Book Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre – Gail Carson Levine – The Two Princesses of Bamarre #0.5 – HarperCollins – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

Peregrine strives to live up to the ideal of her people, the Lakti—and to impress her parents: affectionate Lord Tove, who despises only the Bamarre, and stern Lady Klausine. Perry runs the fastest, speaks her mind, and doesn’t give much thought to the castle’s Bamarre servants, whom she knows to be weak and cowardly.

But just as she’s about to join her father on the front lines, she is visited by the fairy Halina, who reveals that Perry isn’t Lakti-born. She is Bamarre. The fairy issues a daunting challenge: against the Lakti power, Perry must free her people from tyranny.

My thoughts

Achingly gorgeous, this is a tale of courage, family, love, loyalty, and a dangerous quest for freedom.

The name Gail Carson Levine evokes strong memories – my first discovery of her beautiful stories, an eternal love for her wonderful characters, sharing her books with other readers, and rereading the tales many, many times over. Of all her books, The Two Princesses of Bamarre was always my favourite, so let’s just say I was completely thrilled that there was to be a new book, a prequel to this wonderful story. Starting The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre I was both excited and cautious – could this story possibly live up to the wonder I feel when reading The Two Princesses? At first, no, it could never have that sparkle of first discovery, but this new story shares all the same wonder, vibrant character, clever storytelling, and magic as the original, and by the end I was just as in love with this book as I am with The Two Princesses of Bamarre.

Perry is the daughter of Lord and Lady Tove – a true Lakti in strength and ability and courage. She can run and fight better than all of her peers. But when she discovers that she is actually Bamarre, stolen from her true family, her eyes are opened to the treatment of the Bamarre and how, with a little courage, freedom could be theirs.

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Book Review: Avenged

Avenged – Amy Tintera – Ruined #2 – HarperTeen – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

Emelina Flores has come home to Ruina. After rescuing her sister Olivia from imprisonment in rival kingdom Lera, Em and Olivia together vow to rebuild Ruina to its former glory.

But their fight has only begun. Olivia is determined to destroy everyone who acts against Ruina, but Em isn’t as sure. Ever since Em posed as Prince Casimir’s betrothed in Lera, she’s started to see another side to this war. And now that Cas has taken the throne, Em believes a truce is within reach. But Olivia suspects that Em’s romantic feelings for Cas are just coloring her judgement.

Em is determined to bring peace to her home. But when winning the war could mean betraying her family, Em faces an impossible choice between loyalty and love. Em must stay one step ahead of her enemies—and her blood—before she’s the next victim in this battle for sovereignty.

My thoughts

I forget how much I like to read fantasy books until I pick up a book like Avenged and I fall in love with the drama, romance, and beauty that is a cleverly created world and stunning characters. Life, freedom, and love are hard-fought in Avenged, and it will leave you desperate for book three in this exciting series.

Avenged was rather agonising to read. The characters face a lot of opposition – unjust opposition and that tends to drive me nuts. But it was so very addictive; a real pleasure to sink back into the detailed world Amy Tintera has created.

Avenged picks up where Ruined left off. Emelina Flores has been discovered as an imposter – not Cas’s true match but rather a Ruined. She helped her sister Olivia escape, resulting in the death of both Cas’s mother and father. Now Cas is king, but his cousin Jovita wants revenge on the Ruined. Cas just wants peace and to rebuild his kingdom, but with Jovita challenging his reign at every turn that seems unlikely to happen. Em has been reunited with the Ruined and is leading them with her sister. But while Em wants peace and safety for the Ruined, Olivia is set on revenge, killing for fun as much as freedom. As Cas and Em separately battle for peace they risk losing everything all over again. There are political alliances to make and wars to avoid and each step takes them further apart, even if destiny seems to continually bring them back together.

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Book Review: Island of Exiles

Island of Exiles

Island of Exiles – Erica Cameron – Ryogan Chronicles #1 – Entangled: Teen – Published 14 February 2017

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Synopsis

In this diverse, gritty survival fantasy, a girl warrior turns against her island clan to find the brother they claim died, uncovering secrets. Perfect for fans of Graceling and Snow Like Ashes.

