The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

*This review is spoiler free*

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This is another I came across at library (a recent “random find”). Of course the cover is what grabbed my interest at first (they are all gorgeous!). Though if I’m being honest I almost put them back since the synopsis hinted at a ton of romance, which I’m not all that into at the moment. But of course as usual the covers eventually won out.

Synopsis: This book takes place in an alternate universe where everything mirrors life as we know it, except for the addition of magic, mages, and an entire magical kingdom (known as the Domain). Split between two POV’s are main characters Iolanthe and Tintus. Iolanthe is a talented female mage living a peaceful life in the Domain on Little Grind-on-Woe…if you can call her guardian, Master Haywood’s, fall from grace and addiction peaceful. 

Tintus, on the other hand, lives miles away in the privileged life of royalty…except for the heavy weight of ruling the entire kingdom, engaging in a political battle with Atlantis (almost like the Catholic church in the Medieval Period, but with magic), and eagerly awaiting the beginning of his late mother’s prophecy. A lighting summoning, unveiling of dark secrets, and magic battle later, these two meets, sparking the start of an adventure filled prophecy.

Rating: 7/10 Unicorn Horns!

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I have mixed feelings about this one. The beginning didn’t do much to catch my attention, or give me reasons to expect much. Iolanthe wasn’t an appealing character, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck was happening since it was difficult to piece together where it was happening. I believe this is Sherry’s first YA (she’s primarily an adult romance writer), and it shows. Even after passing the initial confusion of the first few chapters, there were still more than a few awkwardly pieced together scenes. Ironically the romance itself, generally a plus in this book, at times felt strangely…off, and disappointingly cliched.

But of course, I kept reading for a reason. While the world building could use some more description, the magic system is nothing short of fascinating. Most notably the use of elemental (controlling natural forces) and subtle magic (using a wand to bend natural laws- Harry Potter style). Sherry explains all this in a pretty unique way; by including footnotes at the back of the book (set up as footnotes from a few magical texts available in the Domain). Though there were times flipping to the back would have been too much of an interruption, I found that around the mid-point you could usually leave the extra reading till later without becoming confused.

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Then there are th characters and story line. Admittedly, the story becomes awkward here and there (especially the pacing), and I can’t say it’s original, but for the most part it’s a pretty good one. I was invested in finding out how things would turn out, and even when I could see events coming from a mile away the execution would often be surprising.

For the characters, things really start to pick up once, Iolanthe Seabourne, with the help of Titus, begins attending an all boys school as a guy: Archer Fairfax. Is it wrong that I enjoyed her more as Archer than Iolanthe? She played her part beautifully, and getting to know more about her through this experience is another part of what made this book for me. Diving further into the past and motives of Prince Titus, a pleasantly complex character, was another major plus. Actually, both ended up being somewhat complex characters in their own right. There were even a couple side/supporting characters that stood out. Lastly, well…unfortunately I can’t say the antagonists were the best out there, but they did their part.  

Even with the negative points, I’m actually curious to the point of being exited to see where this goes after the way things ended. It’s a complete trilogy so at least I don’t have a wait ahead. If the synopsis interests you, I highly recommend you check this one out for yourselves despite my mixed feelings.

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New Release: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

This Review is Spoiler Free

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

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I struggled for some time trying to think of the best way to form my thoughts on this book into something coherent, and not just a paragraph of gushing. Then I came across this gif:

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And this one:

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Both of which chronologically summarize my feelings about this book perfectly! But of course, I can’t actually leave my review at that…no matter how tempted I am. I will say that most of my love of this book comes from the fact that I honestly missed hearing about it. I’ve seen the cover pop up here and there, but otherwise have heard almost nothing, so was expecting nothing. I’ve been feeling a bit sick of teen fiction (not including manga) for awhile now, so it was only the title and coverlust that drew me into hesitantly picking this up.

Synopsis: Using second person narration with multiple POV’s, Maxwell begins this story with a small group of mageus, lead by Prof. Lachlan, working together against their ancient nemesis, the Order, in modern day New York. Things sound pretty rudimentary at first, a group of supernaturally gifted people fighting against a group of religious fanatics trying to wipe them out, but there are a few catches. The major one being the terror of a deadly trap called the Brink, and Esta, raised and trained by Prof. Lachlan to take down the Order. She is also an amazingly talented pick-pocketing, lock picking, time-travelling thief. And it is these skills that get her sent back to 1902 in New York on a lone mission to steal a book- the Ars Arcana- that may finally lead to their freedom.

Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

This rich story-line, set primarily in 1902, was nothing to sneeze at. In addition to the gripping scenes of the magic welding mageus hiding, outwitting, and fighting the Order (who are at the beginning of forming a curious mix of alchemy and emerging technology), there was also the terror of the Brink to contend with. Many mageus travelled to New York due to rumours of a better life only to find that once they enter the city they cannot leave. Well, at least not without being stripped of their powers and dying in agony, or facing a lifetime of severe mental/emotional instability if they survived the mysterious force field surrounding the city. The effects the terror of this trap and the raids by the Order had on the mageus living in New York was amazingly well written, and just one of the many things that made me devour this book. 

It is this terror that the group main character Esta grew up in, and the street gang leader Dolph are fighting to destroy. Esta’s mission is to meet up with Dolph, the well-known leader of one of the bigger mageus gangs in New York’s 1902 underbelly, infiltrate his crew and prevent someone called The Magician from making the Ars Arcana disappear from history. It was the characters in 1902 that I fell in love with. Esta is a very strong young woman who’s resilient character I admired. Dolph, his crew, and The Magician himself are all complex characters with beautifully conflicting values and resulting contradictory actions. I loved that the gritty reality of the situation the mageus were faced with was actually reflected in the hard choices many of the characters struggled with. 

Though this book did still have some of the elements I’ve grown tired of in teen fiction, a few overly common troupes, those things weren’t so overbearing that they felt like they robbed the story of worth. I didn’t give this book a full 10/10 because in addition to that, part-way through the book things started feeling a bit dragged out. This wasn’t done enough to take off a full point, especially considering all those twists, turns, and bomb dropping towards the end.

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Maxwell took some of my most loved themes, a historical setting rife with realistic social problems and strong characterization, then wove it into a beautifully entertaining story. I definitely recommend this one to all!

Arata: The Legend Vol. 1, by Yuu Watase 

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Completely disinterested. That’s how I felt about this series at first. I came across  this series a few years ago, took one look at the cover, and decided it wasn’t for me. I figured that was the end, but a few months ago I was forced into a game of Jack in the Box. No matter where I went- online forums, the library, Goodreads recommendations, random book comments- this series would make an appearance. To be honest it started to creep me out, and so (of course) I became interested enough to give it a try! I have never been so happy to be stalked by an inanimate object before 😃

Synopsis: On one side you have Arata. This young adult is the next in line to lead the Hime Clan- long line of females who, every 30 years, have proudly produced a new ruling princess for the kingdom. Only thing is…Arata is a boy.

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On the the other side we have the leading protagonist, Arata Hinohara, a regular high school student with great athletic skills and the grades to go with it, seems to just be starting over from a complicated past. That is, until said past seems to follow him to his new school.

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These two very different worlds clash when Arata (the Hime Clan leader), is falsely charged with the murdering the ruling Princess during a sacred succession ceremony and chased into the human devouring forest.

This is when Hinohara (the regular school student) takes centre stage. As the mysterious forest forces a body swap between these two characters, Hinohara finds himself in a magical kingdom being hunted down by the 12 Sho (12 chosen rulers welding the most powerful Kamui– gods in the form of weapons).    

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Rating: 9/10 Unicorn Horns!

Needless to say this was an unexpectedly non-stop, action packed read. The action and adventure the series begins with only continues to increase as Hinohara finds his place in the new fantasy world, and discovers a power of his own. The characters, setting, dialogue (the humours banter was a real bonus), and touch of romance, are all things that came together to make this one of my favourite series.

A big part of what makes this series great for me is the main character Hinohara. The way he faces and overcomes his own weaknesses, quickly becoming a stronger person who does his best to actively grow and stick to his moral convictions is something that I find was approached/written beautifully (. I recommend this one to any action, adventure, and fantasy lover! 

