Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning - Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning
Jessica Cluess
Series:Kingdom on Fire, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Kiersten picked an ARC of this book up for me at BEA and, looking for something to use to help me procrastinate, I realized this had a recent release date -- September 20th, 2016 -- so I thought I'd read and review for those interested!

I didn't know anything about the book before picking it up and reading the back cover, at which point I learned it involved Sorcerers and Magic -- two things I can always get behind -- and a protagonist who was Not the Chosen One (also something I can get behind). The book, in a nutshell, focuses on Henrietta Howel, a girl who can control fire, in a time when female sorcerers essentially Do Not Exist. Her powers are discovered and she is sent to train with London's best.

I had a hard time figuring out how to rate this one. I liked it more than 3.5 stars but less than 3.75 stars?? I'm gonna stick with 3.5.

One of the things I found coolest about this book was how it just took the concept of the Chosen One and turned it on its head. We know from just the back cover that Henrietta isn't the Chosen One and that forces us to ask: Who is she and what role does she play in this narrative? And if she as the protagonist is indispensable in their fight what title does that give her?

In general, I liked the whole ~vibe~ of the book -- fighting monsters in Victorian England using magic; all my favorite things!!!! However, each facet had something bringing it down too, which contributed to my confusion about how to rate it. Let's examine, shall we?

General themes/plot/etc:
I said I liked the vibe and the concept and everything but I feel like it was definitely not as fleshed out as a first book in a series should be. It's told from Henrietta's first person POV as a 16 year-old who's lived her entire life in this world and she kinda just talks about it in passing -- in a way that would be natural for every day life -- and we have to put the pieces together. Obviously Cluess tries to add some dialogue and narration in that serves as explanation but the worldbuilding is definitely lacking. We get a general understanding of what's going on but I definitely hope the second book will provide more insight.

So, I loved all the characters at first glance -- you have the charming, flirty handsome dude, the brooding, mysterious, sullen dude, the stable boy best friend, a charming old man trainer, a terrifying old man trainer, Henrietta herself, etc, and lots more. While reading, they're all fun, and this book is full of dialogue to make you angry or excited or nervous or whatever emotion. Except, when you keep reading, they start to feel a little like Character Tropes. I realized it when Lord Blackwood kept reminding me of Mr. Darcy with his brooding too-good-for-you attitude one minute and then small moments of helpfulness. I'm not saying they're all tropes or stock characters but I think they need a little more dimension. Like, it was super fun to read them in this book but when another one comes out they might seem a little flat if they don't have another layer or two.

I'm not spoiling anything here so I'm not going to say or imply anything, but!!!! I want to make a point to say that I think people in general are using the term "love triangle" too loosely. Like, people are saying "omg!!!!! this book has a Love Triangle!!!!" about every book that just has more than one character that the protagonist can be attracted to. I don't really think that's a love triangle, I think that makes a book fun because I can have a ship and see who gets together at the end, rather than just having two people destined from the start. I think a love triangle is more like when three people are all involved in each other's love stories. Anyway, living with like eight guys, there was bound to be some Choices for Henrietta to make and I thought this was a great part of the book that I can't wait to explore in the next book!

Victorian England:
This is purely subjective and did not really impact my review but I think Jessica Cluess should have utilized Victorian England more in the book. Because I really like it as a concept and a time period.

Anyway, this is getting long so some final thoughts: I don't want my negative comments to deter you from reading -- they were more fleshed out than my positive comments so they probably seemed longer and more intense but I really did like the book. I read through it in one sitting because it was a pretty captivating read. I have no qualms with things that actually happen story-wise and am excited to explore things like magicians and magic and the Ancients even more in the next book -- I feel like a lot of this book was Setting Up for things to come. While I do wish some things were more fleshed out, like characters and worldbuilding, I'm still excited to continue this series and for a book that I went into with zero knowledge and zero expectations I was pleasantly surprised.

- Noor

If you could control an element, what would it be?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blog Tour + Cover Cosmetics + Giveaway: Nemesis - Anna Banks

About Nemesis

The princess didn't expect to fall in love--with her nemesis.

Princess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in all the five kingdoms. The spectorium she creates provides energy for all, but now her father has found a way to weaponize it, and his intentions to incite war force her to flee from his grasp. She escapes across enemy lines into the kingdom of Theoria, but her plans to hide are thwarted when she is captured and placed in the young king's servitude.

