Reader Reaction: The Crowns of Croswald

Reader Reaction: The Crowns of Croswald

Title: The Crowns of Croswald
Series
Author: D.E. Night
Released: 21 July 2017
Goodreads

Here’s the thing: I’ve kinda been dreading writing this review because even though I really wanted to read this book and was so excited when I was offered a copy by the author in exchange for an honest review, middle grade tends not to be my thing. The Crowns of Croswald, in my mind, was going to be one of the rare exceptions because the story sounded so magically fantastic! I’m disappointed to say that it isn’t an exception. However, tons of people love middle grade novels, so I’m going to put my own opinions aside (at least concerning the writing style) to try to give a review that will hopefully be an unbiased as it should be.  Because of that, this review may be a bit shorter than some of my others.

Ivy Lovely (the protagonist) goes through the journey to self-discovery which leads her from a position as scaldrony maid to student of magic.  For those who have read Magyk by Angie Sage and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, it’s a perfect combination of both.  I don’t say that in a bad way, either.  While Magyk had taken me a year to get through (purely because I did not want to continue reading it, but I’d promised my sister that I would), I found myself really wanting to finish The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night because it was much more interesting.  Of course, in my mind, nothing will hold a candle to Harry Potter…  Still, if you’re looking for something to compare this two, imagine a mixture of those two series and I think you’ll find it a pretty decent fit for Night’s novel.

Magical, creative, and pretty darn cute at times, The Crowns of Croswald would be an excellent recommendation for young readers or readers of any age who enjoy middle grade fantasy novels about magic and the journey to understanding their own identity.

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Reader Reaction: The Song of the Phoenix

Reader Reaction: The Song of the Phoenix

Title: The Song of the Phoenix
Stand Alone
Author: Amy Lemco
Released: 16 July 2016
Favorite quote: “An oversized, unlit pipe bobbed in the corner of her mouth as she spoke. ‘Doesn’t it make me look reflective? I want to be– what’s the word– more theoretical from now on.'”
Goodreads

I was provided a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:
When Finn inherits the kingdom of Dyre, he is startled to learn the castle is a haven for runaway and self-rescued princesses. At the coronation, it is evident that the tunic-and-trouser clad Princess Lucia resents anyone who would attempt to take up the scepter of the previous king–despite the prediction of the kingdom’s clairvoyant cat, Jasper, who insists the fates of the two are joined. Adventure, comedy, mystery, romance–The Song of the Phoenix is enchanting entertainment for all! (goodreads)

Amy Lemco sent me a copy of this book quite a while ago, along with her other book. While I really enjoyed Who Lives by the Sword and devoured it pretty quickly, it took me a while to get into The Song of the Phoenix because it read more as a child’s book (or middle grade) than Who Lives by the Sword. For those who know my preferences, I’m not fond of middle grade or children’s books (except in certain cases), so this one-hundred page book sat on my TBR for months before I made myself read it.

Both the setting and plot have a very magical, fairytale-oriented feel to them that is reminiscent of folklore and childhood. The characters fit well into stereotypical but beloved roles throughout the story. Out of them all, Gunny – the youngest princess – was my favorite because of the lines that she had. While Gunny is the exception to this next bit because she actually is a child, the others don’t escape my pet peeve of spouting unrealistic dialogue. Lines felt forced and too far from what would have actually been said in certain situations; again, since I tend to shy away from children’s and middle grade books, I’m unfamiliar with the type of dialogue and narration that goes into them. This coupled with the fact that the intended audience of the book was never mentioned, I found myself really dragging to get through the first fifty pages. After I realized that it must’ve been written for younger readers, though, I was able to adjust my outlook on The Song of the Phoenix and proceed. Still, my perception during the first fifty pages really skewed my opinion of the story in a not-so-positive direction.

I will say that throughout the last half of the story, all I could think of was one day reading this to my nieces and nephews and my own children. It’s not something that I would personally pick up. Who Lives by the Sword was, but The Song of the Phoenix is not. Still, I think this would be a wonderful book to read to younger readers, especially those who are fascinated by fairytales or knights and dragons and anything of that sort.

