story, and the pacing was incredibly lacklustre which meant it was hard to get into the plot. It’s not a bad book, but I feel like it would appeal more to a younger audience than the audience its aimed for due to the way the story is written and definitely for people who are less familiar with the actual history!

My Rating: 3/5

My next review will be of Enchantee by Gita Trelease, I’ll be publishing my e-ARC review of it on Sunday/Monday in time for release date on Thursday. My next read will be Hamilton and Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship, my other read of Hamilmonth.

 

Ruin & Rising Review

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Book: Ruin & Rising (Shadow and Bone #3)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Bechdel Test: Pass-There is a brief conversation (more like jibes) between Zoya and Genya that is not about men.

I decided to read Ruin & Rising right after Siege and Storm so that I would be done with both in time for King of Scars, though in a turn of irony, I’m feeling a little Grisha burnout, having read both back to back, so I reckon I probably won’t read King of Scars until a little later on in the year (excited as I am to see more of Nikolai!). Sadly however, I found the conclusion to this trilogy somewhat lacking, I don’t know if that is just a theme with Bardugo as I was quite disappointed with Crooked Kingdom as well, but I was expecting so much more from Ruin and Rising and in the end, it just wasn’t exciting enough for me as a series conclusion. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

My major problem with this book, and it’s an ongoing theme throughout the trilogy was the pacing. THE PACING. I love Leigh Bardugo, but man did she have an issue with pacing these books. The chapters are ridiculously long, like getting on for 20 pages in most cases and yet NOTHING HAPPENS. The entire first two chapters was Alina wandering around in caves with The Apparat which added nothing to the story and quite honestly could have been skipped. I really didn’t see the point of the Apparat at all, he added nothing to the story. It took me at least half the book to finally get engaged with the story, which considering the book is only 350 pages long, is a bit ridiculous really. I also thought Alina should have struggled a bit more getting her powers back, considering that was quite a big cliffhanger at the end of the last book, but it takes no time at all and suddenly she’s more powerful than ever again? Nah.

I do love the dynamics between the characters, especially the Grisha, they have such great banter and that really helped to break up some of the bleaker parts of this book (of which there were many). Zoya in particular was a delight, I can’t wait to see more of her and Nikolai together in King of Scars, because their humour will just gel so well! The diversity in this series isn’t great, but we do get some minor lesbian rep in this book with Tamar and Nadia, so that’s better than nothing and I know Bardugo has got better on this front from reading Six of Crows. I did find however that it was quite difficult to follow the ever expanding cast of characters and Bardugo might have been better just focusing on the core few.

Speaking of Nikolai, there was nowhere near enough of him in this book! It takes six chapters for him to even appear, only for him to be taken out of action by The Darkling, and then basically just pop back up for the end of the book. He has some amazing moments, particularly when he confronts his father and takes the throne, but I felt like he wasn’t used to his full potential in this book. I didn’t really get the point of what Leigh Bardugo did to him in this book, it seemed more for shock value than anything else, and to get him out of the way of the main narrative, though it was nice to finally get context of where the “King of Scars” name comes from. I’m looking forward to finally seeing Nikolai do some “kinging” (yes I know it’s not a word, just let me use it anyway) in King of Scars, because he doesn’t really get that in this book.

Mal is still well, Mal. I find it quite ironic that his name, in Spanish means bad, because that’s exactly how I find him, so it’s really quite fitting (and yes, I know this book is Russian inspired, not Spanish inspired, but I just thought it was quite fun that was the translation). I didn’t find him as infuriating as in the last book, but I still don’t really see the chemistry between him and Alina, Alina and Nikolai have much better banter and things are so much easier and less angsty between the two of them. Considering that so much of this book relies on how invested you are in Alina and Mal, that was a bit of a problem for me as I don’t really like Mal at all, so all of the scenes of their relationship were kind of bland to me.

I LOVED Genya in this book. After being less prominent in Siege and Storm, Genya is back with a vengeance in this book and it’s glorious to behold. She refuses to be held back by The Darkling’s scarring of her face and takes on the King in what was probably the most satisfying scene of the entire book. I also really loved her and David, the scene where he tells her that he doesn’t see her as broken and that she doesn’t need beauty as her armour because her spirit is unbreakable was lovely, more romantic than any of the Malina stuff in this book!