Tarik has just taken over rulership of Theoria, and must now face a new plague sweeping through his kingdom and killing his citizens. The last thing he needs is a troublesome servant vying for his attention. But mistress Sepora will not be ignored. When the two finally meet face-to-face, they form an unlikely bond that complicates life in ways neither of them could have imagined.

Sepora's gift could save Tarik's kingdom from the Quiet Plague. But should she trust her growing feelings for her nemesis, or should she hide her gifts at all costs?

Makeup Look Inspired by Sepora

For my makeup look, I wanted to incorporate the Egyptian influence on this book as well as the fact that Sepora is a Forger. The spectorium she forges is used for energy and can be used as a weapon. When I think of energy, I think of electricity, so I fused a lightning-like zig zag to the side of the eye with what ancient Egyptian eyeliner would look like. I kept with metal tones because of the cover as well as the fact that she can be used as a weapon.

In terms of how this look was accomplished, I used my all time favorite liquid eyeliner: Kat Von D's Tattoo Liner. It's a brush tip pen-style eyeliner, and I love how it allows me to use liquid liner without having to dip the brush back into the pot. I also used pointed q-tips with Urban Decay's Primer Potion to clean up the edges if I over drew one of the lines. Both of the eyeshadows I used are from the Too Faced Pretty Rebel palette.


As part of the blog tour, Anna Banks is giving away a finished copy of Nemesis and $25 Ulta gift card at each stop. All you have to do to enter is fill out the Rafflecopter below! This giveaway is US only, and is open through October 10th. You must be 13 or older to enter or have a parent enter for you. The winner will be selected shortly after and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Additionally, one person will be selected to be entered to win a tour wide grand prize of an Egyptian bib collar necklace or silver Serpen armband. Best of luck to all who enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Tales of the Peculiar - Ransom Riggs

Tales of the Peculiar
Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, 0.5
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I've mentioned on more than a few occasions how invested I am in the world of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children so it should come as no shock that I preordered this new addition to the series forever ago.

Tales of the Peculiar is to the Miss Peregrine's universe what Grimms' Fairy Tales are to this one. The ten stories are a collection of folklore featuring peculiars, and they're all told a little bit differently -- a clear fairytale, a life lesson, a hidden message.

I didn't know a short, standalone story collection like this was something I wanted or needed until I read this but now that I have, I can't believe I lived without one for so long.

The writing is absolutely phenomenal. Each story has its own tone, but there is an overarching style that makes the book feel cohesive and not just like a few stories thrown together. It flowed super well and there was a cadence to the writing that made even the macabre parts of the stories seem compelling rather than shocking.

The stories themselves were captivating and I loved that Ransom Riggs took this opportunity to go somewhere new. In the series, he is bound by the rules of his own plot, but here, there are no rules. These are short, standalone stories. One of my favorite aspects of the series itself actually is just the concept of the peculiars and the writing of the books so combining both these things into a book that doesn't need to follow a plot or the rules of one was super exciting for me. There was a story about a princess and about a ghost (side note: I love ghosts (also princesses)) and about the origin of ymbrynes and they took place all over the world so it was a really cool experience reading all the stories. The book is really short too -- the ten stories take up 160 pages total and it's easy to read in one short sitting.

Als, the book is narrated by Millard Nullings (who you'll recognize if you've read the series) and his character offers annotations in the form of footnotes throughout the stories. I thought this was a really nice touch and added to the reading experience.

If you're a fan of the series already, I think you should definitely read this book. It has all the elegant writing of Miss Peregrine's but with fun, new one-off stories that I don't see how anyone could dislike. If you haven't read the series, I personally would read it before reading Tales of the Peculiar, if only for a little background info (also I just like reading things in order), but if you don't have that kinda time or inclination, you can definitely still read it on its own without feeling confused!

Basically, I love it and you should all read it. On an end note, the physical book itself is beautiful and whether you buy it or not, please go admire a copy right now. It's green with a gold leaf print embossed onto the hardcover (rather than a book jacket) and it's got beautiful pages and inside print and I just love everything about this book. If I wasn't on my computer I'd put several crying emojis here.

