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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

REVIEW: Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. She travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh is determined to find her mother, the bird. 

In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

This is truly an elegantly poignant read filled with just as much realistic emotion as it is magical realism.  Readers are in for a real treat with Pan's debut novel.  Having myself recently experienced grief upon losing multiple loved ones, I found this narrative not only mesmerizing as well as haunting but also cathartic and hopeful. Perhaps this final quote sums up the novel's prose and experience best:

What is memory? It's not something you can physically hold, or see, or taste. It's just nerve impulses jumping between neurons. Sometimes it's a matter of choice. Other times it's self-preservation, or protection [...] Because the purpose of memory, I would argue, is to remind us how to live" (p. 464).

This is a beautiful book. Have your tissues handy.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

REVIEW: The Rogue Queen by Emily R. King

*Thank you to Netgalley & Skyscape for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Publisher's Summary:
Despite the odds, Kalinda has survived it all: Marriage to a tyrant. Tournaments to the death. The forbidden power to rule fire. The icy touch of a demon.

That same demon now disguises itself as Rajah Tarek, Kalinda’s late husband and a man who has never stopped haunting her. Upon taking control of the palace and the army, the demon brands Kalinda and her companions as traitors to the empire. They flee across the sea, seeking haven in the Southern Isles.

In Lestari, Kalinda’s powers are not condemned, as they are in her land. Now free to use them to protect those she loves, Kalinda soon realizes that the demon has tainted her with a cold poison, rendering her fire uncontrollable. But the lack of control may be just what she needs to send the demon back to the darkest depths of the Void.

To take back the empire, Kalinda will ally with those she distrusts—and risk losing those most loyal to her—to defeat the demon and bring peace to a divided nation.

The Rogue Queen is an action packed adventure full of peril, uncertainty, betrayals and heartbreak. The novel is another strong addition to the series. King excels at world-building of a fantasy realm with loosely inspired ties to Sumerian and Indian cultures. Kalinda is an admirable female protagonist and readers connect with her readily on her journey for her strength and vulnerability.  She is quickly learning that sometimes to right choices are the hardest ones.  

King continues to alternate voices by assigning chapters and the parallel story to Deven.  He does his fair share of soul searching throughout the book and fans of his and Kali's romance must weather the storm of their relationship once again.  Fair warning, have tissues handy near the end.  Here's hoping that fairer skies might be on the horizon for these two after more BIG challenges must be faced in book 4, The Warrior Queen, due out in August 2018.

The narrative benefits from its host of well developed secondary characters as well as a really great villain with clear world domination goals and good dialogue with some YA books often lack.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Also recommended...
Publisher's Summary:
As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

This first book of Kalinda's journey had me spellbound from beginning to end.  She begins naive and rather fragile but blossoms to embrace newly discovered abilities all to save herself, her best friend and her newfound love. 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher's Summary:
Though the tyrant rajah she was forced to marry is dead, Kalinda’s troubles are far from over. A warlord has invaded the imperial city, and now she’s in exile. But she isn’t alone. Kalinda has the allegiance of Captain Deven Naik, her guard and beloved, imprisoned for treason and stripped of command. With the empire at war, their best hope is to find Prince Ashwin, the rajah’s son, who has promised Deven’s freedom on one condition: that Kalinda will fight and defeat three formidable opponents.

But as Kalinda’s tournament strengths are once again challenged, so too is her relationship with Deven. While Deven fears her powers, Ashwin reveres them—as well as the courageous woman who wields them. Kalinda comes to regard Ashwin as the only man who can repair a warring world and finds herself torn between her allegiance to Deven and a newly found respect for the young prince.

With both the responsibility to protect her people and the fate of those she loves weighing heavily upon her, Kalinda is forced again to compete. She must test the limits of her fire powers and her hard-won wisdom. But will that be enough to unite the empire without sacrificing all she holds dear?

Kalinda's journey is far from over despite the death of her tyrant husband.  While her powers seem to grow, she learns even more secrets about her ancestry, finds new allies and must participate in another trial to secure her freedom and those she holds most dear.  Well written with an intricate, fast paced plot and good characterization. I did like the addition of Deven's POV in alternate chapters to add depth to the story.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 4, 2018

REVIEW: The Crown's Game Series by Evelyn Skye

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

Russia is on the brink of great change. Pasha’s coronation approaches, and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter, but the role she once coveted may be more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever expected.

Pasha is grappling with his own problems—his legitimacy is in doubt, the girl he loves loathes him, and he believes his best friend is dead. When a challenger to the throne emerges—and with the magic in Russia growing rapidly—Pasha must do whatever it takes to keep his position and protect his kingdom.

