Review: “All the Bad Apples” by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

p-3Title: All the Bad Apple
Author:
Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Publication Date: August 1, 2019 (UK) August 27 (US)
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content Warnings: Homophobia (challenged), suicide (supposed), rape (incestuous & of other minors), murder & arson (implied), institutionalization, forced labor, abuse (physical, mental & emotional), abortion, forced separation of mother & child
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

  ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

One teen-aged girl’s quest to find her missing sister uncovers more than she expects. Family secrets and curses, and a country’s unspoken history fuel this brutally emotional contemporary by Moïra Fowley-Doyle.

When Deena’s wild and mysterious sister Mandy disappears – presumed dead – her family are heartbroken. But Mandy has always been troubled. It’s just another bad thing to happen to Deena’s family. Only Deena refuses to believe it’s true.

And then the letters start arriving. Letters from Mandy, claiming that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions – but a curse, handed down through the generations. Mandy has gone in search of the curse’s roots, and now Deena must find her. What they find will heal their family’s rotten past – or rip it apart forever.

There are stories that just grip you and crush you into tiny little pieces. All the Bad Apples was one of those stories for me.

All the Bad Apples is a force of its own. Combining contemporary and magical realism, its story weaves together intergenerational stories of the women of the Rys family – a long history deeply rooted and intertwined with Ireland’s own unspoken history of Catholic fundamentalism, discrimination, and institutional abuse.

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Queer representation

Though there wasn’t much racial diversity in this story (Finn is the only black character in the book. The rest were white,) queer representation is not a problem for this standalone. The main character, Deena, and her possible love interest Cale are both lesbians. Finn, Deena’s best friend. Mary Ellen, Deena’s great-great-grandmother, and Ann, Cale’s great-great-great-great-aunt, were in a relationship. Before that, Mary Ellen was with Deena’s philandering great-great-grandfather.

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Nitty and gritty

All the Bad Apples tackles some of the toughest issues there is – homophobia, sexual abuse, and abortion to name a few – but it doesn’t pussyfoot. Fowley-Doyle addresses these issues in a very straightforward manner, her words sharply honed to get to the very core of things. This fitted the story and helped propel her narrative on the right ground.

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Rage, rage, rage

“This novel was, in part, fueled by rage,” Moïra Fowley-Doyle wrote in her author’s note, and, indeed, rage was a palpable and dominant emotion throughout the whole story. It was hard not to feel fist-clenchingly angry with what all the women – not just the Rys’ – went through in this story.

It was not just anger that I felt though.

This book dragged me through a whole range of emotions, back and forth several times over. I felt disgusted at the way men objectified and used women, treating them like objects that can be discarded at any time they pleased; felt sadness and betrayal when families turned their backs on daughters because they don’t conform to their notion of right and normal; shame at the righteousness of the people who deemed themselves the interpreters of God’s word and will – more so because, like them, I’m also Catholic.

But at the end of it all, hope.

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The ending definitely was a satisfying one, having gone through a rollercoaster of emotions to get to it. Fowley-Doyle definitely succeeded in making readers feel what her characters feel, using Deena as a touchpoint through which her audience experienced her fictional piece of the world.

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All the Bad Apples is a powerful story. Though the characters and places are fictional, the history peppered throughout the pages of this novel has happened to real people. This is one book that should be read by everyone.

about the author

p-4MOÏRA FOWLEY-DOYLE is half-French, half-Irish and made of equal parts feminism, whimsy, and Doc Martens. She lives in Dublin where she writes magic realism, reads tarot cards and raises witch babies.

Moïra’s first novel, The Accident Season, was shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize & the North East Teen Book Awards, nominated for the Carnegie Medal & won the inaugural School Library Association of Ireland Great Reads Award. It received two starred reviews & sold in ten territories. Her second novel, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, was published in summer 2017, received a starred review from School Library Journal and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr

Giveaway

Win one (1) of three (3) copies of All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. Open to UK/Ireland only.

Giveaway starts August 22nd and ends September 5th.

