book reviews · fantasy

empress of all seasons by emiko jean; a review that is a little late

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title: Empress of All Seasons
author: Emiko Jean
genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
publisher: Gollancz (Orion Publishing)
release date:
 Nov 8th, 2018
source: NetGalley
Goodreads Summary:

In a deadly tournament to become empress, any may enter but only one will survive, and one competitor doesn’t just plan to win, she’s going to steal the Emperor’s fortune. . .

In each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, and you can marry the prince. All are eligible to compete – all except yokai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yokai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yokai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku.❞

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i received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

empress of all seasons is a japanese-inspired fantasy novel that takes a bit bite into not just its subject material, but important societal issues as well. mari, our main character, is a yokai – a japanese supernatural spirit, and more specifically, she is an animal wife – a a shapeshifting yokai spirit that takes the form of a beautiful woman in order to marry unsuspecting men and steal their fortunes. bein the odd one out in her animal wife village, mari has been raised with one purpose – to bear and defeat the seasons in the emperor’s competition, win the princes’ hand in marriage, and steal his fortune. however, complications arise for which mari’s training never prepared her for, and she must take back control while simultaneously hiding her yokai identity.

the premise of this book reeled me in immediately. the concept just sounded too good to pass by, so obviously i knew i had to read this book. i’d seen it vaguely on twitter before requesting it on netgalley, which is a shame, because it didn’t get the exposure that it should have. however, after reading empress, i’m of two minds.

i’ve always been a fan of bad news first, good news second, so let’s start out with the negatives. firstly, the writing seemed to be telling a lot more than actually showing, which i didn’t really like. it felt like i was being spoon-fed information, when i generally prefer to discover it as the plot unfolds. same goes to the characters – i’d rather they show me the type of person they are, rather than the author telling me about them.

that being said, i did love the lore of the world that emiko jean has created. the tales of the gods inbetween chapters were one of the things i was interested in the book. they just gave so much insight into the world of honoku and how things came to be, which is absolutely up my alley. what can i say, i’m always a sucker for myths of gods and creation.

something else that bothered me was the pacing. it was quite inconsistent, for which the plot itself suffered. the book stars out on a very strong note and really grabs your attention, but unfortunately it doesn’t keep it for long since the pacing is so off that it just drags and the momentum is simply lost. i struggled the most with reading the middle; nothing seemed to be happening, but a lot of things were happening at the same time.

nevertheless, the last 30% of empress are quite well-paced; the book picks up speed all over again and it’s a breeze from then on. i really liked how things started happening and how the plot found its feet on solid ground again. you really start to see the development, both in the storyline and in the characters; they’re no longer floating through zero gravity.

the ending, however, personally, felt very convoluted. it’s all very deux ex machina of jean to wrap up things like she did in the epilogue. it would have been more beneficial for the story to have been split into two books so the author had enough space to develop the story she’s told and give it a nice, natural ending, instead of a rushed epilogue.

in contrast to that i said above, i think the message that the final sentence carries is rather good, and quite powerful. i won’t give away anything, but it’s something that we, as a society, need to learn and accept. for me, that line makes up for the convoluted way things wrap up.

there were some tropes in this that i’m personally not a fan of, like the ‘average’ girl and the ‘brooding, anti-social’ love interest, as well as a tinge of insta-love (+the triangle), but i think that by the end, mari, taro, and akira all grow out of their little stereotypes and become multidimensional characters. i was most impressed by akira’s character development, as i didn’t like him in the beginning, but he managed to crawl up and steal my heart. mari does not fall far behind, though, she worked hard and suffered a lot to get the ending she deserves, and i’m proud of her journey of acceptance. i think it sends a very good message, not just to girls, but to everyone.

overall, empress has its up’s and down’s, but despite that, it’s still a pleasurable read. some things could have been done better, such as the pacing and writing style, but i did enjoy the world and the lore, as well as the growth the characters underwent. regardless, i would still recommend it if you enjoy fantasy worlds and mythology.