For Nikolai, the ending of the Crown’s Game stung deeply. Although he just managed to escape death, Nikolai remains alone, a shadow hidden in a not-quite-real world of his own creation. But when he’s given a second chance at life—tied to a dark price—Nikolai must decide just how far he’s willing to go to return to the world.

With revolution on the rise, dangerous new magic rearing up, and a tsardom up for the taking, Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha must fight—or face the destruction of not only their world but also themselves.


Overall, I enjoyed this duology and it is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo's The Greisha Verse and the Six of Crows duology. There is a lovely blend of historic Russia steeped with a fantastic sense of world-building and attention to detail.  Skye adeptly incorporates fantasy with the introduction of magic.  I loved the premise that there is essentially a battle to the death game of magical wits to declare who will be the next Imperial Enchanter. 

Of course there is a love triangle, plenty of dark, revealed secrets, family sparing and political unrest.  I was admittedly surprised by Nikolai's dark turn but pleased with the narrative conclusion of The Crown's Fate.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 3, 2018

REVIEW: Deadly Sweet by Lola Dodge

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Publisher's Summary:
Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad no one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter.

Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl.

The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target.


Deadly Sweet is a fun read with wide appeal for more just a YA audience. Anise is a hoot and I have a feeling that she is going to end up far more powerful than even she realizes now. It is more than apparent that her mother has hidden a lot about her heritage from her and that subsequent books will explore this.

I enjoyed the almost cozy food mystery aspect to Anise's love of baking. The concept of working spells into pastry reminded me of one of my Sarah Michelle Gellar favs Simply Irresistible. Dodge does well as building an interesting world centered around its own magical rules as well as incorporate a fair number of memorable characters in addition to her female protagonist. Great Aunt Agatha is intriguing as are the other adults and I enjoyed Anise's new friendships forged with girls with their own unique talents.

Fans of a good angsty romance will like Wynn, Anise's grumpy bodyguard.  I adored their hate-hate relationship. I'm sure there is a good reason why he remains to distant but I can't blame him for being annoyed with some of Anise's choices. They have great, snarky dialogue exchanges but my predictions following the events of this first book it that smoochies are definitely in their future.

Overall, they mystery element kept me engaged but I found the villain a bit predictable and lacking dept.  The whole reasoning for all the mayhem did not quite dazzle me but I think it is perfect for a target teen audience.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 29, 2018

REVIEW: Blood of Wonderland by Colleen Oaks

Dinah has been exiled from Wonderland. The vicious father she always feared has framed her for the brutal murder of her brother and turned the kingdom against her.

Now hiding in the lush and mysterious Twisted Wood with only her war steed at her side, Dinah is faced with a choice. She could leave Wonderland forever or return and fight her father for her throne—a fight she knows would only result in bloodshed.

When a chance encounter with one of her father’s long-lost enemies brings Dinah more allies than she ever could have imagined, war starts to feel inevitable. But before Dinah can lead her people into combat, she must confront certain truths about her heart and her destiny—no matter how dark those truths may be.

Revolution is rising in Wonderland.

Dinah’s battle has begun.


This remains a surprisingly inventive take on the classic Alice in Wonderland tale.  Dinah continues to come into her own as she learns to survive as a hunted fugitive and outcast of her former kingdom.  Warily, she begins to collect allies but it is difficult to surmise the truth and who to trust. One thing she does know for sure is that war in inevitable.

Readers are in store for several shocks that even I didn't see coming.  I am looking forward to the conclusion of the series.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

Publisher's Summary:

Gunslinger Amani al'Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne.

When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.

I loved pretty much everything about Traitor to the Throne. Amani is a complex heroine with intelligence, sass and just enough vulnerability. This series has something for everyone--adventure, mystery, magic, friendship and romance.  I was entertained from start to finish by the elaborate world-building, characterization and some profound narrative twists I did not see coming!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 25, 2018

REVIEW: Ink, Iron and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare

*Thank you to Netgalley & MacMillan for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: February 20, 2018

Publisher's Summary:
Can she write a world gone wrong?

A certain pen, a certain book, and a certain person can craft entirely new worlds through a branch of science called scriptology. Elsa comes from one such world that was written into creation by her mother—a noted scriptologist.

But when her home is attacked and her mother abducted, Elsa must cross into the real world and use her own scriptology gifts to find her. In an alternative 19th-century Italy, Elsa finds a secret society of pazzerellones—young people with a gift for mechanics, alchemy or scriptology—and meets Leo, a gorgeous mechanist with a smart mouth and a tragic past. She recruits the help of these fellow geniuses just as an assassin arrives on their doorstep.

Ink, Iron and Glass is a highly imaginative book in a new series. It is perfect for fans of steampunk but also those who enjoy the 'book jumper' thematic trend plus history, alternative world building and romance. Definite appeal to the right reader who likes these genres.

I was a little surprised by the ending but have a feeling there will be a lot happening for book 2. 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars.