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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Golden Kamuy, Vol. 1 by Satoru Noda

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I actually never heard of, or seen this series before reading it. It’s just one from the (always) giant pile of random books I recently picked without reading the synopsis from the library. And I have to say I’m glad I decided to pick up so many unheard of books this time around, because I’ve found a few gems I know I’d never have picked up to read if I’d know what it was about before hand.

Synopsis: A recent war veteran dubbed Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto finds himself dishonourably discharged, and desperately searching the wild mountains of Hokkaido for gold in postwar gold rush 1904. Of course he finds nothing, except an old man with an interesting story: a ruthless man murdered a group of Ainu (Japanese First Nations), stole their giant pile of gold, and was caught and imprisoned. Of course once the secrete of the large gold mine got out, with all the people-government and otherwise- wanting a piece, escape became impossible. So what did this man do? In the hopes his friends with find them, he tattooed cryptic instructions of where he left the gold on all his prison mates with the promise to share with them. They stage a prison break, and succeed.

Now of course Sugimoto doesn’t believe a word, until a bear attack and dead body later, when he gets to see the unique tattoos himself. While protecting this body from said bear, help comes from an unexpected ally, an Ainu girl who’s father was a victim of the murdering thief. The two form an unlikely bond while surviving the bear attack and begin working together to hunt down the prisoners. One for the gold, the other for revenge.

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Rating: 8.5/10 Unicorn Horns

This was a very different story from what I’m used to reading, so I was surprised to find myself liking it so much. Despite the historical setting and mystery (two things I enjoy, just not together), the story line and where it’s heading were more than enough to make me change my mind. Things get a bit graphic here and there once they start hunting down prisoners, but things never felt needlessly gruesome. I gave it such a high rating for it’s uniqueness. The story may be similar to others, but incorporates a fair amount of original ideas- like the multitude of referenced info about Ainu people I loved learning. 

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I can’t say much about the setting since I know next to nothing about 1904 Japan, but I enjoyed the learning experience, especially when they took to the wilds. Noda gives tons of descriptions which made things feel more realistic. As for the characters, with the exception of one, I have no complaints. Sugimoto is a wonderfully complex ex-soldier who is decidedly unapologetic about taking lives if he’s threatened. Yet he’s also an intelligent, compassionate, and very capable fighter who shows hints of the recklessness and emotional instability born of surviving the horrors of war.

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Even one of the inmates and the hints of future antagonists, each having their own unique personalities, were fascinating to read/watch. Which all made the lack that is Asirpa, the young Ainu girl who becomes Sugimoto’s partner, pretty confusing. Though she’s clearly very intelligent and can hold her own in a fight, I found her fading to the background among Sugimoto and minor characters. I was pretty disappointed with her, but to be fair this is only the first volume. We get quite a bit of Sugimoto’s background, and learn about his motives and personality, so it’s my guess Asirpa, as the secondary main character, will be fleshed out as a character in a later volume.

Regardless this was a great read and I’m really looking forward to checking out the next volume. I actually have no idea who to recommend this to, seeing as how I would have never in my life picked this up. So I guess if anything I’ve said about his series in my review interests you, please give it a try! Thanks for reading =)downloadg.jpg 

 

 

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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Lucy Hutton hates her co-worker Joshua Templeman, with a capital H. The hate is mutual and the two stop at no lengths to make sure the other never forgets. Lucy and Josh are the executive assistants of the Co-CEOs of a publishing company. When the new executive position of chief operating officer is created by their bosses Helene and Mr. Bexley, both Lucy and Josh are determined to win, because how could either of them bear to work beneath the other. Thus begins a story that reminds us just how thin the line between love and hate truly is. As Lucy begins to realize that they may not harbor as much unadulterated hatred for each other as she once believed they did. 