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.

My thoughts

Island of Exiles is a rich and epic fantasy, incredibly detailed with superb world building. I am picky about what fantasy novels I read, but this one far surpassed all my expectations and I am now eagerly awaiting book two in the series.

When I was offered a chance to read Island of Exiles I was told it was suited to readers of Graceling and Snow Like Ashes. That’s a pretty high standard to reach, but despite that, I was still surprised when this book was actually really very good. It reminded me in parts of Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (one of my absolute favourite fantasy novels) and The Host by Stephanie Meyer (just the parts about a subsistence culture living in a harsh, desert-like surround, with a strong community focus).

Island of Exiles has some intense and well-layered world building. Every little detail is considered, but there are never any information dumps or description-heavy sections. The new vocabulary in this novel is huge. And yet I never found myself confused or lost. There is a glossary at the back, and while I admit that some of the ranks went over my head so too would any military ranks we use in the real world, so I just kept reading, paying attention to each new word, creature or name as it was introduced. The terms give this novel a distinct Eastern feel and yet the setting, culture, language and people of this book are unique. There are also a whole range of magic powers, a third gender and diverse sexual orientations.

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Book Review: Hunted

Hunted

Hunted – Meagan Spooner – Hunted #1 – HarperTeen – Published 14 March 2017

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Synopsis

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

My thoughts

Beauty and the Beast has always been my favourite fairytale. Perhaps it’s because of the magic, used for more than making a fancy ball gown or carriage. Or maybe I like that it is a redemption story, about a selfish man made good. Maybe it’s because the heroine is strong and resourceful but still kind, or because of its similarity to the tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Whatever the reason, I love the original fairytale and I equally love Beauty and the Beast retellings. Hunted has all of the elements of the original that I love, with a haunting writing style and gorgeous setting. It is more detailed and clever than a simple Disney tale, but it retains that ethereal quality, with a sharp, deadly edge that offsets the beauty.

It’s been years since Yeva hunted in the woods with her father. Her muscles have grown soft and her training lax after her father moved her family to town and determined that Yeva would be best served playing lady to the baronessa, sewing and wearing fine clothes. But a turn in fortune sees Yeva, her two sisters, and her father removed from their home and returning to the little cabin in the woods. Yeva secretly rejoices at her chance to once again roam the woods with her bow and arrows and traps. But a strange madness overtakes her father, who is sure a beast rules the forest, and, after her father disappears, Yeva goes after him and discovers a world that has previously only belonged in the legends she was told as a child.

This story is gently woven, exactly as a fairytale should be. Yeva is no fainting damsel, but she is understanding and kind. She loves her family and wants to protect them, despite being the youngest. I found Hunted to be one of those books that you are desperate to get to the end so you know how it ends but when you near the last pages you want it to go on forever.

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Book Review: The Wish Granter

The Wish Granter

The Wish Granter – C.J. Redwine – Ravenspire #2 – Balzer+Bray – Published 14 February 2017

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Synopsis

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence that he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague, who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

My thoughts

C.J. Redwine has produced another exciting fairytale retelling that combines strength of character, love, family, resilience, and fighting for freedom despite the costs.

Ari is a newly crowned princess. Her brother has been crowned king after the mysterious death of their father and stepmother. But their thrones come with a serious cost. Ari discovers that her brother made a deal with the Wish Granter, a centuries-old fae who controls the underworld of crime in the kingdom and wants to go unpunished now that he has control over the new king. Ari is determined to break the contact binding her brother and recruits the new, young weapons master Sebastian to help her.

I dare anyone not to like Ari. She is humble, bakes, loves food (and eating), and is smart and kind. She was raised as an illegitimate child of the king, more part of the servants than the nobility. She plays to her strengths. She knows what people think of her and her habits but that doesn’t stop her from being true to herself (or stop her from enjoying regular snacks). Ari is a strong and likeable character, not because she is ruthless or physically strong (tripping over things is more her style), but because she is determined to protect those she cares about and uses her brain. Unlike her brother, I have to say. I wasn’t all that impressed with Thad. If making a deal with the Wish Granter in the first place wasn’t silly enough he remains weak throughout the book. Lucky for him he has Ari.