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There is also a 12-episode anime version if you want to check it out. Though it covers only a very small portion of the manga, it does adapt most of the important parts (with a few changes of course) up until the last few episodes where events start showing up out of chronological order.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

*This Review is Spoiler Free 

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During the month of June I read exclusively LGBTQIA+ books in celebration of Pride Month. I aimed to read as much own-voices fiction as possible, and in my search, it did not take too long to come across Queens of Geek, especially considering that it was a fairly new release. I was immediately drawn to the premise because felt like this story would be a romp of fun and celebrate fandom. The premise promised many different points of interest and definitely did not disappoint.  

Queens of Geek, follows a group of three friends who have journeyed from Australia to San Diego to attend SupaCon in celebration of one of them making their film acting debut. The story is told in alternating POV between Charlie, a Chinese-Austarlian, Bi-sexual female YouTube star who has made a cross-over to film and, Taylor, a plus-sized cosplayer, who’s got anxiety and autism spectrum disorder, romantic feelings for one of her best friends Jamie, and has a Tumblr following to be jealous over. I appreciated going into this reading experience knowing very little about the story besides the information I provided above, so I will not delve any further into the plot to provide a more detailed synopsis.  

Queens of Geek was an incredibly fun read. There is so much within this story for readers to nerd-out over. The story feels a bit rushed towards the last quarter of the novel; however, I didn’t mind the change in pace too much as it actually adds a sense of authenticity to the atmosphere of the book. Anyone who has ever attended any sort of Con (books, comics, movie, fandom, cosplay) knows that the experience is incredibly fast paced and rushed. There is an overload of events, signings, panels etc, and the book delivers in giving you a feel of that. 

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

*This Review is Spoiler Free

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I have been aware of Anna and the French Kiss since 2012 when I first started watching Booktube videos. I can admit that I was incredibly uninterested in ever picking these novels up. There was way too much hype surrounding the books, everyone seemed to LOVE them, and I couldn’t go onto any bookish social media without having them paraded in my face. Lo and Behold, I ended up picking up the series this year. I felt I was finally ready to give them a try because I wouldn’t be going into reading this novel with overly high expectations due to the numerous recommendations I’ve received.  

Anna’s famous Author father sends her from her family home in Atlanta to study abroad at the “School of America in Paris” (SOAP) for her Senior year of High School. Anna is devastated that she will be away from her best friend, Bridgette and Toph, the guy she has a crush on and finally got to kiss before leaving Atlanta. Anna resigns herself to communicating via email with the friend and crush she left behind, but finds herself having a hard time and breaks down on her first night at SOAP. Anna is eventually fortunate to find herself a group of friends and even a best friend in the charismatic and charming, Etienne St. Clair. As the school year progresses Anna feels that her friendship with Etienne could possibly evolve into something more than platonic. Problem is, Etienne in already in a relationship with his girlfriend Ellie.  

I will preface the ‘meat’ of this review by saying that I didn’t absolutely hate the story, but I for sure was not in love with it by any stretch of the imagination. Honestly, if I had read this novel when I had been younger I may have enjoyed it much more than I did. It is difficult to overlook the blatant emotional cheating that occurs during the story and the incredible display of double standards. The writing is very easy to read and the story has a consistent flow. The story is not disjointed until the end where certain issues that cause a certain level of conflict are not resolved in a realistic manner. Due to the fact that this story is a YA romance/contemporary fiction there is a certain level of teen angst that is to be expected; however, there are areas where it is difficult to relate to and/or understand Anna’s train of thought in regards to her “friendship” with Etienne and also with her bestfriend Bridgette from Atlanta. There is a well balance cast of side characters, some of whom the reader will get to see in subsequent books. For the most part the secondary characters were well developed and didn’t seem to be there just to take up space on the page. 

Overall I was underwhelmed with the story and with Anna as a character. She was wishy-washy and had a separate set of rules for herself than she did for others. Anna was fairly self-absorbed while managing to not have a very great level of self-awareness and not know what it is that she wants. I would recommend this novel to people who love YA romance reads and that would not be put-off by having a storyline that uses cheating to drive the plot forward and/or a main protagonist that is emotionally unreliable and unsure of themselves in an off-putting way. I give Anna and the French Kiss a rating of 4.5 out of a possible 10 Unicorn Horns. Happy Reading!

 

 

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

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*I’m very sorry for all the late replies. I will be getting back to everyone soon.

