ARC Review – Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns #1) by Kendare Blake

23207027Title:  Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns #1)

Author: Kendare Blake

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Huge thank you to the publisher for this ARC!

River’s Review:

For some reason this year has been the year that I’ve reconnected with fantasy. There’s been a lot that I haven’t liked and so much that I have loved. I went into this book with hesitation because of the mixed reviews. But I’m a fan of Blake’s previous books, so I really wanted to check this out. And dark fantasy has been my jam recently.

This book didn’t disappoint me at all. I had a few issues with the world building and history of the queens, but I kinda let it fall to the side because I was so entranced with the rest of the story. I LOVED the queens, their powers, the people surrounding them. I loved how complex they were, the ways that their lives had shaped them, and how their powers defined them.

I think that Katherine was my favorite queen, followed by Arisone. I really enjoyed all of the side characters too, and the fact that there WAS romance, but that romance didn’t dominate the book. This was the story of three powerful girls trying to find their ways and themselves.

This book is long but I was super engaged and flew right through it. I got to the end and was really upset that there wasn’t more and then kept thinking about it for a few days after BECAUSE THAT CLIFFHANGER.

Ugh, I need more. Def check this out if you’ve been enjoying the dark fantasy that YA has been offering us this past year!

ARC Review – When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

28220826Title: When the Moon Was Ours

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I haven’t read Anna-Marie McLemore’s award winning debut, but when I got When the Moon Was Ours in my goodie bag from #TeensReadFeed back in May, the premise had me completely intrigued. This is a novel about defying odds, encompassing identity, and it just offers a plethora of wonder and enchantment to the reader.

This book focuses on magical realism, sexuality, a transgender protagonist, and a Latina main character, who both inhabit each others worlds in the most beautiful and thoughtful way. The beautiful writing sweeps the reader into such an amazing space, and I found myself completely glued to the words on the page. Sam and Miel’s journey is so cleverly written, and McLemore makes you the reader feel like you’re along for the ride. Their friendship was perfect, perfect, perfect. I loved them, I cheered for them, I wanted them to have everything in the world. I felt like I knew both protagonists so well, and I loved the way in which McLemore dealt with Sam’s identity in particular, as it was so methodically done, and I had so much sympathy for him throughout the story.

I also urge readers to please read the Author’s Note at the end of this novel. It was actually one of my favourite parts of the book as it offers so much insight into how this novel was crafted and cared for. When the Moon Was Ours is a stunning journey for readers who love complex relationships and magical storytelling. I was so sad when I got to the last page of this book, simply because I just didn’t want it to be over.

ARC Review – Write This Down by Claudia Mills

27414439Title: Write This Down

Author: Claudia Mills

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Autumn loves to write. She finds inspiration all around her, especially in Cameron, the dreamy boy in her journalism class who she has a major crush on. Then her older brother, Hunter, who used to watch out for her but has grown distant since he started high school, reads one of her poems about Cameron to Cameron’s older brother. They make fun of it and she is devastated. Determined to show her brother how talented she really is, Autumn decides that she is going to become a published author – now! She writes an essay about her changing relationship with her brother, enters it in a contest, and wins, and her dream of publication is within reach. But if her essay is published, everyone will know her family’s secrets. Is being published worth hurting those you love?

Huge thank you to Raincoast/Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Write This Down is one of those middle grade novels that has a lot of great ideas, but it also is lacking as well. It deals with our heroine, Autumn, who wants to become a famous writer, and who actually writes down what she knows and sees. It’s to the point where she begins to write about her family, particularly the boy she has a crush on and the “sudden changes” in her older brother, Hunter.

One thing this book does incredibly well is that it builds on all the relationships in Autumn’s life. It’s a short book and yet I felt like I knew a lot about the different characters that she was interacting with, and Mills does an amazing job of giving us a larger picture as to what is going on between Autumn and her brother Hunter. I also want to applaud how much I loved the way Autumn and Kylee’s friendship was portrayed — it was so sweet and yet there were times when I wanted to smack Autumn and remind her how good she has it with that girl!

However, there was one thing about this book that felt very strange to me: Mills makes a lot of references to Emily Dickson and a lot of older forms of media presence, but this novel doesn’t establish when it all actually takes place? While I like the way Emily Dickson is used in the novel, I wonder with a lot of younger readers if her being referenced might go completely over their heads, or potentially encourage readers to investigate who she is. I question if Autumn can be a character that middle graders reading this novel now would be able to easily connect with or not. It’s tough to say.