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Book Review: The Edge of Everything

edge-of-everything

The Edge of Everything – Jeff Giles – Bloomsbury Children’s – Published 31 January 2017 (9 February 2017 UK, AUS and NZ)

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Zoe is still reeling from her father’s sudden death and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance. Then on a terrifying sub-zero night, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods—only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He’s from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and others like him. Forbidden to reveal himself to anyone besides his victims, X casts aside the rules for Zoe. As X and Zoe learn more about their different worlds, they begin to question the past and their fate. But escaping the ties that bind X might mean the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.

My thoughts

What was that? That cannot be the end? I can’t even. It’s resolved and yet totally unresolved. It’s not quite a cliffhanger but it left me just as desperate for the next book. And there has to be a next book. Got that Jeff Giles? Because I want more X, more Zoe, more Jonah, more of their tough mother, more Ripper and I would really like to see certain heads roll. Edge of Everything is part love story, part supernatural adventure survival story and part heartwarming tale of family. Once I started reading I didn’t want to stop.

This is a good old paranormal, reaper story. A boy locked in the bowls of the Lowlands and forced to reap souls. He has never questioned his role until he meets Zoe. The girl who wasn’t supposed to see him. The girl who fights to save herself, save her brother and even, maybe save him. Zoe knows she and her brother wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the guy who mysteriously appeared and saved them from their attacker. She takes him home, makes room for him in her grieving little family, shares her hurt, listens to his story without judgement and, unknowingly, brings all the terror of the Lowlands down on them.

The romance in this story is pretty good but it was the characters, that incredible sense of family that really drew me in. Jonah, Zoe’s younger brother, was my favourite character. But then I also loved Zoe’s colourful friends, Zoe’s mother, vegan, believer in all faiths and fiercely protective, X’s Lowland cell mates, and, of course, X and Zoe themselves.

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Book Review: Dawn Study

dawn-study

Dawn Study – Maria V. Snyder – Soulfinders series #3, Ixia Chronicles #9 – Mira/Harlequin Teen – Published 23 January 2017

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Synopsis

Despite the odds, Yelena and Valek have forged an irrevocable bond and a family that transcends borders. Now, when their two homelands stand on the brink of war, they must fight with magic and cunning to thwart an Ixian plot to invade Sitia.

Yelena seeks to break the hold of the insidious Theobroma that destroys a person’s resistance to magical persuasion. But the Cartel is determined to keep influential citizens and Sitian diplomats in thrall and Yelena at bay. With every bounty hunter after her, Yelena is forced to make a dangerous deal.

With might and magic, Valek peels back the layers of betrayal surrounding the Commander. At its rotten core lies a powerful magician and his latest discovery. The fate of all rests upon two unlikely weapons. One may turn the tide. The other could spell the end of everything.

My thoughts

Dawn Study is the long-awaited conclusion to the Soulfinders series and the Ixia Chronicles. How I have loved every single minute spent with Valek, Yelena, and the gang. They have grabbed my heart, taken me on wild adventures, driven me slightly crazy with tension, and changed forever the way I look at books. Dawn Study is everything I was expecting and waiting for. Incredible doesn’t do it justice. Prepare yourself, because this is going to be a long review – when I am this in love I get longwinded.

Yelena and Valek have long been working towards establishing peace between Ixia and Sitia. Now they must face their final battle. The magicians of Sitia are under the control of a rogue group and the Commander is threatening to invade. Yelena, Valek and their friends have until the hot season before they lose their chance of peace once and for all. They will need to sacrifice everything in the hopes of one day being able to raise their family in safety.

