Tag Archives: fantasy

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Heartwood Hotel books one and two back to back. This sequel, The Greatest Gift is a much more gentle book compared to the first one. Mona has now found a place to call her own, and the true villain of this story is winter. I think we can all relate to that, at least here in Canada!

I think The Greatest Gift continues to show the strengths of the first book, focusing on themes of friendship and learning to rely on others for help. This book read so quickly, and compared to the first book I thought the story wasn’t as strong here. It’s enjoyable, but it also just felt like it ended too fast? I’m not sure.

This series is sweet, adorable, and fluffy. I am really happy I read this sequel just so I could read more about Mona and Tilly’s adventures. This continues to be a great middle grade series, and I hope more people will check them out.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Heartwood Hotel is such a cute series, and this first book was such a delight. Mona is such a sweet little heroine who starts out homeless and then stumbles open a beautiful hotel in the forest. I wanted to cuddle Mona throughout the story because she is so kind, but is full of determination. She’s a great role model character for younger readers. Each character is so charming, though! I LOVED bossy Tilly, though she somewhat reminded me of my own mother.

This first book is just so comfortable, warm and cozy. It’s the kind of book that you want to snuggle with a warm blanket and a hot drink. While there is some danger in the story, it’s nothing too frighting, but it teaches children about finding strength in unlikely situations and how friendship can help solve bigger problems.

I also want to praise the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, which I feel accompany the story so beautifully. I loved having the pictures side-by-side with the text, and I can only imagine how beautiful the artwork looks in the finished edition. This first book is so charming, and it’s definitely one I will be recommending to younger readers when the opportunity arises.

ARC Review – Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Title: Blood and Sand

Author: C.V. Wyk

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves.

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what to make of Blood and Sand when I started reading it. I loved the idea that it was a lady!Sparticus story, but if I am being honest, this one took me awhile to get into. The writing wasn’t my cup of tea from the start and I had a hard time connecting with Attia, which I recognize was somewhat the point at the beginning.

This is a book that needs to build, so there’s a lot of information at the start about the world that Attia inhabits. Once she’s in the arena, this book turns on in a great way. The action sequences are clearly this book’s strong suit, as Attia is quite the lady badass. However, I couldn’t stop drawing parallels to Lesley Livingston’s The Valiant as I was reading this book, and I’ll admit, I liked that one a bit better just because the pacing and writing in Livingston’s book had a good push to it. I recognize that this and The Valiant have their differences, but at times I couldn’t stop thinking about what made them similar.

I will say that I wasn’t fond of the romance between Attia and Xanthus. A lot of the time Xanthus’ behaviour just rubbed me completely the wrong way. Again, I don’t mind a romance formed by an unlikely bond, but there I just couldn’t get into their romance and found myself skimming those sections because I really just wanted to go back to the political intrigue and the battle scenes.

Blood and Sand is a decent debut, but not without its ups and downs. I think once the world was established, the book truly hit its stride for me and I was enjoying the politics and struggles that Attia had to overcome, but parts of the book just fell short for me. I think this will appeal to readers who love bad ass ladies (which I do love) and who don’t mind a slower build up. The mix of fantasy and historical fiction is interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series.

Author Interview – Q&A with Melissa Albert, Author of The Hazel Wood

Back in September during Raincoast’s last #TeenReadsFeed event, I had actually won the grand prize: an interview with debut author, Melissa Albert. The Hazel Wood is a book that is getting so much buzz, and rightful so. It’s dark, creepy, and full of intrigue and discomfort. During this interview I had a chance to discuss portal fantasy, inspiration for the book, and other cheery things.

If you want to know more about my thoughts regarding The Hazel Wood, please check out my review. The Hazel Wood arrives on January 30th, 2018. Huge thank you again to Raincoast Canada for this amazing opportunity.

ARC Review – The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood

Author: Melissa Albert

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This. book. I read it and I was just completely absorbed into the world and this story. There is something about the way Melissa Albert crafts everything in this story that just feels spot on. Her characters are frustrating, difficult, but also full of determination and gusto. I really loved Alice’s character given she can be very unlikable at times, but I see why. When your grandmother has written a famous novel with psycho fans, I’d be that way too.