Reader Reaction: Fawkes

Reader Reaction: Fawkes

Title: Fawkes
Author: Nadine Brandes
Stand Alone
Publication Date: 10 July 2018
Goodreads

I received an ARC on netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Fawkes is a stand-alone novel by the author of the Out of Time trilogy. It combines history and fantasy to tell the story of Guy Fawkes’ son, Thomas – a person who may or may not have actually existed in reality. Because this is a review for a book that has not yet been released, it will be spoiler and plot free. I was drawn to this novel because my fiancé is absolutely in love with the film “V for Vendetta” and I’ve had to sit through it every November 5th, which obviously has piqued my interest in the subject!

Synoposis
“Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.”

Thomas is a very interesting character. The novel is told from his first person point-of-view, so we become intimately acquainted with his thoughts and feelings regarding the plot, his father, and the Igniter-Keeper debate. It was hard for me to connect to Thomas, but that’s coming from a girl who is twenty-three years old and has never experienced teenage years as a boy, much less life in the 17th century. While I can usually suspend my disbelief while reading from a character’s perspective that I can’t relate to or agree with, there was a real disconnect between me and Thomas. Because of this, it took me much longer to get through the novel and I found myself skimming certain parts where Thomas focused more on his feelings than on the actual events taking place around him.

Emma is a wonderful character! Really, she was the saving grace of the novel for me. Brandes explores so many issues through Emma that are just as important now as they were in the 17th century. Again, this is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t be going into detail on which issues these are (although it should be obvious that female equality is one of them). Emma is a multi-layered character who proved more interesting to me than the main character and the plotters, which includes Guy Fawkes.

The historical accuracy of Fawkes is enough to pull in any historical fiction fan, I’d think. It’s a wonderful telling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The fantastical elements of the world add so much more to the story, though. Erasing religion as the driving force behind the plot is a bold move that Brandes made and pulled off beautifully. The execution of fully transposing the cause of the plot from religious to “magical” is flawless. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I crave fantasy in every story I read, but I truly think that the reimagining of the plot is wonderfully done. By incorporating real conspirators and events into the story, the story becomes so much more. While Guy Fawkes did not actually wear a mask, the inclusion of masks as a vital part of Igniter-Keeper society is quite an inventive twist on the Guy Fawkes mask that most people associate with the historical figure. Masks contain color power that the wearers harness. Igniters believe in harnessing the power of multiple colors; keeper believe controlling more than one color is a sort of act against nature and the colors. Then comes White Light…

This novel is filled with action, various relationships, political intrigue, history, fantasy, infamy, and so much more. It’s one that I find I can’t say much about without ruining too much, especially for those who aren’t as familiar with the Gunpowder Plot. I recommend this to anyone who is a fan of historical fantasy or who would like to know more about the Gunpowder Plot. (I found myself googling random bits of information throughout to see if they were based on facts and I learned so much from this novel!)

Reader Reaction: Twice Dead

Reader Reaction: Twice Dead

Title: Twice Dead
Author: Caitlin Seal
Series
Publication Date: 18 September 2018
Favorite quote: “Sometimes, little bird, you have to bend to keep from breaking.”

I received an ARC on netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Twice Dead is the first installment in Caitlin Seal’s new series titled The Necromancer’s Song. Because this is a review for a book that has not yet been released, it will be spoiler and plot free. I was first drawn to the cover of this book, and although I usually tend to avoid paranormal fantasy, the description proved too tempting to pass up.

“Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered.

But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue.

She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.”

 

Let’s start with Naya – the main protagonist whom the story follows through her transition from living to her new “life” as one of the undead in a new and unfamiliar land.  Naya is a young girl dedicated to her father and country to a fault.  The battle that Naya wages against herself is fleshed out well throughout the course of the novel, but it took about halfway through the book for her to make a clear decision.  While it seems a bit too long for this part of the main character’s internal storyline to be up in the air, the external events and conflicts really drive the story to keep the plot from sagging.  Once Naya resolves her inner-conflict, the story soars.

Corten is the potential romantic figure in this book, and while I wasn’t really feeling their connection as strongly as I would’ve liked (at first), it was cute.  Corten takes on an important role in Naya’s new undead life and it developed into a unique relationship that I loved.  Maybe it’s because I don’t usually read paranormal stories, but Corten and Naya’s friendship was different from others that I’ve read because of the circumstances that their bond is built upon.

Corten and Naya are both those types of flawed, relatable characters that ground the reader in something that they can connect to.  For me, it was Naya’s uncertainty and Corten’s sense of persistence despite his own perception of his artistry as inferior.

Really, a lot of the characters are relatable in some way or another.  Seal writes characters that can stand apart from others within the text, though I’m not sure how I feel about them standing on their own outside of the text.  If I take my favorite character from any book, I can predict how she’d react to any new situation with some surety; if I take any character from Twice Dead and place them in any scenario outside of the book’s parameters, I only have a slight sense of them and their decisions.  That could possibly be because it’s only the first novel in the series so they haven’t been given the proper amount of story to fully-develop as people rather than just fictional characters, though.  Hopefully as the series continues, the characters will come into themselves and break free from the pages.

Because this is a review being posted before release, I feel that if I discuss any other characters and their arcs in the depth that they deserve, I’ll be giving away too many details that the reader needs to experience for themselves going in without that foreknowledge.  What I will say, though, is that the “bad guys” were a bit predictable from the beginning, which led to me predicting the twist before it came.  There were too many hints dropped that led me to guess where the story was going.  Although that sounds like it would ruin the book, I assure you that it doesn’t!  This is one of those books that a reader can predict the ending of without spoiling the way that it leads to that point and the events that happen after.  Really, there are completely unpredictable parts in the book that hold the reader’s interest.

There are a couple parts in the novel that really drew me out of the reading experience and had me questioning how likely those events/actions were.  They were few and far between, but these instances were noticeable enough for me to bring it up in this review.  If you, as a reader, can suspend your disbelief a bit further than I can, I think these points in the text shouldn’t be an issue.  However, if you, like me, tend to question motives and the practicality of actions, maybe just try to glaze over these parts of the book and accept what happens for the sake of the plot, because I promise that to me, it was worth it to finish the novel and brush over the slight irregularities that popped up.

I really enjoy the world.  The political tension and moral disagreements between countries create an interesting layer to the plot.  While some history is given, it felt a bit too surface-based for me.  The world was developed enough to give a sense of ties and tensions and betrayals to serve the purpose of the plot, but I’m really hoping that the world is more thoroughly developed (which the ending of Twice Dead suggests that it will be).

There is one part of the book that I do want to specifically discuss, but it will be as spoiler-free as I can manage.  I want to talk about the inclusion of a homosexual couple in Twice Dead and the immediate acceptance the character receives from the person who asks about their relationship.  It’s common in stories with similar worlds that feel older, more historical than modern, to treat homosexuality as it was treated in our own history.  Although this scene is such a minor part in terms of the plot and its development, this was one of the parts that I most enjoyed because it gave insight into the different countries, their values, and their policies.  Marriage, sexuality, and motherhood are discussed in this part of the book, and while it was short, I really loved it!  It really developed the world in a way that I didn’t get in other parts, even those that directly described policies and values.  The reason I loved this so much may have been because it was one of the major instances of “showing, not telling.”  While I felt that there was a bit too much “telling” in the book, that’s a personal preference for everyone and not everyone will see it that way.  Regardless, it wasn’t so overt as to interrupt the flow of the story.

While I like the characters and the world enough for me to comfortably recommend the novel to readers who gravitate toward the genre anyway, the plot (especially what takes place in the last 10% of the book) is the true praise-worthy factor that leads me to recommend this novel.  From the beginning, the plot and its direction kept me hooked.  I finished this novel within a couple days (while attending university full-time as a literature student with tons of other books to read for my classes), so that should give you an idea of how excited I was about the plot and seeing what the ending brought.  Again, I mentioned briefly that it wasn’t until about halfway through that Naya settled into herself, so the second half of the book did pick up a bit – not to say that the first half was slow, because it definitely wasn’t.  What I mean is that the second half of this novel flew by!  The last 10% came and I didn’t even pause my reading to answer questions from people who came in to talk to me; this is how much the plot drew me in.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy, “historical” fantasy, or these themes: political intrigue, the question of mortality, the individual’s meaning of life, and self-discovery.

February Wrap-Up

Hello, everyone!

My final semester of university has kept me busy, but I want to write a quick wrap-up for February. I did manage to read ten books, and I loved the majority of them! This month, I was also chosen as a rep for 2 different bookish companies – a YA book box based out of Australia called Booked for the Weekend and a bookmark company called Novel Trimmings. I hope that you guys check out these two amazing new shops that I’m so proud to be a representative for in their first rounds.

  1. Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5 stars)
  2. The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (4/5 stars)
  3. Tandem by Anna Jarzab (5/5 stars)
  4. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (4/5 stars)
  5. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (5/5 stars)
  6. Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay (4/5 stars)
  7. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (5/5 stars)
  8. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (3/5 stars)
  9. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (re-read 5/5 stars)
  10. George by Alex Gino (4/5 stars)

If you see any books that we had in common and have any questions on any of these books, please feel free to comment! I’m going to try to be more active on this blog, though I’ll only be reacting to ARCs and new favorites in the future.

Thanks,
Xandra

LGBT+ Fairytale Retellings

Let’s be honest who doesn’t love a good fairytale retelling? The magic of our childhood reimagined through a new lens. For me as a lesbian it is especially lovely when someone takes these stories and transforms them to be more inclusive of LGBT+ people. Princesses getting their happy ending with another girl (or in a lovely polyamorous squad!). Ariel meeting a gorgeous sailor lady. Or Peter Pan as a trans man struggling with toxic masculinity and his confusing feelings for Captain Hook. So here are my top 4 LGBT+ Fairytale Retellings that I’ve read and loved, plus another 4 LGBT+ Fairytale Retellings that I’m really excited to read! (as well as two LGBT+ webcomics that are inspired by Fairytales because webcomics are great!)

Read: 

Peter Darling

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#ownvoices

A gorgeous retelling of Peter Pan this book is definitely one of my favorite retellings. Set in a more grown up Wonderland to which Peter…

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Reader Reaction: Chainbreaker

Reader Reaction: Chainbreaker

Title: Chainbreaker
Series
Author: Tara Sim
Released: 2 January 2018
Favorite quote: (Because this hasn’t been released yet, I’m not posting a favorite quote.)
goodreads

I’ve been sitting on this reader reaction for a couple weeks because I wanted to post it right before its release tomorrow/today (depending on where you are in the world).  I requested the ARC from Sky Pony Press and was given an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ll start by giving you a bit of my background with Timekeeper (which was a 5/5 stars for me): I asked for the book for Christmas (2016) because I saw that it was a Steampunk LGBTQ story with a neat cover. That’s basically it. I had low expectations entering because I hadn’t heard much about it other than what I just wrote above. When I was given the book, I devoured it. It was one of those stories that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Chainbreaker was no different.

This review will be less focused on specific points from the novel to avoid spoilers. Instead, the majority will be based on my reactions to the characters, plot, and the ending (which will not give anything away, but it will offer a general mood and my feelings about the ending, so if you would like to skip, stop at the sentence “A bajillion times yes!” halfway through the 4th paragraph).

Goodreads Synopsis:
“Clock mechanic Danny Hart knows he’s being watched. But by whom, or what, remains a mystery. To make matters worse, clock towers have begun falling in India, though time hasn’t Stopped yet. He’d hoped after reuniting with his father and exploring his relationship with Colton, he’d have some time to settle into his new life. Instead, he’s asked to investigate the attacks.

After inspecting some of the fallen Indian towers, he realizes the British occupation may be sparking more than just attacks. And as Danny and Colton unravel more secrets about their past, they find themselves on a dark and dangerous path–one from which they may never return.”