I think this novel bursts with a lot of creativity and I think readers who are creative people will find lots to love about Write This Down. While I think a lot of stuff in this novel referenced feels a bit old, I won’t deny that at times I found it very charming. This novel is heartfelt and well developed, and overall I found it to be a sweet, quick little read.

Blog Tour – Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (Review and Q&A)

Raincoast has once again invited me to participate in one of their fantastic blog tours. Let me tell you guys — Vassa in the Night is a real weird, quirky, gem of a book, and I have to say that I really enjoyed my time reading it. If you don’t mind your fantasy novels being a bit unpredictable and a little crazy, then you need this book in your life.

As always, huge thank you to Raincoast for arranging the blog tour, sending me a copy of the book and being all round amazing people. Also huge thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my Q&A question!


22065080Title: Vassa in the Night

Author: Sarah Porter

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Sam’s Review:

Vassa in the Night is one of those books that sets a very distinctive tone for its readers right off the bat: in a world where dark magic encompasses Brooklyn, lives Vassa, a young woman who ends up on a quest for light bulbs, and ends up on an extraordinary journey to find home. In a lot of ways, many of us have read a story like Vassa in the Night before, but this book shines in a way that really captured my attention through start to finish.

First off, the world-building in this book is delightfully and vibrant. Porter does an amazing job illustrating Vassa’s world, the people who inhabit it, and provides so much vivid imagery of what surrounds Vassa in her adventures. Furthermore, the book has such fantastic characters who are wonderful to grow alongside with in the story. My personal favourite character was Erg, but I am a sucker for creepy talking dolls (in that they generally give me nightmares every time). But serious, Erg is funny, cheeky, and she gets some of the best lines in the whole story. She makes for a great companion to Vassa in the story, and I loved their relationship. I also adored Vassa as a character and thought she got a lot of great growth in the story, and she’s simply lovable, flaws and all.

I think the only thing I struggled with in terms of this novel was the ending. I felt the ending wrapped up everything a bit too conveniently, and found the ending didn’t have as strong a finish as I would have liked. However, I do love where the ending was going, the way it built up, and the way it was written. I think Sarah Porter has really wonderful ideas, and I do think her writing does a fantastic job reflecting a lot of where she wants her stories to go.

I loved my time with Vassa in the Night, and I am sad that my time with these characters and this world is over. While I don’t hope for a sequel, this is one of those books that I feel can be easily recommended for lovers of fantasy and retellings. I wish I had been more familiar with the story this was retelling, but I also loved how much I loved going into this story completely blind as well. Definitely check out Vassa in the Night, as it’s one of those standalone fantasy adventures that feels like a wonderful journey. Plus it’s weird and delightful, and crazy. Read this book.


Q&A With Sarah Porter!

sarahp

Q: When you wrote Vassa in the Night, what were some of the aspects from the original tale that you intended to keep so that they would be recognizable to readers who loved the original story it’s based off of?

SP: Hi Sam, quite a few elements of the original story are in VASSA, though in altered ways.
Vassilissa is sent to the Baba Yaga’s hut to get fire, after her stepsisters
deliberately extinguish all the fire in the house; Vassa is sent to BY’s for light
bulbs. In “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” Night is a man all in black on a black horse;
in VASSA, Night rides a black motorcycle. A Baba Yaga’s hut is always surrounded by
human skulls on stakes, with one left empty, just for you; BY’s has severed human heads
encircling the parking lot. The animate hands are also in the original version, though
they don’t really have their own emotions and intentions the way that Dexter and
Sinister do. Vassilissa and Vassa are both given impossible tasks to do, and both are
helped by their magic dolls. So that’s quite a bit!

Some things in VASSA that don’t have a source in Russian folklore include the swans,
Picnic and Pangolin, the faerie party in Babs’s apartment, and a father who was turned
into a dog.

The Water of Life and the Water of Death became the Professor Pepper’s sodas; those
come from a different Russian fairytale, “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.”
Ivan’s brothers murder and dismember him out of envy, and the Gray Wolf uses the magic
waters to bring him back.


As always, huge huge love to Raincoast for allowing me to participate in this blog tour, and an equally large thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a question about her latest novel, Vassa in the Night. If you have any interest in retellings, particularly ones that don’t get reimagined very often, make sure you check out this book, which released on September 20th!