- Noor

What's your favorite fairytale/folktale?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: Mosquitoland - David Arnold

David Arnold
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Viking Children's
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I bought this a long-ish time ago (it's definitely been like a year) and always intended to read it while traveling -- because it's a book where the protagonist takes a 947 mile road trip and I'm all about symbolism. And I'd always bring it on every flight I took and every road trip and I just never got around to reading it (I always bring lots of options on trips and just kept picking different books). However, this past August, I road tripped to New York (I live in North Carolina if you're new) and finally read it!

Just like me, David Arnold seems to love symbolism and metaphors because this book was full of them. It centers around Mim Malone, a 16 year old girl who runs away with the emergency money she steals from her stepmom's dresser drawer and hops on a Greyhound from Mississippi (where she lives) to Ohio (where her mom lives). Even though it's been a little while since I've finished it, I'm still not totally sure how I feel about this book.

The writing was definitely the best part. It's told through first-person by Mim and interspersed are letters she's writing to her aunt Isabel as the trip goes on. Mim had a really unique voice and a lot of the book was Inner Monologue (which I thought was cool and worked with this book) that served to teach us about her character and "the whys behind her whats." I've seen a lot of the negative reviews of this book call the writing "wannabe John Green" but I feel like that's an unfair way of looking at it -- just because someone writes a contemporary novel with an "odd" character doesn't mean they're trying to be John Green. As much as I love him, he didn't invent the Quirky Protagonist. Anyway, I didn't make the connection while reading but if you like John Green's books and are wondering if you should read this: I think the writing style might appeal to you but the book as a whole package is something a little different so that's just a matter of personal taste.

Anyway, the writing really was beautiful and flowed exquisitely and I really just liked the way David Arnold strung words together. It was for sure my favorite aspect of this book.

There actually isn't that much in regard to plot, which is why I think the inner monologue works. A heavy plot and a constant inner monologue would be way too much. The book is just a coming-of-age type thing where she goes on a trip and meets people and learns from them and Weird and Unexpected Complications arise. If you don't like light plots and need something super involved with like crazy plot twists and hella foreshadowing this is maybe not the book for you. This is mostly just shit happening and rolling with the punches. For the most part I didn't feel bored or anything but there was a chunk around the end that felt kinda slow and where I wished it'd hurry along.

I read Mosquitoland essentially in two chunks and while I was reading, I really liked everything, but when it was over I was a little confused about how I felt. I think I was just enamored by the writing style and didn't pay attention to much else and then when it wore off I had time to process. One of the confusing things is Mim herself. She's an unlikable protagonist, but not in the way that makes you hate a book. Like, I've definitely reviewed books where I couldn't stand the book because the main character was just so insufferable and this isn't like that. This is more of a Catcher in the Rye situation where you know Holden Caulfield is a jerk but you still appreciate the book. Mim is very 16 but very much believes that she transcends what it means to be 16. Sometimes, her oddities do make her a character you can like and appreciate, like getting seven scoops of ice cream at a pit stop just because she can, but sometimes they kinda miss the mark, like when she basically goes on a Not Like Other Girls tangent. She also is kinda mean to Walt, her friend/traveling-companion who has Down syndrome. (They have a third companion, a 21(ish) year old named Beck who Mim is highkey in love with but thankfully he has enough common sense to understand how young 16 is).

Mim is also definitely an unreliable narrator, which you understand right from the get-go. She talked a lot about her dad and stepmom forcing her to see a psychiatrist for psychosis and delusions, just like her aunt, and I thought that was gonna play a bigger part in the plot and kept like watching to see which characters interacted with which ones (honestly every time I read a book I always assume someone is gonna be dead or not real the whole time I'm the worst). I kinda wish it'd been elaborated on more.

Overall, I enjoyed the story and loved the writing style. There were a few awkward and questionable parts but the characters were all unique --not just Mim; I know I didn't touch on side characters much but they were all great. I think it's definitely worth a read but it might not be everyone's cup of tea. I'll definitely be looking out for David Arnold's other works!