I have been hearing about The Hating Game for a few months now and I never foresaw myself ever giving it a read because I’m not the biggest fan of adult contemporaries. I finally decided to give it a chance because, 1) I had heard such great things about the novel from Chelsea from ChelseaDolling Reads on BookTube (you should totally check her out) and, 2) It was available in ebook format at the library on a day when I wasn’t interested in reading the physical book I had brought with me to work. Lol, I feel like every “how I ended up reading this book”  story involving a book I wouldn’t normal read has some mention of the library. What can I say…I’m a mood reader lol.

One of the sources of my greatest trepidation going into this story is because the novel is presented as an enemies-to-lovers, office romance. When it comes to literary tropes, the ‘enemies-to-lovers’ is one of the least enjoyable for me to read because it plagues sooooo many contemporary/romance/new adult novels. So, needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much better from The Hating Game. The story surprised me, or I should say, how much I ended up enjoying it surprised me. The dynamic between Lucy and Josh is golden. Granted there are moments where I had to roll my eyes, muttering “How did you not foresee ‘that’ getting lost in translation.” Also, there’s another trope that’s in this novel that if it wouldn’t be a spoiler I would mention, but spoilers are a thing, and the rest of the story makes up for it. 

The Hating Game is incredibly funny, witty and smart. It was fun reading a story that is largely set at a publishing company. Lucy is a reader, has a large smurf collection and grew up on a strawberry farm. She’s a dynamic, layered quirky female character without the author dragging her into “manic-pixie dream girl” territory…which I greatly appreciated. Josh is a smart, difficult, and uncompromising love interest. He’s a great character to be opposite Lucy and their characters complement each other in numerous ways. The two are able to challenge each other and bicker in the most entertaining ways. Although Lucy and Josh have spent so much time hating each other, their descent into their romantic feelings for each other is believable. I give this novel a rating of 8-out of-10 unicorn horns. Although this is Sally Green’s debut novel, it feels that the novel accomplishes what it set out to do, and that comes through during the reading experience.  

 

 

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.

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!

 

 

 

 

Seiho Boys High School, Vol. 1 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

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I still question my decision to do a review on this 8 volume manga series, and not because I didn’t wholly enjoy it. In fact, my hesitation comes from the fact that I not only enjoyed it, but from time to time found myself suffering from convulsions of laughter. Normally that’s simply a good thing, but I must admit that some of the often vulgar and at best inappropriate humour may have crossed lines here and there.

Synopsis: Seiho Boys High School is more or less exactly what the name implies. Despite being a shojo manga (Japanese comic targeted for young adult girls), the story centers a group of young males at an all male boarding high school in the middle of nowhere. The POV starts with a young 16yr old named Maki, but often switches between the small group of friends as the lament and curse their fate of being stranded without any female in sight. Worrying about forgetting how to talk to girls, past issues, grades, and getting caught with their secret stashes during inspections are just some of the typical things these boys get themselves caught up in as they search for love…or simply to get laid.

Rating: I rate this hilarious contemporary 8/10 Unicorn Horns!

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This ‘crossing of lines’ is something to be expected when a genre challenging series such as this hits the shelves. This shojo challenges it’s typical predecessors in two ways; It’s entirely male centered cast of characters, and it’s incredibly ‘inappropriate for it’s genre’ type of humour. Personally, with the exception of one character’s actions when it came to women, I didn’t see much wrong with the blunt sexual humour, but can easily say that many could find the more…unapologetic and inappropriate scenes/comments offensive. So a big warning to those that would be put off by raunchy humour.

The only negative thing I have to say about this series, other than a couple personally line crossing comments, is that this hilarious contemporary read does loose momentum in later installments as things begin to feel a bit repetitive here and there, or seemed to lack direction (something I believe the author pointed out themselves). Otherwise I loved the characters and the humour even more than I did the overall episodic story of a group of boys struggling to find love and keep it (though that was pretty funny in and of itself). 

I recommend this to anyone looking for some good romantic comedy, with an emphasis on comedy of the inappropriate kind.