Although it was the Danny/Colton story that I fell in love with in Timekeeper, it was the solo-Colton and solo-Daphne storylines that kept me hooked to Chainbreaker. To be completely honest, I wasn’t fond of Daphne in Timekeeper. I don’t know if that’s something that Tara Sim had intended before focusing in on her in the sequel or not, but it was a phenomenal shift for me.

When Daphne and Danny are sent to India as two promising clock mechanics to help solve the mystery behind attacks and their consequences, Daphne’s mixed British/Indian identity becomes a focal point of the story. While this wasn’t a huge point in Timekeeper, it becomes a huge part of this novel and probably the part of the novel that I was most intrigued by. Because of Daphne, Tara Sim claims Chainbreaker an #ownvoices story. Recently, a Kirkus reviewer claimed that “mixed-race Daphne’s character does not develop much, despite the fact that her late father had a white English father and an Indian mother and that Daphne’s trip to India plunges her into speculation about her heritage and identity…” Apparently there were a couple details that weren’t entirely in line with the Indian setting, but this in no way affected my reading of it. Granted, I’m not as familiar with Indian culture as I’d like to be, but considering that Daphne is an #ownvoices character, I really think that this is one of the few times I’ll freely write that I do not suggest reading major reviews on this novel before reading it. The critical conversation surrounding race and diverse characters/authors is wildly interesting and vital to all readers, but lately, I think (not that my opinion is worth much) that the overall conversation is steering in a direction that is excluding too many valid characters and writers, especially those that are #ownvoices.

While I loved both the characters and plot in Timekeeper, the plot did fall a bit flat for me in comparison until the very end. The characters, though? They all had me wrapped around their fictional fingers the entirety of the novel. Timekeeper was equally plot and character driven; Chainbreaker felt more driven by characters and opinions. There are definite opinions that serve as foundation for this novel, and while that isn’t for everyone, I loved it. I love that I know what the speaker/writer is passionate about (i.e. equal rights, gun control, etc.). No, maybe not everyone agrees with these opinions, but that doesn’t detract from the power of giving these thoughts to characters in a time when the masses vehemently disagree. That alone gives the story a new level of emotion: we follow characters who may be scared to death of the consequences of following their hearts and who have a much more modern sense of “right” and “wrong.” Of course, these novels are modern, but when I was completely immersed in the story, I didn’t think of it like that. It was just characters fighting for what they believed in decades ahead of their time.

Why did the plot fall flat for me then (until the end)? That’s not something that I like to say without offering an explanation for what may otherwise seem a harsh opinion. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the plot, but I felt like the plot in this novel was created to advance the characters rather than the actual clock tower story. It did advance the clock tower story! It did but in a way that tied back so closely to the characters that it felt more pre-destined than chance. I guess what I’m saying with this is that it’s entirely up to reader preference on this point. Did I enjoy the plot? Yes. Was it as great as Timekeeper‘s? No, not in my opinion. BUT! Was the end of Chainbreaker wildly more exciting and informative than Timekeeper? A bajillion times yes! [I’ll try to be spoiler free in this next sentence, even though it’s going to be hard…] I don’t know how my opinion on the plot while reading managed to do a complete 180 within a couple chapters, but the realization about why certain things were happening to a certain character (that I had thought were entirely developing that character) transformed into another thick-ass layer of amazing plot that changed EVERYTHING ABOUT THE FREAKIN’ WORLD IN THE SERIES!

And what does Tara Sim do after this life changing and horrific/spectacular realization?

She ends the fucking book.

Pardon my swearing, but I don’t think you’ll understand my emotions until you read Chainbreaker. I’m both incredibly excited about this change (as well as other major changes that occurred but that were not nearly as unsettling) and what it means for the entire world and incredibly shocked. I’m shocked… That’s a great way to put it. I’m shocked that this is what the entire world was like the entire time. Once you read it, there’s no going back. My entire perception of the whole world in the Timekeeper series has shifted to something dark. The series became dark. That added layer of plot is a damn storm cloud that made home over a once mostly-sunny place.

I don’t know what Tara Sim will do in her next novel. I have no clue, but I do know that whatever it is, it’s going to be utterly perfect and devastating.