Also, I  don‘t know if any of you are having a similar issue, but I have been having a lot of problems with the new WordPress. A lot of schedules posts (including a handful of drafts) have been posting early and/or without me knowledge (e.g. The Versatile Blogger Award). I apologize for this, especially to the bloggers of meltingpotsandcalamities and blameitonchocolate.*

This is a series I have literally been waiting years to read. As many of you know I despise cliffhangers almost as much as I do spoilers, so often put off series I want to read until they are complete or near to completion (something I also do because of one too many series I loved, and had to wait 4+ years for due to publication issues). So when I heard this series was finally near completion I didn’t hesitate to dive right in.

Synopsis: This four person POV takes place in the three separate kingdoms of Mytica. The youngest daughter, Princess Cleo, of Auranos- the prosperous kingdom in both land and wealth- the young Prince and Princess of Limeros- a frozen land lead by a tyrannous king- and a young wine sellers son from Paelsia- a destitute country that hangs on by a thread; all four cross paths as their lands, one by one, slowly descend into darkness. 

Rating: 7.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

I gave it this rating because, while I enjoyed it and the story line was good, it fell a little short of my expectations, particularly in the character department. On the one hand this is the first of six books, so it’s understandable that character development isn’t a focus yet. Instead the focuses in more on introducing readers to the world Morgan is creating, and only some insight into the characters we view this world’s events through. Even so, I have to admit the POV of one character in particular was a bit too painful for me to get past. This character (that shall remain unnamed), through a series of naive choices and a lot of spoiled behaviour, took some joy out of the story for me. Given the circumstances it may have been strange if they were any different, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that her character is grating. A funny thing, considering she becomes one of my favourite characters by the end of the second instalment.

The story, overall, is something I enjoyed quite a bit. While there wasn’t too much that stood out to me other than the mysterious group of mystical beings known as Watchers, I found the pacing appealing and the nations decent into widespread chance promises a lot more actions to come. That appeal has quickly gotten me to the 3rd book, and I can honestly say: “It gets better”. This of course goes for the characters as well, most of which grown and progress in leaps. The romance is present from the very start, and though it does take a back step here and there to various events, it is a running theme throughout the story. 

I would recommend this series to Y.A. fans that enjoy their stories with a romantic theme included. 

Half a King (A Shattered Sea novel) by Joe Abercrombie

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I’d be surprised if any of you actually remember (I certainly didn’t until recently lol), but some time ago I had made a resolution, which only lasted a couple weeks, to actually read some of my most neglected possessions. This is one of the many series I’ve had on my shelf for more than a year that I finally got around to reading. I’ve been hearing the hype about Abercrombie for a long time so, as I’ve yet to reading something by him, I decided this would be a good way to get back in to my forgotten resolution. Glad to say I’ve found myself another favoured author!

Half a King is an Abercrombie Y.A. fantasy series (a complete trilogy), and revolves around the young crippled prince of Gettland named Yarvi. The story begins as Yari studies to become part of an order of scholars, history keepers, linguists and anthropologists, geographers, and philosophers who’s craft is knowledge of all kinds.  These Ministers, who often act as advisers to high ranking officials and royals, live the kind of knowledge driven lifestyle that is everything Yarvi could hope for. Unfortunately, of course, things don’t go as planned as the night before Yarvi is to become an official Minister, his uncle brings the unwelcome news that both his father and older brother were murdered. This leaves the only remaining heir, constantly taunted and called “half a man“, to sit on the throne.

Rating: 9/10 Unicorns Horns!

This is a series I would recommend to most fantasy readers, as it has many of the elements that makes this genre so appealing: mystery, political power plays, betrayal, adventure, and a touch of darkness. This fast paced novel was honestly one of he best fantasy reads I’ve come across. Each and every character is this book was amazing. They stood out to me as unique in there own right. Yarvi, the underdog of this wonderfully crafted story, is an amazingly sharp and quick witted character that plays well to his own strengths and limitations. He felt quite human to me and even his weak moments were relatable rather than grating. His companions and other supporting characters, of which I cannot give too much away, were all…well except for one…people who I’d love to get to know more about and made me want to keep reading, sometimes even more than the actual story itself did.

I have more questions than ever after finishing Half a War than most other series I have read lately. It’s a pleasant surprise how much this book got me thinking, and how much I found myself excitedly trying to read into the smallest of comments, actions, and events thinking it might to a clue to the many mysteries this book held. I cannot wait to get on the the next one!