Dawn Study kind of felt like both a second-last and last book in the series rolled into one. There is so much contained within its pages. Along with Yelena’s first-person-narrated chapters, readers are treated to chapters from Janco, Valek, Leif and also Heli’s perspectives, told in third person. This keeps the reader well informed about all the different angles of the story and made me pay attention as it sometimes takes a while to circle back around through all the characters. It also made it a little hard to pick the story back after putting it down (because, you know, my boss doesn’t like it when I read all day, although “it’s Dawn Study” might have proven a worthy excuse). But these multiple perspectives are necessary to continue the story and I absolutely love the extra insight we get into all the characters.  Continue reading

Book Review: Frostblood

frostblood

Frostblood – Elly Blake – Frostblood Saga #1 – Hachette Australia – Published 10 January 2016

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Synopsis

In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

My thoughts

Frostblood is an epic fantasy adventure that tells of a kingdom where darkness rules, frost covers the land and fire has all but been stamped out. Bloodshed, hatred, deadly battles, frost and fire magic, an evil-controlled king, magical training, and romance – this book has everything I need in a good fantasy.

Being a Frostblood means a death sentence. The king rules the land with ice, terror, and death. Ruby has lived a simple life hiding her gift of fire and helping her mother as a healer. But when the king’s soldiers raid her village and kill her mother, Ruby vows revenge. Taken to prison, her gift is hampered by damp and ice until she is rescued by a monk with the frost gift and a sullen and angry young man. They say they too seek to dethrone the king but they are hiding things from Ruby. Ruby will have to risk everything if she is to have the revenge she desires.

Ahh, the romance. There is nothing quite like a match that starts off with anger, distrust, and fear and that slowly warms (or in this case also melts) to become a partnership that stands strong against darkness and might even save the world. Ruby and Arcus despise each other from the start. But they each have need of the other if they are to have revenge and free the kingdom from tyranny. I love their fight, their passion, and their gentle coming together. She names him Arcus the Angry, he insults her gift and calls her a bundle of crackling firewood. Truly, is there anything better than a love story that starts off as far from love as you can get?

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Book Review: The Continent

The Continent

The Continent – Keira Drake – The Continent #1 – Harlequin TEEN – Published 3 January 2017

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Synopsis

For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle—a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela—a smart and talented apprentice cartographer—it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.

But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.

My thoughts

The Continent is an interesting sort of fantasy novel – no magic, but set in a new and strange world that is half old-world traditions and some of today’s technology where peace and civility reigns and half a land torn apart by war, where the inhabitants fight the elements and each other to survive.

Vaela lives a safe and privileged live in the Spire, where there has been no wars for many years. She is a cartographer and thrilled when her parents gift her with a trip to the Continent, where the landscape is rugged and a bloody war is still fought between the natives. But Vaela’s exploration of the Continent ends in disaster and she is left alone to fight for survival, both against the icy and treacherous landscape and the natives. But as she makes a home there, Vaela learns to look anew at life on the Continent and hopes the war can somehow be ended before she once again loses everyone she holds dear.

It is the writing that makes this book, that sets it apart from other books. The writing truly creates the setting, with the old-worldly phrasing evoking images of the Edwardian era of long dresses, suits and hats, propriety and old fashioned traditions.

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Book Review: Spindle

spindle

Spindle – E.K. Johnston – A Thousand Nights #2 – Disney-Hyperion – Published 6 December 2016

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Synopsis

The world is made safe by a woman…but it is a very big world.

It has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains where the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained.

But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life.

The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled–and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled.

My thoughts

Honestly, I don’t think I have the words to convey how wonderful this book is. It simply deserves to be read and enjoyed.

Yashaa’s life changed the night the curse was laid upon the Little Rose. It might have been the princess who was cursed but it was Yashaa, his mother and their community of spinners who left their home in the castle and were forced into exile. Now Yashaa is grown and his mother is dying. He has little choice when she requests him to take his friends and attempt to make a better life away from their camp. She would never expect him to try and find the cursed princess and could never dream how Yashaa’s life threads, and those of his friends, will become tangled with the princess’s.

This book is the second book in the A Thousand Nights series. It is more of a companion novel, set many, many years after the events of A Thousand Nights. It was lovely to, from the distance of time, see how Lo-Melkhiin and the Storyteller Queen’s tale continued and sparked the creation of a new story. Spindle is part adventure quest, part love story. You can see the threads of the fairytale wrapped up and expanded in the delicious details of this world and its vibrant characters. If the characters in A Thousand Nights remained anonymous, those in Spindle become as dear and familiar to you as old friends.

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