I liked that we got more of Baghra’s backstory (and by extension The Darkling’s) in this book, it was great to finally see how all of the Morozova stuff ties into the main storyline (Baghra and The Darkling are his daughter and grandson) and having all that context made her inevitable ending pack that much more of a punch.

Alina kind of becomes inexplicably more powerful just to suit story purposes, which I guess, fine I can deal with, but for someone who struggled so much to master even basic magic, it seems weird that she picks up this new stuff with ease, after all, she still hasn’t been using her powers all that long and she still has the same number of amplifiers as the last book, so there’s not any real reason why she should suddenly be able to do all this stuff other than we need her to for the story. Still, I loved the whole invisibility thing and found it so cool that Bardugo based it on real science!

I thought the twist with the amplifiers was good (I can’t really explain without going into too much spoilery territory, I know this book has been out for five years, but I still don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t read it) but it did kind of negate most of the first half of the book since searching for the firebird was so integral to that.

Getting more of the Darkling’s backstory did make him more sympathetic but I still felt like he wasn’t a fully rounded character by the end of the book, it felt like Bardugo was using the fact that he was this enigmatic character to avoid any real development and I had the same problem as the last book, he’s never really a strong enough presence to feel dangerous, he just shows up, does evil and then goes away again, he appear in maybe 5 chapters of this book total? I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like he ever reached his full potential.

I thought the whole final battle was kind of anti-climactic, we’ve built up to this for three books, and yet it lasts a single chapter, everything is dealt with quite easily and even the parts that were meant to be emotional (I can’t elaborate due to spoilers) fell flat. There was just so much planning, so much buildup, that I was expecting something really epic and it just….wasn’t.

Again, without meaning to go into spoilery territory for anyone who hasn’t read it, I found the conclusion with Mal, just far too easy. It didn’t feel earned, it felt like Bardugo took the coward’s way out of resolving that storyline and I would have been far more interested to see what would have happened if things had gone the other way. It didn’t feel like Alina had to make any real sacrifice, which we had been promised throughout the book.

The epilogue, I have many thoughts about. On the one hand, the ending does make sense for who Alina is as a character and I understand why she would have chosen that ending, but I can’t quite reconcile that fact with that it wasn’t what I would have chosen for her, I think there could have been a way to keep a similar sort of ending without the frustrating parts, but there’s not much more I can really say about it without veering into spoiler territory, so I guess those of you who haven’t read it will have to make up your minds yourself. One thing I will say is that I thought Bardugo already had a killer final line at the end of chapter 18, and I think the line she chose to end the epilogue with was kind of cliche, so honestly I think it would have been a more satisfying ending without the epilogue, and I wouldn’t have really minded not getting a concrete resolution to the ship stuff, since it’s clear enough who Alina chose (that’s a whole different set of issues that again would veer into spoiler territory, if anyone wants to talk to me about it, please DM me on Twitter, I have FEELINGS), I didn’t think we really needed the epilogue to clarify things.

Overall, Ruin and Rising was a bit of a disappointing way to end the series, it’s a bit of a problem when the final battle in your second book is more intense than the climactic battle of the trilogy! The plot was limp, the pacing was all over the place and I wasn’t wholly satisfied by the conclusion. That being said, I did love most of the characters (Mal and Alina aside really), the writing was good (not Six of Crows level, but good) and the group banter was brilliant, so it wasn’t a total loss, it just wasn’t a total win either.

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will either be of Alex and Eliza by Melissa De La Cruz, or Enchantee by Gita Trelease, I’ve already read Enchantee but UK pub date isn’t till the 21st February, so if I don’t finish Alex and Eliza before then, then my Enchantee review will be up first.

Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2) Review

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Book: Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2)

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Bechdel Test: Pass-Alina and Tamar have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around men.