- Noor

Where's your next road trip destination?
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn - Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath & the Dawn
Renee Ahdieh
Series: The Wrath and the Dawn, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy, Retelling
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

I don't even know how to start talking about this book. It gave me so much more than I asked it for; it blew my expectations out of the water. I've always thought 1001 Nights was an interesting tale and because it's so old and so interesting there are many attempts at retellings -- some popular, some not so much. I remember last year this came out just slightly before A Thousand Nights and everyone was comparing the two which is unfair to both books but inevitable nonetheless and I read the other one first and was Not Impressed and did not want the impression of that one to influence my feelings about this so I didn't prioritize it and now I'm hella late to the game but I just read it this past July and I cannot stress enough how amazing I thought it was!!!!!!!

Everything in this book has so much passion -- the writing, the characters, the story. It's so beautifully executed. If you're unfamiliar with the story, it centers around Shahrzad, who vengefully volunteers to be the bride of Khalid, an 18 year old boy-king who takes a new bride every night -- her best friend having been taken the previous night -- and kills each one with a silk cord around her neck the next morning. She stalls her fate by telling him a story and leaving it unfinished, making him wait until the next day, forcing him to keep her alive night after night.

Shahrzad has such a fire in her that was so refreshing to read. I'm really not entirely sure how to describe her because she's very perceptive but very stubborn and sometimes rash and just a combination of so many traits that it's hard to describe her in terms other than herself, ya feel??? Mostly, she's just full of wit and full of thoughts.

Honestly, every single character in this book was so well written. It was beautifully done. The point of view shifts between various characters, from Shahrzard to Khalid to her dad to some other people we meet throughout the book and it really gives insight into the bigger picture of what's going on and also what was happening before she got to the palace and what's happening elsewhere and all this other cool stuff and I never once felt like I was bored of one POV and it was dragging or that it was extraneous, so this book was really well put together.

Also, speaking of how the book was put together, the writing was!!!! so!!!! beautiful!!! Honestly, I knew from the prologue this book would be eloquent because one of the first few lines is "They watched the pale light of the early morning sun push back the darkness with slow, careful deliberation," and just try and tell me that isn't one of the best ways you've heard a sunrise being described. There are lots of other quotes I saved but for concision's sake I will leave them out and you can read them in the book yourself because reading this review is a promise that you will read it (if you have not already).

I realize I led into the well-written characters and kinda side-tracked into something else so I'll just talk character highlights:

I already mentioned how much I love Shahrzad, but Despina -- her handmaiden -- is just perfect. She's like a sassy lil grape. I love that she refuses to take any of Shahrzad's shit and is constantly sassing her; their relationship makes me so happy. I also super love Jalal -- Khalid's cousin and commander of the guard. I love his friendship/brotherly-relationship with Khalid and I love him as a person and I think if there were anyone I'd want teaching me how to shoot a bow and arrow, it'd be him. Speaking of Khalid, I really liked the way he started off closed-off and standoffish and slowly warmed up to Shahrzard. He's a sweetie in a bad situation and I can't wait to see more of him in the next book. Also, I want to see more of her dad, who highkey went crazy looking for magic things but that's neither here nor there. And I want to see less of Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, who feels entitled to her and is Not Impressive.

I hope there isn't a love triangle with Tariq in the next book, less because it's a love triangle and more because Tariq just makes me uncomfortable. The romance otherwise was honestly well done. In the beginning, I was a little iffy about it because I felt like they jumped from hatred to Not Hatred kinda quickly but there were also some time skips (not long ones, like one or two days) so it wasn't like Weird or anything. Other than that, I thought the progression was so natural and I especially liked Shahrzad's constant questioning of her morals and how this affected them and her reasons for coming her because I really felt like it grounded her as a character.

Besides the romance, the other plot aspects were phenomenal. The magic was subtle but integrated in so well and I hope to see more of it in the next book because I think it could be something cool to explore. The pacing started off moderately fast and then got kinda slow and then packed a lot in the final few chapters, but they were so good and so intense that I didn't find myself caring whether or not the change in pace was brought on suddenly.

Anyway, this is getting super long so I hope you guys appreciate my attempt to keep my emotions in check and give you a coherent review (I feel like I succeeded tbh). I seriously highly recommend this book and hope you all read it.

Side note: the book was fantastic, but I also hella loved the ~story-within-a-story~ parts that Shahrzad was telling Khalid and I wish there were more but I am also very satisfied with the way they were done and how much of the book they were incorporated into.

- Noor

What's the craziest thing you've done for your best friend?
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