Book Review: Rosemarked

Rosemarked – Livia Blackburne – Disney-Hyperion – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

A healer who cannot be healed . . . When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . . Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

My thoughts

Rosemarked is a richly detailed fantasy that has a fairytale feel but is entirely unique and cleverly crafted. I so enjoyed sinking into this delightful story. I was enraptured by the first chapter. Here are just a few of the things I loved most about it: the references to herbs and their uses for healing; the complicated morality aspect and the way in which is this so cleverly conveyed through the chapters; the girl who takes down a trained warrior by using her poisonous pet snake; the use of a variety of weapons from bows and arrows to swords, daggers and poison; the messenger crows; that tantalising hint of romance, high-stakes tension and the quote: “I may not be a walking armory, but I’m not completely helpless”.

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Book Review: The Glass Spare

The Glass Spare – Lauren DeStefano – The Glass Spare #1 – Balzer+Bray – Published 24 October 2017

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Synopsis

Wil Heidle, the only daughter of the king of the world’s wealthiest nation, has grown up in the shadows. Kept hidden from the world in order to serve as a spy for her father—whose obsession with building his empire is causing a war—Wil wants nothing more than to explore the world beyond her kingdom, if only her father would give her the chance.

Until one night Wil is attacked, and she discovers a dangerous secret. Her touch turns people into gemstone. At first Wil is horrified—but as she tests its limits, she’s drawn more and more to the strange and volatile ability. When it leads to tragedy, Wil is forced to face the destructive power within her and finally leave her home to seek the truth and a cure.

But finding the key to her redemption puts her in the path of a cursed prince who has his own ideas for what to do with her power.

With a world on the brink of war and a power of ultimate destruction, can Wil find a way to help the kingdom that’s turned its back on her, or will she betray her past and her family forever?

My thoughts

The Glass Spare is an imaginative fantasy novel that has steampunk influences, where magic mixes with technology, alchemy creates what modern advances cannot, and curses and marvelers war with modern beliefs. Political intrigue, the beginnings of a complicated and impossible romance, and two main characters with caring hearts who want to do right by their kingdoms and their people, even as it will cost them everything.

Wil is the fourth child and only daughter of the king of Arrod, the third spare, hidden from the world and unneeded except as a spy for her father and an errand carrier for her brothers. When Wil discovers strange powers, the ability to turn living things into glass and precious jewels, she is shocked but quickly warms to the sense of power it gives her. Until, in a moment of pride and independence, her gift quickly displays itself as a curse, killing one that she dearly loves and separating her from her family. On the run, exiled from her home, she meets another cursed royal, also exiled from his kingdom. Prince Loom demands Wil’s help and in return says he will help her find the man who can answer her questions.

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Book Review: The Last Namsara

The Last Namsara – Kristen Ciccarelli – Iskari #1 – HarperTeen – Published 3 October 2017

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Synopsis

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

My thoughts

The Last Namsara is a stunningly epic fantasy novel, with aching romance, political intrigue, strong characters, the power and magic of stories, and dragons (everything is better with dragons).

Asha is the deadly and feared Iskari. She hunts dragons for her father, the king, but secretly yearns to tell the forbidden stories that give the dragons more power and once caused the destruction of her city. But with the date of her arranged marriage to the cruel and loathsome Commandant Jarek drawing near, Asha knows her only chance of escape would be retrieving the head of the greatest and oldest dragon. But when her brother returns home with a group of their people’s enemies, and a slave boy crosses boundaries and offers Asha the first signs of trust and affection she has experienced in years, Asha knows that her life, her whole world, is about to change dramatically.

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Book Review: Jane, Unlimited

Jane, Unlimited – Kristin Cashore – Kathy Dawson Books – Published 19 September 2017

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Synopsis

Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn’t know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.

My thoughts

Jane Unlimited is another book I have read recently solely because of the author. I found the synopsis confusing and was a little unsure what type of story this would be, but I decided to pick it up anyway because I loved, loved Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series. The few things I did know about the story prior to reading it were: a) it is genre defying, b) it is almost a choose-your-own-ending book, but is written to be read in order, and c) umbrellas get mentioned quite a bit. Otherwise I was a tad confused about it all. Now that I have finished reading it I can say that, unfortunately, it wasn’t the right book for me. Jane, Unlimited is a combination of many classics with its own, very unique style and a mixture of mystery, science fiction, and fantasy.

Jane’s aunt made her promise to accept if she was ever invited to stay at the mysterious grand house Tu Reviens. So, when Jane’s friend Kiran offers just such an invitation, Jane agrees. But Tu Reviens contains many secrets and intriguing mysteries and Jane’s own choices will influence what she will uncover and how that will change her destiny.

In her author’s note Cashore indicates that Jane, Unlimited reflects a number of literary works including Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and The House of Mirth. Jane, Unlimited’s tone and style are very much reflective of these novels. It actually reminded me of a novel that I would be asked to read for senior English or a university course and then have to analyse it to death. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t enjoy it, because those are not my favourite type of books, but I can imagine someone who loved those classics really enjoying this book.

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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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