My first read of 2019 (since all the reviews I’ve done so far this year were hangovers from 2018) was Siege and Storm, the second book in the Grisha trilogy, in a nice bit of symmetry from last year, where Shadow and Bone was the first book I read in 2018. I was a little bit unsure about completing this trilogy, since I wasn’t overly keen on the first book, but since I really want to read King of Scars and was told I’d find it difficult to understand without the original trilogy, I decided to finish the first two books this January so I would understand what was going on when it came to King of Scars. Thankfully I did enjoy Siege and Storm more than Shadow and Bone, the introduction of new characters, particularly Nikolai, made it far more captivating, and the plot had a lot more substance to it than Shadow and Bone (though it still felt a little padded at 370+ pages). Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Darkness never dies. Alina and Mal are on the run. Hunted and haunted, but together at last, they can’t outrun Alina’s past or her destiny forever. The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and he needs Alina to realise his dangerous plan. There are others who would like to use Alina’s gift too. And as her power grows, somehow, she must choose between her country, her power, and her love – or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm. Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance. Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Laini Taylor. 

I have to admit, I still had some of the same issues with this book as I did with the first, particularly in regards to pacing. The chapters were once again overly long, and it still felt like the book was longer than it really needed to be, though there was more action spaced throughout the book this time rather than all in a big chunk at the end, and the final battle was epic, so I did appreciate that.

I loved all the new characters introduced, especially Nikolai. NIKOLAI. I had been waiting for ages to meet Nikolai, because I initially read the Shadow and Bone trilogy because my friend told me how much she loved Nikolai and I have to say, I finally realise what all the fuss was about. Nikolai was everything I wanted him to be, sassy, clever, incredibly cunning and honestly I just love him so much, I cannot wait for King of Scars even more now.

I wasn’t that keen on Alina in the first book, but I have to admit, I enjoyed her more in this one. I don’t know whether Nikolai had just rubbed off on her, but she seemed to have developed a sense of humour in this book! I also liked seeing her embrace her power and toy with the line of darkness a little bit more. I was unsure about her taking on the role of leading the Grisha at first, but she grew into it and by the end I was enjoying seeing her take charge. I would like it if she didn’t have three potential love interests because I am seriously done with the all the guys are in love with this one girl trope, but I guess you can’t have everything.

I really hated Mal in this book, he was kind of insufferable! All he really seems to do is moan and be grumpy and whilst he has perfectly good reasons for being so, I just didn’t really enjoy reading about it. I still don’t really see the chemistry between Mal and Alina, honestly I saw more chemistry between her and Nikolai!

This book was a lot more funny than the last one, courtesy of Nikolai and Alina’s new found sense of humour and I appreciated that, because SHIT GETS REAL, in this book, so it was nice to have that added bit of humour to break up the sadness/darkness.

I’m still not entirely sure about the Darkling, I don’t quite get what everyone loves about him. He’s still kind of an enigma and comes across as kind of one dimensional to me, we don’t really know anything about his motivations, so he kind of just shows up, is evil and goes away again. I appreciate that he’s powerful and that alone makes him quite an intimidating villain, but I still wish we knew more about him because he still doesn’t feel entirely fully drawn to me. I also don’t really get why people ship him with Alina, he basically gaslights her through the entire book and that’s just…..not healthy.

I felt really bad for what The Darkling did to Genya and I hope that she and Alina are together more in the next book, because Alina really needs some more girl friends!

The stakes are finally feeling higher in this book, which was great, our main protagonists finally have a goal to work towards, and this book always feels like it is working towards that purpose which made the plot feel a lot tighter than in the first one which is good.

I still think Leigh Bardugo’s writing in Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom is better than here, but I can’t deny that she definitely improved between Siege and Storm and Shadow and Bone and I found this book a lot more entertaining and easier to read.

The final few chapters were just amazing, Leigh really knocked it out of the park with the ending and really made me glad that I had Ruin and Rising on hand to read next, so I could immediately find out what happened after.

Overall, Siege and Storm was a vast improvement on Shadow and Bone, the plot was tighter, the writing was better, I finally got to meet Nikolai and it finally feels like there are real stakes in this world. I’m looking forward to seeing how Ruin and Rising wraps up the trilogy.