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book reviews · fantasy

girls of paper and fire by natasha ngan; a ‘very happy publication day!’ review

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title: Girls of Paper & Fire
author: Natasha Ngan
genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
publisher: Jimmy Paterson
release date:
 Nov 6th, 2018
source: NetGalley
goodreads summary:

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most demeaning. This year, there’s a ninth. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.❞

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greetings gals and gays, welcome to one of the best reads i’ve had this year.

girls of paper and fire has been a highly anticipated book of mine for months. i was over the moon when i got approved for an early copy of it and immediately dived in, and despite having little to no time to read because of uni, i managed to finish it within two weeks (a perfectly reasonable time, imo, and indeed quite fast for a student in a reading slump during term time!) quite honestly, i surprised myself with exactly how much i enjoyed it, it was that good. Continue reading “girls of paper and fire by natasha ngan; a ‘very happy publication day!’ review”

book reviews · fantasy

dance of thieves (dance of thieves #1) by mary e. pearson; a long overdue review

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title: Dance Of Thieves
author: Mary E. Pearson
genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
release date:
 Aug 7th, 2018
Goodreads Summary:

❝A formidable outlaw family that claims to be the first among nations.

A son destined to lead, thrust suddenly into power.

Three fierce young women of the Rahtan, the queen’s premier guard.

A legendary street thief leading a mission, determined to prove herself.

A dark secret that is a threat to the entire continent.

When outlaw leader meets reformed thief, a cat-and-mouse game of false moves ensues, bringing them intimately together in a battle that may cost them their lives—and their hearts.❞

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it’s been a hot minute since i last posted a review, i know. it’s also been a hot minute since i actually read something that wasn’t a tesco receipt, but that’s a whole other story. i could make an excuse and say how hard it is to get my bearings every time i go back to uni after a break, but the truth is that i am now in a constant reading slump and no, there’s no known medical procedure that can cure it (except, you know, reading, but who has time for that, amirite?). moving on, here are my thoughts on dance of thieves:

let’s start off by saying how much i did not like this book’s predecessor, which might seem off topic, but trust me, you’ll understand why this needs to be mentioned. dance of thieves is a spin-off to mary e. pearson’s trilogy “the remnant chronicles” which i read a few years back and was thoroughly not amused. i did enjoy some aspects of it, but, overall, i found the trilogy to be too slow-paced and (e)motionless, to put it shortly. the world was rich though and had so much potential that was not explored, which is why i’m thankful that pearson has decided to revisit it. the reason why i’m going off about remnant is to show the contrast in my opinions of the two – i really liked dance of thieves. that’s it, that’s the review. (obviously it’s not.) Continue reading “dance of thieves (dance of thieves #1) by mary e. pearson; a long overdue review”

book reviews · mystery

stalking jack the ripper & hunting prince dracula by kerri maniscalco; an all-in-one review

28962906title: Stalking Jack the Ripper (#1) & Hunting Prince Dracula (#2)
author: Kerri Maniscalco
genres: Young Adult, Historical, Mystery
publisher: Jimmy Paterson
release date:
 Sept 20th, 2016 & Sept 19th, 2017 respectively
spoilers: vague to none
Goodreads Summary (book one): 

❝Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.❞

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in my wicked anticipation for escaping from houdini – the third installment in the series, which is coming out september 23rd of this year, i decided to review the first two novels. i listened to the stalking jack the ripper audiobook last summer on a bus trip to the seaside, but could not concentrate enough on it so i ended up rereading the book a year later and fell in love! i devoured hunting prince dracula immediately after that, because i couldn’t get enough of kerri maniscalco’s writing.

the first book follows the events of september 1888, when the infamous jack the ripper was terrorizing the streets of london. the historical accuracy in this book is phenomenal, and it is crystal clear that maniscalco has done her research well. (of course, there are a few tweaks here and there, but such creative liberties are explained in the author’s note.) i found it so fascinating how maniscalco manages to connect real figures and events to her fictional story in such a seamless way – even down to the minutest details. it feels like you’re reading a real life victorian lady’s journal entries! Continue reading “stalking jack the ripper & hunting prince dracula by kerri maniscalco; an all-in-one review”

book reviews · fantasy

the wicked king by holly black; a non-spoiler review

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title: The Wicked King
author: Holly Black
genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
release date:
 Jan 8th, 2018
source: Edelweiss
Goodreads Summary:

You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.❞

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i received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

the wicked king is the second installment of holly black’s trilogy ‘the folk of the air’, which follows the story of a mortal girl, jude, trying to navigate her way through the politics of elfhame – the faerie island she lives on. i feel so lucky to have gotten a hold on this so early, but at the same time i regret it because the wait has gone from a few months to almost two years until queen of nothing is released. regardless, the wicked king is everything i had hoped for, and more! Continue reading “the wicked king by holly black; a non-spoiler review”

book reviews · paranormal · urban fantasy

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe [Review]

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Title: A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars
Author: Yaba Badoe
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Paranormal
Format: eBook
Publisher: Zephyr
Release Date: Sept 7th, 2017
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads Summary:

print-signs-opening-quotesFourteen-year-old Sante isn’t sure where she comes from, but she has a recurring dream of escaping a shipwreck in a sea chest as a baby with her lifelong companion, golden eagle Priss. In the chest was an African bamboo flute, a drum and a dagger inlaid with diamonds. Sante was found and raised by Mama Rose, leader of a nomadic group of misfits and gypsies. They travel around contemporary southern Europe, living off-grid and performing circus tricks for money. Sante grows up alongside two twins, knife-thrower Cat and snake-charmer Cobra, whom she is in love with. During a performance in Cadiz, Sante recognises two men from her dream. They come after her to retrieve the treasures from the sea chest. Sante finds out that she is an Ashanti princess, whose parents probably perished in the shipwreck. After Cat rescues a beautiful red-haired girl called Scarlett from a gang, Mama Rose’s band are forced to flee the city. But Sante and Cobra stay behind, determined to find out more about her family and where she came from.

 

my thoughts

Fourteen-year-old Sante is haunted by a past she doesn’t remember. A recurring dream shows her a shipwreck which Sante, as a baby, survived, hidden in a treasure chest. Raised by Mama Rose, Sante and her nomadic family make a living by performing on the streets of whichever city they happen to be in. During one of their performances, Sante recognizes two men from her dream and goes after them, determined to find out what happened and where she comes from. But the truth is never simple enough and Sante and her family walk into a dangerous web.

For anyone who is easily unsettled, this book deals with topics such as human trafficking and (implied) underage sex work.

Looking at the rest of the reviews, it looks like you either hate this book or you love it. I’m, as usual, in some sort of middle ground where I neither hated, nor loved it. Let’s say I enjoyed it, but with a few strings attached. Continue reading “A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe [Review]”

book reviews · science-fiction

Starswept by Mary Fan [Review]

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Title: Starswept
Author: Mary Fan
Genres: Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Romance
Format: eBook
Publisher: Snowy Wings Publishing
Release Date: Aug 29th, 2017
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads Summary:

print-signs-opening-quotesA century ago, an advanced race of telepathic humanoids made contact with Earth. Now, fifteen-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to live on the high-tech campus of Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their futuristic technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.

A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy who breaks into Papilio upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities capture him, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.

When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. As her connection to him grows stronger, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.

But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet light years away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies and the artist trade that shatter everything she knows.

 

my thoughts

Iris Fei attends the prestigious performing arts academy Papilio, where she’s perfecting her viola playing in order to attract a rich patron to take her into their employ. One day, Iris crosses paths with an infiltrator in the school – an Adryil boy, member of the telepathic humanoid race that made contact with Earth a century prior. He slips her a foreign device with which, Iris later learns, he is able to communicate with her telepathically. But this boy holds many secrets and no matter how close he and Iris become, he will not share them. Iris is determined to learn the truth, but it might be more dangerous than she ever thought.

This book intrigued me with it’s sparkling cover, beautiful title and promising synopsis. I went in fully expecting to love it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I did enjoy Starswept to a certain extent, but I also had some major problems with it. Continue reading “Starswept by Mary Fan [Review]”