And while you are at it, please check out the other tour stops as they will also have snippets of the story, as well as more questions answered by Sarah!

blogtour

ARC Review – The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

25812109Title:  The Female of the Species

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

Huge thank you to the publisher for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I have been a fan of Mindy McGinnis since her debut, and I have enjoyed everything that she has written so far. I was SO excited when I found out that she was writing a contemporary, but sadly this wasn’t my most fav of her books (I did really enjoy it a lot tho).

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book. We know that the MC, Alex, is dealing with the death of her sister. We know that Alex knows how to kill a man. Has she done it? Why does she know? How did she learn? And why would she want to know?

This book is told in three POVs that alternate. I am not a big fan of this, and I had a lot of trouble connecting with Alex (which was probably the point). Jack was okay and I really enjoyed Peekay’s chapters. I loved the way things ebbed and flowed through the story, and how they twisted around to get to the real heart of things.

This is a book about sexual assault. And I for some reason hadn’t seen that coming.

McGinnis’ writing is gritty and honest and sometimes made me cringe with just how fucking real it is. She made me want to cry at times with some of her vivid truths and the way that she used animals to illustrate how brutal humans can be. This book scared me with how wrong things can go in the blink of an eye. And it broke my heart at the end.

If you love honest books, pick this up. If you love gritty portritates of real life, pick this up. If you think that books about rape are important, pick this up. And if you’ve previously enjoyed a book by the author, make sure you don’t miss this one.

 

ARC Review -The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz & Hatem Aly

29358517Title: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog

Author: Adam Gidwitz & Hatem Aly

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: 1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead.
As the narrator collects their tales, the story of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.

Their adventures take them on a chase through France to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned. They’re taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. And as their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Revie

Let me preface this review by saying I knew nothing about this book going into it, and the first chapter basically wrecked me into a ball of tears. The rest of the book, thankfully, wasn’t that way, but it just goes to show you that sometimes middle grade books will throw interesting curve balls to get the reader engaged.

This book largely focuses on three children and their holy dog, but their story is actually being told by a large variety of narrators: a nun, a barmaid, an inquisitor, etc. Each character has their own version of the events in the novel, providing snippets of truth that focuses the reader to play a bit of a guessing game. With so many unreliable narrator’s,The Inquisitor’s Tale makes for such an interesting read.

The book is not for the heavy of heart — it’s an emotionally draining and exhausting read where you want to cheer for these characters. You as the reader feel like you are following their journey, partaking in both their successes and sorrows as well. There’s very well timed humour, and the children are really delightful as their are unique. Even just how the story unfolds is very unique in itself, and it makes for an interesting reading experience as well.

Also there is an intense about of research in this book, and I loved reading Gidwitz’s Author’s Notes at the end as to where the inspiration of the novel comes from. I really had no idea that the holy dog was in fact a thing, but there ya go. Fun, cheeky, and emotionally draining, The Inquisitor’s Tale is a ton of fun for those looking for an adventure that feels both entertaining as it is timeless.

ARC Review – Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Untitled #1) by Rosamund Hodge

28448239Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Untitled #1)

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched. The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan. Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

I loved this book SO MUCH. I originally went into it with mixed feelings because I wasn’t a fan of the author’s debut, I decided not to read her second book, and I probably wouldn’t have read this one but it just sounded so unique. And I’m so glad that I gave it a shot.

This is a twist on Romeo & Juliet. It takes place in a fictional world where revenants (zombies) have taken over the world and the only people left are three clans that live inside of a city protected by magic walls. And the walls feed off of blood sacrifices. There’s a group of Sisters who tend the walls and one of our MCs, Runajo, is a novice. She’s feisty and has strong ideals about the world that they live in. She’s a member of the same clan as Romeo, who falls in love with Juliet, a member of another clan. Only Juliet isn’t just a girl, but she’s the sword of her clan. Her own purpose is to basically be their trained killer. And Paris is supposed to be her guardian.

Only everything goes horribly wrong.

This book is dark and beautiful. It’s romantic without any actual on page romance (Romeo and Juliet are actually separate for the entire book). It’s atmospheric and full of beautiful world building. I loved the Sisters of Thorn and their twisted rituals. I loved how vicious Juliet was, and how bumbling both Paris and Romeo were. I really loved the relationships and friendships that developed between the characters. The twists and turns and secrets kept me engaged and on my toes. I read most of this book in two sittings.

My only complaint is that the ending is a bit rushed, but thank god there’s a sequel. Because I need it after THAT cliffhanger.

If you’re a fan of Hodge or just a Romeo & Juliet fan, then this book is for you!