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of the final book in this trilogy, Ruin and Rising, although I don’t know when it will be up as I’m still not particularly far through it.

 

 

Firestarter (Timekeeper #3) Review (e-ARC)

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Book: Firestarter (Timekeeper #3)

Author: Tara Sim

Published by: Sky Pony Press

Expected Publication: 15th January (TOMORROW!)

Format: e-book

Bechdel Test: FAIL-All female characters conversations revolve around Danny and the one conversation that would count is not with a named female character. A shame because there are so many amazing women in this book.

I received this book for free via Edelweiss, as always, this in no way affected my opinion of this book.

As always, thank you to Edelweiss and Sky Pony for allowing me to read this book early, the Timekeeper trilogy has become one of my favourites over the past three years, so it was amazing to be able to read Firestarter a few months before release date.

Chainbreaker was one of my favourite books of 2017, so of course I was highly anticipating Firestarter and leaped at the chance to get it from Edelweiss, as the series isn’t published in the UK (which it totally should be, get on it UK publishers!). There’s always an element of apprehension going into a series finale, because you’re terrified that the story will end in an unsatisfying way, but luckily this wasn’t the case here. Tara Sim created the most beautiful, heartwrenching, epic finale of a book and I am so pleased that Danny and Colton’s journey came to such a glorious conclusion in this book. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The crew of the Prometheus is intent on taking down the world’s clock towers so that time can run freely. Now captives, Colton, Daphne, and the others have a stark choice: join the Prometheus’s cause or fight back in any small way they can and face the consequences. But Zavier, leader of the terrorists, has a bigger plan–to bring back the lost god of time.

As new threats emerge, loyalties must shift. No matter where the Prometheus goes–Prague, Austria, India–nowhere is safe, and every second ticks closer toward the eleventh hour. Walking the line between villainy and heroism, each will have to choose what’s most important: saving those you love at the expense of the many, or making impossible sacrifices for the sake of a better world.

The first thing I have to talk about when it comes to this book is the writing. Tara Sim has such a beautiful way with words, every word is wielded to yield maximum emotion from the reader and damn does she do that well. The opening to this book was just so incredibly beautiful and there were some places where I just wanted to cry because the language evoked such emotion. Tara Sim is truly a master of her craft and I wish I could write that well! I will say there was a chapter towards the end with some rather creative word presentation that I didn’t love but aside from that: AMAZING.

I have to say Tara Sim is an evil genius, because she leaves the cliffhanger from Chainbreaker hanging over our heads for several chapters of Firestarter, and I swear I was holding my breath until I found out that Danny was okay!

The characters are, as ever, completely amazing. Danny and Colton have both grown so much since the first book, and whilst their relationship suffers many, many obstacles in this book (as it should be), it is still wonderful to see them together, and seeing them face the possibility of losing each other was heartbreaking. It was nice to see them back together in this book after they spent most of Chainbreaker apart.

Daphne as well has had to go through such a journey over the course of the three books and I was so glad that she had a big part to play in this final book because she has become one of my favourite characters. I was glad that she didn’t immediately forgive Akash and that he really had to work for forgiveness after his actions in the last book, because it made their reconciliation so much more earned.

We get to see a lot more of Zavier in this book (after only really seeing him at the end of Chainbreaker), and I have to admit, he was a very intriguing villain/anti-hero. He comes off as very “getting in the way of the good guys” to start off with but as we find out more about him through the book, he has his own reasons for acting the way he does and he’s not as nefarious as first thought. He actually really reminded me a lot of Danny, something that Danny himself acknowledges in the book, so seeing the two of them interact was quite something and it was nice to see them go from hatred to grudging respect.

As always, the diversity in this series is AMAZING. We have several POC characters, Daphne, who is biracial, and Meena and Akash who are Indian, we have Danny and Colton who are gay and pansexual respectively, we have several other casual queers, we have disabled characters (Zavier and Danny at the end) it’s amazing to see diversity so naturally included in a book series.

