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August 31, 2016

Review: These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

Title: These Vicious Masks
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: February 9th, 2016
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Paranormal
Source: Library
Pages: 298
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England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.

I enjoyed this book very much. Evelyn's voice instantly won me over. She was quick, witty and had zero patience for the frivolities of the society her mother relentlessly forced on to her--which, yeah isn't the most indicative of the time period but who even cares, sign me up for fearless ladies in 19th century.

What I liked about These Vicious Masks was more the genre and general plot of the book than what actually happened. Paranormal historical fiction is a trend I definitely want more from. I didn't care enough for Rose. I couldn't connect to her enough at the start of the book, and then she's whisked away and I spent the better part of the book really struggling to feel anything more than bored, forced concern for her. I'm getting super tired of the angelic can-do-no-wrong sister who is set out to be rescued. Bleh.

(I've only just realized that even when I actually enjoy a book, any review I write inevitably starts off with me griping about all the things I disliked. Oh well.)

Evelyn was my favourite character of the book, closely followed by Camille (can we PLEASE have more of her in Book #2?). It's not just that she was witty, snappy and paid no heed to the dreadfully leery Mrs. Kent, but was incredibly kind and compassionate and never lost sight of what she set out to do. AND the way she banters around with Nicholas omg. This book is banter done quick, witty, and full of infuriatingly perfect sexual tension. Banter done right, in other ways. There is a love triangle, a very obvious one, and I actually didn't mind one bit. I didn't quite take to Kent as much as I did Nicholas, but I'm SO glad there's no obvious winner where one of the love interests is a boring flake. I'm team Sebastian all the way though because THAT ALCOVE KISS AND THAT FOREHEAD KISS ASDF

The weakest part of the book for me were the dreams Evelyn just happened to have so that the plot can move forward. Cheap plot devices feel pretty insulting to me because I feel like I'm supposed to go with it, when actually um NO? I will not roll with this dream that Evelyn had from some governess that we didn't even know existed until now. This is cheating. I want complexity and intricacy and more of a STORY than oh hello reader meet my governess who *info dump*

The plot moves along quickly and wonderfully, and I was pleased to see how action packed it was. I was actually so invested in the action that I didn't get annoyed by the stuff I talked about until I actually thought about it right now. The ending was SO good--I never thought the authors would go there but holy shit.

Definitely looking forward to book two, but the plot wasn't memorable enough (until the end), so whether I read it depends on what I remember.

August 28, 2016

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Publication Date: September 29th, 2015
Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: bought
Pages: 465
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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

When I think of how long I waited to read the absolute gem that was Six of Crows, I want to go back
in time and rattle my poor, misguided self.

I had major reservations for the first leg of this duology. Although I loved Shadow and Bone and
Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising left me frustrated and disappointed that a trilogy with so much
potential had an anticlimactic and poor ending. In Six of Crows, Bardugo has outdone herself in every way possible. This book blows Siege and Storm (my favourite book of the Grisha trilogy) of the water. It ups the game in every way--its prose, worldbuilding, plot and the characters. I finished the book exhilarated, excited and wanting more. I cannot wait to follow these characters into Crooked Kingdom.

I’m glad Bardugo reached beyond Ravka and delved into Fjerda and Kersch. I simply loved how the
cultural differences between the Ravkans, Fjerdans, Kerch and Shu were explored. These, along with
the corruption that Ketterdam thrives on, the social and racial injustices that pervade the societies that the characters live in are what drove the plot forward. The book is written in third person with alternating POVs, which is my favourite but also incredibly hard to get right, especially if you have six main POVs and a couple of other ones.

The beginning of the book was a little slow and felt jarring. I actually tried to read the book and gave up around five times over the past year because I couldn’t get past the first chapter. Bardugo’s books don’t start easy and gently, the reader is pretty much dumped into the thick of things and the details are quietly, gently explained or left up for us to infer, and as much as I struggle with it, I came to love it. Once the whole cast was introduced though, I couldn’t. stop. reading.

The book features a crew of six--a raggedy, desperate, worn out, reckless, BEAUTIFUL crew of six, each with their own motives and agenda, each with their own wealth of a backstory that I couldn’t help but root for with all my pounding heart. They’re spies and thieves, sharp shooters and hunters, people that like to see things go boom, apologize for nothing, and willing to do what it takes to survive. I love how their history affected their arc and how eventually I could learn to find shreds of humanity in them. The centre of the book was HEIST a la Ocean’s Eleven jam packed with action, suspense, thrill, TWISTS AND TURNS and surprise revelations and delightful BANTER that made my heart jump to my throat and sink to my stomach and pound and perform all sorts of acrobatics as I watched and prayed and hoped that they’d make it out alive.

Six of Crows would be nothing without the writing and style of storytelling. Every other chapter, something goes wrong, a hidden secret is revealed and there I was left gasping and reeling and actually walking around my apartment trying to gather the nerve to just read ahead. The writing was so, so beautiful. I distinctly remember some scenes when everything was happening so fast, yet Bardugo slowed everything down to a point when I was just staring wide eyed, wondering at what just happened and what would happen next.

ON TO THE SHIPS. THE SHIPS. THERE ARE SO MANY SHIPS. It is such shippy shippy delight, this whole book it. There are THREE ships (and then a couple of actual ships) and each one was sheer perfection. I loved how realistic and honest they were. I often feel like shippy events occur at the cost of plot action, or worse, to drive the plot forward and that leaves me with a bad aftertaste. It is hard to balance an action packed plot such as this one with moments that flesh out the feelings that characters have for each other, but it was done very masterfully and naturally.

Brb watching Ocean’s Eleven and preordering Crooked Kingdom and marvelling over the gritty, dark, intricate, beautiful mess that Six of Crows was.

June 13, 2016

Burn by Paula Weston - End of an epic paranormal series

Burn (The Rephaim, #4)

Title: Burn (The Rephaim, #4)
Author: Paula Weston
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication date: March 8th, 2016
Genre(s): YA/NA, Fantasy/Paranormal 
Source: Publisher
Pages: 448

Suddenly, Gaby remembers everything.

For a year she believed she was a backpacker chilling out in Pandanus Beach. Working at the library. Getting over the accident that killed her twin brother. Then Rafa came to find her and Gaby discovered her true identity as Gabe: one of the Rephaim. Over a hundred years old. Half angel, half human, all demon-smiting badass—and hopelessly attracted to the infuriating Rafa.

Now she knows who faked her memories, and how—and why it’s all hurtling towards a massive showdown between the forces of heaven and hell. More importantly, she remembers why she’s spent the last ten years wanting to seriously hurt Rafa.

The build up to this final book was amazing. If I could have binge read this series, I would have. This is coming from someone who rarely likes to binge read. Shimmer left off at the worst possible cliffhanger. The main protagonist, Gaby, finally remembers. All her lost memory comes back and we see how this has affected her but we don't know what are those memories. Then BAM, the book ends. So to say I was impatient to get Burn is an understatement. The beginning of Burn takes us down memory lane, we go back to when all the Rephaim were still together and Gaby was friends with Rafa and had her brother by her side. However things go very wrong (or good? depends on how you see it) and then Gaby is separated from her brother, and her relationship with Rafa got dramatically severed. Gaby finally remembers what caused this rift, the reason she went ten years without speaking to her brother. 

I loved the buildup, the reveal, the trip down memory lane.. but what I was slightly dissatisfied with is what that big reveal was... it felt a bit anti climatic in the sense that I didn't understand how it could have such a severe effect on everyone. However, bypassing my dissatisfaction, I loved the past chapters, and I grew to understand the old Gaby as well as appreciate Gaby's character. The big showdown with the angels was interesting, but it happened all the way at the end of the book that I felt I wasn't as invested anymore. Granted, the whole book and character relationship and friendship dynamic was very likeable, I just didn't enjoy the showdown as much. However, Paula Weston really knows how to hook the readers and even if I wasn't as excited, I needed to find out what happened and how everything will be resolved. I have to say, I am going to miss Gabe, the Rephaim world, and Rafa. It was a fantastic four book series that I will be recommended to any person interested in a paranormal book series. 

May 25, 2016

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Mist and Fury
Author: Sarah J Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Genre(s): New Adult, High Fantasy, Retelling
Source: Borrowed
Pages: 640
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Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas's masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

Fair warning, this review has all the spoilers because I tried super hard to write one without discussing SPOILER and SPOILER and how SPOILER DID SPOILER and…you can see how that turned out.

I'm so conflicted and tumultous. It’s been three days since I finished ACOMAF but I realised today my chaotic, weird feelings about this book aren’t dying anytime soon. WHAT WAS THAT BOOK EVEN. I am feeling WAY too many things right now and I want to explore each one of them in greater detail.

I gave ACOTAR 4 stars when I first read it, 3 stars when I wrote my review, and it sagged very much in my opinion even after that. At the time I started ACOMAF, I fully expected to hate it as much as I hated ACOTAR and only read on because I thought Sarah would surprise me...which she did.

In ACOTAR, Tamlin was an asshole. The minute he denied Feyre her cake, I had my defenses up. But his spinelessness in the last third of the book was really what sealed the deal for me, and I wondered how any of what Tamlin did could even remotely be construed as romantic. Some part of me wonders if Sarah J Maas allowed this Feyre-Tamlin mess to go on for as long as it did to fully allow the readers to appreciate (in retrospect) what a tangled, tragic, abusive mess that was. Some twisted parts of me revels in the way Tamlin wasn’t painted as Bad Guy Number 1 from the beginning. Hell, he was the hero in this BatB retelling, what could he ever do wrong. But as Maas continued to distance herself from the fairy tale that loosely inspired ACOTAR in ACOMAF, it became very apparent that Tamlin was anything but Feyre’s saviour.

There are very obvious parallels to Feyre’s relationship with Rhysand, who thank god gets wayyy more face time than Tamlin. I am not going to lie, Sarah J Maas does unresolved tension and banter like no one else and I’d be flat out lying if that wasn’t a huge reason why I kept reading because I had to see that tension resolved goddammit. But now that I’ve, um calmed down, I’m just going to say it: the romance wasn’t….ideal. I appreciate Maas fleshing out Tamlin's assholery and effectively showing his possessive alpha male territorial crap for what it was exactly. It was a nuanced, subtle thing, and I love that so much of the book was devoted to exploring that. I even concede that there needed to be this level of emphasis on romance for this to be fully realized. There are so many Rhys/Tamlin parallels and many painful scenes where Feyre realizes how broken her relationship with Tamlin was, that drives this concept completely home, and I'm very glad that a book about Fae, the genre oft used to romanticize obviously pretty unbalanced and/or borderline abusive relationships depicts this.

BUT. The Rhys/Feyre romance was still not ideal. Not telling Feyre about her bond, SO NOT COOL BRO. Making her read stuff like "Rhys is the best lover you've ever had" or "Rhysand is the most delightful High Lord" was creepy and not even remotely funny let alone romantic to me. Besides this, there was some freaky S Meyer shit going down there which I was 100% not on board with? Why is “mating” a thing? Why is the idea of one perfect mate touted again and again in fae stories? Elain becoming fae and then Lucien proclaiming her to be his mate? Whyyyyyy? I am so upset that is a thing that happened and will likely be a large plot point in book 3, we need to stop romanticizing this crap like 10 years ago? Also we get it, Rhys and Feyre are madly in love but why does the stupid mating bond have to make them compulsively bang each other? Why this trope didn't just die with Breaking Dawn is beyond me. Dont? You? Realize? That 324 sex scenes? Makes it get real old? Real fast?

I know it sounds like I hated a lot of the book, but honestly I’m surprised the book didn’t explode in my hands, so chock-full of clich├ęs that it was. Pointless secrets used as plot devices, convenient “festivals” for the mushy conversations and almost-make out scenes, weird monster names, this book literally had it all.

The pacing of this book was pretty meh too. This book should have been two books. We were robbed of so much action and intrigue and mystery solving for character development (which I'm not saying isn't important), but the book was a LOT of conversations and recovery and backstory-telling and then like ONE page of action, rinse, repeat. As much as I enjoyed the character development, thr half baked action seriously affected my liking of the book. A lot of the actiony parts were either too "easy" or rushed and details were left out and that made me very grumpy. I’d have loved to see how Az dealt with the mortal queens, I’d have liked some more struggle with the mortal queens or the Bone Carver, I’d have liked to watch Amren work with the book. I’m all for books that are more about character growth than action (Heir of Fire), but if you’re going to do the action, I need it whole-assed, not half-assed.

But okay, okay, okay, I didn’t hate the book, really. I did enjoy myself for some parts of it. Sarah J Maas does world building, prose, and banter like literally no one else that I know and watching her expand her universe beyond the Spring Court into Velaris, Adriatia, and the Summer Court was so much fun. The world in ACOMAF becomes much more layered and complex and the backstory that she dedicated, especially to the secondary characters was incredibly layered and rich in detail.

That squad kept me together through this book and I will be you anything, Maas wrote those scenes to scenes of Bellamy and co. in the rover, ha. Morrigan is possibly my favorite character of the book. We get to see more of Nesta! Prickly, steely, strong, wonderful Nesta will have a decidedly larger role to play in book 3 and I’m suppper excited to watch her come into her own. Amren is like….Manon’s soul sister. There is no other way to put it. She is cold and vicious, but there’s a lot of sorrow in her actions and character that I bet Maas is keeping from us for good reason. Secondary characters, best characters, basically. I suppose I should also mention Rhys. I was very surprised with the turn his character took this book. I knew he was probably intended as Feyre’s love interest but his internal growth and change was a lot of fun to watch. I wish this book was written in third person though, because I feel like I really only know him through Feyre’s eyes. I hope we get a Rhys POV next book.

The book ended with the biggest of cliffhangers and everything was a mess including us, as Sarah dropped the mic and walked away and I’m just wondering what I will do without my Illyrian warriors and Nesta until freaking 2017. If you hated ACOTAR or dnf’d it (and then read this sort of spoilery review, ha), I definitely encourage you to power through that crap to ACOMAF.

I cannot wait to see how my squad kills it in book 3.

May 14, 2016

Review: Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

Dear Thing
Title: Dear Thing
Author: Julie Cohen
Publisher: Raincoast Canada
Publication date: March 29, 2016
Genre(s): Adult contemporary 
Source: Publisher
Pages: 432

After years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily has offered to give them the one thing that they want most.

Romily expects it will be easy to be a surrogate. She's already a single mother, and she has no desire for any more children. But Romily isn't prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire-and even destroy their marriage.

Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make...

Dear Thing was a recipe for drama and I was very excited to start reading it. My only concern was that there would be cheating involved which is something I can't stomach in my books but I needn't have worried. Romily and Ben have been best friends for years.. Ben is married to Claire while Romily has a seven year old kid, and is in love with Ben. Yikes indeed. What's even more messy is that Romily offered to be the surrogate for the couple because Claire can't get pregnant. Recipe for drama? check. 

The general story sounded very interesting however the execution was a bit lacking for me. The story dragged on and it felt that the story could be congested in 200 pages or so. I felt several times the plot was dragging and I would skim through paragraphs of descriptions on repeated thought processes. However the plot was very heartfelt, and it really showed the struggle of both Claire, who viewed herself as a failure for not being able to get pregnant, and Romily, who seems to get into this surrogacy for all the wrong reasons. I feel the slow developing friendship between both women was very important and gave us insight on how each viewed the other and also the prejudices accompanying that judgement and how they were able to finally understand each other. 

This is definitely not a romance book. It is more about relationships.. between friends, strangers, long lost fathers, misunderstood people, mothers, and daughters. I liked that all the characters were flawed and also they also tried their best to become better versions of themselves. Humans are messy, and this book shows us that in a very realistic way (even if the suggestion of surrogacy by Romily was highly unrealistic). I would recommend it to adult fiction fans who like a little drama and realistic plot lines in their stories.