There is a huge sense of foreboding reading this novel. Learning about the Hinterlands and the Hazel Wood, you get an eerie sense that the world isn’t what it seems. There’s almost this “Into the Woods” vibe where characters will end up exploring the landscape, but the setting has it’s own personality. I loved the descriptions of the environments and how they felt creepy, yet very much alive.

I also just want to share how captivating the writing is as well. I found myself reading and hanging onto every word because I needed to know what was happening to the characters. Can I also say how much I loved Ellery, fanboy extraordinaire? I think what I loved about his character specifically, is I feel like everyone has a friend or knows someone who loves something SO DAMN MUCH. Ellery was just such a fun character, a great foil for Alice on many occasions.

The Hazel Wood is a very atmospheric read that has strong world building and characters who have the ability to grow. They are imperfect, sometimes uncomfortable, but feel very real as well. I love stories within story narratives and this book just hit all the right notes with me at the right time upon reading it. It’s definitely worth checking out if you love dark fairy tales or fantasy, and it’s definitely a good book for cold winter nights when you need a hot cup of tea and candle light.

ARC Review – Berserker (Berserker #1) by Emmy Laybourne

Title: Berserker (Berserker #1)

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Her brother Stieg swears their powers are a gift from the old gods, but Hanne Hemstad knows she is truly cursed. It’s not Stieg’s fault that their father is dead, their mother has left, and their brother Knut has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

No, the fault lies with Hanne and her inability to control her murderous “gift”–she is a Berserker. When someone she loves is threatened, she flies into a killing state. The siblings must leave Norway for the American frontier or risk being brought to justice.

Aided by a young cowboy who agrees to be their guide, Hanne and her siblings use their powers to survive the perilous trail, where blizzards, wild animals, and vicious bounty hunters await.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Emmy Laybourne writes some fast-paced novels, and her latest,Berserker is not exception. I’d even argue it’s her most unique book to date given it is a Western-meets-Norse Mythology-meets-Historical Fiction. It’s a cluster of so many genres, a mish-mash that is though very fun, doesn’t entirely work together as well as it could.

I’m all for a genre mash-up, but Westerns tend to be always a difficult genre to mash given it has very specific tropes that it follows. Weirdly, I loved the Western-y bits of this story, but mixing it with Norse Mythology is a bit of an odd choice given how rich Viking culture is. This book has so much in it and at times it can feel very overwhelming, and yet it is also such a compulsively readable book where you want to know what is going on. There’s so much action and insanity, it makes for an entertaining read. Laybourne is great at bringing fun and disaster to her stories and Berserker doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

While I loved the action, gore and just utter insanity of the story, I wish I had enjoyed the characters more. Henne is a fun character who is troubled by her powers of murder, but if I am being frank, a lot of the characters felt very interchangeable for me and didn’t feel too distinctive on their own. Mind you, I’ve always felt that as a writer, Laybourne’s characters are not always the starring attraction (unless we are talking Max from Monument 14 aka the best character), but it’s the worlds that she creates which are truly the draw.

Berserker is a book where I need to explain to readers going into it before hand to just “go with the flow.” It’s a fun, delightful romp, but it’s also messy in that it’s trying to do a lot at once creating sensory overload. I still think it’s a great read for those who love a fast-paced story full of crazy and murder. I definitely am still curious as to where the next book in the series is going to go as well.

ARC Review – Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED When the Moon Was Ours, and it is a book I recommend so easily to teens who come into the library looks for magic realism or diverse reads. I have yet to read The Weight of Feathers, but I knew after my first Anna-Marie McLemore book that I would be sold on her for life. She’s an amazing writer who weaves such unique stories together while also featuring under-represented groups of people as the leads.

Wild Beauty and I actually didn’t connect right away. This book is slow, thoughtful, and it marches to the beat of its own drum. Apart of me as I was reading it felt like I didn’t entirely understand what was going or who the characters were becoming. However, the more I read, the more captivated I was by all the feelings I was having. This book just has such an ethereal quality to it — it’s like getting lost in something so beautiful, yet simple. There is so much mystery, intrigue, and I feel like I was being swept away.

And that’s really all I am going to say about Wild Beauty. While it has moments where it’s very slow, it’s a book that you need to keep going with it because it will grab you and when it does it doesn’t let go. The characters, the world, the writing, it’s so magical, and it’s an experience to say the least.