There are a few sex scenes between Danny and Colton in this, which I usually don’t like, but Tara Sim writes them really well and they never feel awkward (unless that is the intention), unlike in some other YA books that I’ve read and it’s so great to see on page gay sex.

There were some uncorrected proof errors, but I’m sure these will have been sorted in the final copy of the book.

The pacing was so great throughout, there was tension when there needed to be, it was fast paced when it needed to be but we were also given room to breathe and I cared so much about the characters that it didn’t matter if the plot was moving slowly, I was super invested in the story.

Tara Sim is not afraid to pull punches with your emotions, and she did that many times in this book! Being a final book, obviously not everyone makes it out of the trilogy alive, but Sim is so good at make you feel for her characters that every death felt meaningful, everything had emotion and it was just so heartbreaking, yet also wonderful to read.

The chapters were a great length, a nice mix of long and short, which is just what I like!

Even being the final book in a trilogy, there were still several surprises I wasn’t expecting in this book, some pleasant and some not, but what I loved was that nothing in this story was predictable. I was on the edge of my seat till the very last page wanting to see what happened to the characters and the clock towers and even then, I could not have worked out how the book was going to end!

There are some trigger warnings for this book, including blood and self-harming, so just be aware of that before you go into it.

The ending was just…..WOW. I don’t want to go into too much detail as obviously that would be spoiling, but I will say that I think every character got their perfect ending, and that it was an incredibly emotional ending for me, I nearly cried. This was honestly a masterclass in how to do a series finale, the stakes were high, the emotions were higher and in the end, it all tied up in a super satisfactory way. I cannot wait to see what Tara Sim does next, because every book of hers I’ve read has just gone from strength to strength!

My Rating: 5/5

My next review will be of my first read of 2019 (since both reviews I’ve posted so far this year have been 2018 reads), Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm.

The Enchanted Sonata Review (e-ARC)

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Book; The Enchanted Sonata

Author: Heather Dixon Wallwork

Published By: Smith Publicity

Expected Publication: 23rd October (I got approved after publication, I’m not just ridiculously late this time!)

Format: e-book

BECHDEL TEST: FAIL-Clara doesn’t have any direct conversations with other named women that aren’t about the Nutcracker.

Thank you to Smith Publicity and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book, it’s probably not one I would have come across without Netgalley, so I was very grateful to have to chance to read it.

The Enchanted Sonata was the perfect book for me to end my 2018 on, given that it was mostly set at Christmas, I’m not usually one for festive reads, but the timing just worked out really well on this one. It’s a unique little retelling of the Nutcracker Ballet, mixed with elements of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. It’s quite a short, and a relatively enjoyable story, though I would say better for readers perhaps a bit younger than me, the main character is 15, but the story and the writing style would probably be suited more to readers aged 9-12 than older teenagers. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Clara Stahlbaum has her future perfectly planned: to marry the handsome pianist, Johann Kahler (ah!) and settle down to a life full of music. But all that changes on Christmas Eve, when Clara receives a mysterious and magical nutcracker. 

Whisked away to his world—an enchanted empire of beautiful palaces, fickle fairies, enormous rats, and a prince—Clara must face a magician who uses music as spells…and the future she thought she wanted.

The Enchanted Sonata, a retelling of The Nutcracker Ballet with a dash of The Pied Piper, will captivate readers of all ages.

The opening of the book really captured me, the author starts with a prologue about music and her writing was so lovely there, I couldn’t help but want to read on. Sadly, I didn’t find the writing as captivating all the way through, there were moments were it was just gorgeous but a lot of the time, I felt it was quite simplistic and read more like a children’s book than a YA book-having said that, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, we definitely need more lower YA novels and this book would fit there quite nicely.

I did find the characters quite bland, I didn’t feel like either Clara or the Nutcracker (Nikolai) had all that much personality, and so it was difficult to really understand, or root for them. In contrast, the main villain’s story was actually shaped quite well, and he was given more of a personality and a backstory, so I found that I could feel for him more than I could either of the main characters, which isn’t great when their main goal is to destroy him! I also wouldn’t say I felt that much chemistry between Clara and the Nutcracker, but I suppose that’s difficult to create when one is a human and one is a toy.

I loved the concept for the story, the idea of a Nutcracker retelling is not something that I’ve ever really seen done much before and mixing it with the Pied Piper of Hamelin is something that you wouldn’t think would work, but actually worked really well! All the musical aspects of the book were great as well, you can tell that the author really loves music, because passion just drips off the page when she writes about it.

I liked the whole story within a story idea, so you have Clara in the real world and then you have the world of the Nutcracker and the two sort of combine in this really lovely way, so Clara starts off reading the story of the Nutcracker and then she is transported into it herself, which I thought was really cool. I think the book should maybe not have been used after Clara got to Imperia though, because it kind of felt like a deux ex  machina that whenever she needed to know something, the book would tell her the next part of the story, it felt like nothing she really did was that earned.

There are so many beautiful aesthetics in this book, the sweet store, the trains, the nutcrackers, the snow, everything really does feel like you’ve stepped into the middle of a fairytale which was really lovely.

I did feel for such a short book that it was incredibly slow paced, the book only takes place over a matter of days, basically Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and yet it’s dragged out into 40+ chapters which it didn’t really need to be, because of a lot the chapters have not much happening in them and that just served to make the book feel even longer!

The side characters were also largely quite flat, with the exception of the Nuns from the Abbey of The Indomitable Sisters, I could have read a whole book about them illegally wiretapping and fighting off rats, they were so great!

The ending felt a little bit too neat for me, but it did fit with the story, since it’s a fairytale style story, “and they all lived happily ever after” is pretty much the only way to end it, even if happy ever afters are not my preferred kind of endings. It just felt like everything was all a bit too simple in the end and there wasn’t really enough struggle to make the ending feel deserved.

Overall, The Enchanted Sonata was a nice little Christmas story, and I think if I had found this book at 11 or 12, I would probably have been able to overlook it’s flaws and really get wrapped up in it. As it is, I did enjoy it and I think the concept was incredibly creative, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it might have been.

My Rating: 3/5

 

 

Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2)

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Book: Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2)

Author: V.E. Schwab

This was my #RockMyTBR read for December after I swapped Wonder Woman out with it because I wasn’t really feeling it. I was a little unsure about this one because I wasn’t all that keen on This Savage Song, but I’m glad that I decided to finish out this duology, because the second book was so much better than the first one! The pacing was still a little off, the first couple of parts were pretty slow and the second two were racing along at breakneck speed, but the characters were far more fleshed out in this one, the emotional stakes felt higher and I just generally found it more enjoyable. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Kate Harker is a girl who hunts monsters. And she’s good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human. Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is a terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadows -one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim’s inner demons- Kate must face a monster she thought she’d killed, a boy she thought she knew and a demon all her own …

I have to admit right off the bat that I barely remembered any of This Savage Song when I picked up this book! I mean I’ve read 64 books between This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet, so naturally, I don’t remember much of what happened in This Savage Song. Honestly, it didn’t really matter much though, I remembered enough of the end and getting into the story, there had been a six month time jump anyway, so it wasn’t like going into ACOL after AGOS where it picked up from the same point it left off.

The writing, as expected from Victoria Schwab was stunning. The prelude was especially gorgeous, honestly, Victoria Schwab has a way of creating sheer magic with the power of her words and I wish that one day I might be able to write as beautifully as she does. It never feels overdone as well, like in some books, every word choice is simple, but effective and it makes her writing a joy to read. The free verse was an unexpected treat as well, I don’t usually like poetry but I thought it worked so well here.

I loved the titles of the different sections and the way that like in the first book, the book was split into “verses” as well as a “prelude” and an “elegy”.

As I said in the beginning, the pacing was a little off. The first two verses were a little slow and it seemed as if in the last two verses, Schwab almost overcompensated, and they were faster paced than the story could handle. Still it helped that the chapters were relatively short, as this helped stem some of the pacing issues, not completely, but it would have been far worse if the first two verses had had lengthy chapters and been slow paced. It also took far too long for Kate and August to be reunited, given that their dynamic is central to the story.

I didn’t feel like the sections with Kate in Prosperity at the beginning really added much, we don’t get to learn much about Prosperity, Kate’s “friends” kind of just seem like fill in characters, they’re not really developed enough for you to care about them and because you’ve missed the past six months of Kate’s life you don’t really understand why she cares about them so much.

There is some decent diversity in this book, Kate’s new friend Riley from Prosperity is gay, there is a new monster Soro who is non-binary, Kate herself is deaf in one ear, Ilsa is mute and Emily Flynn is black, so it’s not a cast made up of entirely straight, white, cis, ablebodied people.

I enjoyed seeing the character development of both Kate and August in this book, Kate felt somewhat bland in the first book, but this second book embraces all of her flaws and complexities and we really get to see her come into her own character rather than attempting to be a carbon of her father. August’s journey is equally interesting, as he starts off trying to emulate the coldness of his brother Leo and embrace his monstrous side more, so his journey is more about trying to reconnect with the person he once was which was great to see. Both characters felt more raw and real to me in this book and I found myself connecting with them more, which was great.

I didn’t love that Kate and August’s previously platonic friendship from the last book had to be extended into something romantic here-granted it’s only one kiss and doesn’t get explored much further but we have such a dire lack of strictly platonic male/female friends that it felt like a bit of a slap in the face, not to mention unnecessary pandering to shippers to have that kiss in there. Kate and August have never shown any hints of romantic interest in each other and the random kiss just didn’t really fit.

I would have liked Soro to be more developed, I think he had the potential to be a really interesting character but he wasn’t really given the space for development, so he felt kind of flat. I felt the same way about Ilsa, she’s such an interesting character, but I didn’t feel like she was utilised well enough.

I also would have liked a little more world building, we barely get to know anything about Prosperity and even after two books in Verity, I don’t feel like I know it all that well and we know nothing about the other places in the world.

I felt the same way about the Chaos Eater monster, I thought it was a great idea, a monster that takes over people’s brains and makes them do violent things, but we don’t get enough real information about it, how it came to be, why it doesn’t affect Kate in the same way as everyone else. As much as I thought it was a great monster, I would have loved to know more about it. It also seemed incredibly easy to get rid of, for something supposedly so dangerous, I felt like that part of the book was a little rushed. Still, Schwab has proven time and time again that she knows how to write a good villain, between Alice, Sloan and the Chaos Eater, the villains in this book were off the charts!

I loved the action scenes in this book-they were so much better than the last book and the darkness quotient was definitely upped, which I really loved. I particularly loved the climactic fight between Kate and Alice, I thought Schwab did an excellent job with that one.

It was really interesting to see Kate interact with August’s family, I don’t think they did in the last one, so it was nice to see how that dynamic unfolded through the book.

There were quite a few editing errors, I’m wondering if Schwab didn’t have as long to work on this one as some of her others, because there were a couple of easy mistakes in the book in terms of spelling and grammar that I don’t usually find in her books.

The whole Sloan hunting down Kate’s lookalikes thing was incredibly creepy-I realise why Sloan’s POV was necessary in this book, but his was definitely my least favourite.

Some of the climax did feel a little rushed, but it was ultimately satisfying-I did not see that ending coming at all, and I was quite surprised by how emotional it made me. I can totally understand why Schwab chose to end it like that, and a happy ending would not have fitted at all, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a gut punch! I do personally prefer more closed endings, but in this book, I don’t think it would have fitted, so Schwab made the right call.

The Elegy, I felt this time around was somewhat unnecessary, although ending it at the end of Verse 4 would have been brutal, I felt like leaving it on that emotional punch would have been better, but maybe I’m just sadistic like that!

Overall, this was a much better book than This Savage Song and whilst I don’t think the Monsters of Verity duology will ever be my favourite Schwab series, I did enjoy this book a lot more than I was expecting to, so I am really pleased with that!

BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Mony and Kate have a conversation about weapons in the Flynn compound.

My next review, which will be either my last of 2018 or first of 2019 depending on when I finish it, will be of Heather Dixon Wallwork’s The Enchanted Sonata.