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The Book Bratz – Interview
In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
Rants and Raves of a Bibliophile – Review + Favourite Quotes
Bookish Looks – Promotional Post

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The Clever Reader – Interview
Hauntedbybooks – Review + Favourite Quotes
L.M.Durand – Promotional Post

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The Baroness of Books – Review + Favourite Quotes
Story-eyed Reviews – Review
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review + Playlist + Dream Cast
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Downright Dystopian – Review + Favourite Quotes
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A Book Addict’s Bookshelves – Promotional Post

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Utopia State of Mind – Review + Favourite Quotes
Dazzled by Books – Review
Portrait of a Book – Review
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Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Corner for All – Review + Playlist
Boook Beach Bunny – Review
Kait Plus Books – Promotional Post
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Review: “How the Light Gets In” by Katy Upperman

pTitle: How the Light Gets In
Author: Katy Upperman
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Content Warnings: Drug use, alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, grief, ineffective coping
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

A YA contemporary featuring a sweet summer romance and a touch of the paranormal, Katy Upperman’s new offering How the Light Gets In is a perfect beachside read.

Since her sister’s tragic death, seventeen-year-old Callie Ryan has basically given up. Her grades have plummeter, she’s quit her swim team, and she barely recognizes the peope her parents once were.

When she returns to her aunt’s run-down coastal Victorian one year after Chloe’s death, Callie resigns herself to a summer of guilt and home renovations. She doesn’t expect to be charmed by the tiny coastal town or by Tucker Morgan, a local boy brimming with sunshine.

But even as her days begin to brighten, Callie’s nights are crowded with chilling dreams, unanswered questions, and eerie phenomenon that have her convinced she’s being haunted. Will Callie be able to figure out what her sister is trying to communicate before it’s too late?

This is my first book from Katy Upperman, but I can safely say that I will be coming back for more.

How the Light Gets In mixes contemporary charm with paranormal mysticism built on the bittersweet foundations of love, loss, and grief. Emotion-charged straight off page one, this story is set to tug, pull and pluck at your heartstrings and leave you contemplating just how precious moments with your loved ones truly are.

I enjoyed this book a whole lot even though it took a while before I really got into it. Once I did though, there was no turning back. I fell in love with the setting, the characters, and their relationships, at the honesty and realness with which the author portrayed grief and loss in this story.

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Real and honest

How the Light Gets In showed grief with an almost visceral realness – how people’s handling of it differs in varying ways, how sometimes grief and loss can drive a person to grab at whatever thing will make the pain go away no matter how temporary, and how you can still mourn and search for someone even if they’ve long been gone…even if you’ve never known them.

I felt for Callie, her mother and father, and Lucy. Losing a sister – a daughter, someone who has so much more ahead of them – is a tough loss that took something from all of them.

I felt for Tucker. Having lost his mother without even knowing her, and having a father who’s reluctant to even tell him a smidge about the woman who bore him left him with questions and made him mistrustful.

As someone who has lost a number of loved ones, this one is something that deeply resonated with me. Grief plays a crucial role in the plot of this story. It is a delicate topic, but one handled well and with much sensitivity.

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Small-town charm

I don’t usually mind a story’s setting much. I trust the author to build her story, its world, place her characters in the setting she deems will best serve her narrative. For this one though, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with Bell Cove and it’s coastal small-town charm. There’s just something magical, at the same time eerie about it especially thinking the paranormal elements this novel has. It’s just perfect!

A ghost story & a mystery

This was a bonus I never expected to get from this book. Yes, the blurb hinted at a bit of a ghost story, but that’s selling it short. It plays a slightly bigger role and totally gives this story an added dimension. The inclusion of small-town mystery – the intrigue and rumors surrounding it included – was a welcome and fresh addition.

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Family, friendship & love

It wasn’t an immediate connection, but I grew to adore Callie. There’s a vulnerability in her at the same time that there is a hidden, undiscovered strength. Tucker, meanwhile, first appeared to be Callie’s opposite – the bright sunshine to her gloomy raincloud. As the story progressed though, I just couldn’t help but see how much similarities they have – they’ve both lost people, both still grieving. It was beautiful reading how they discover these similarities bit by bit and use it as a common ground to begin something new that’s just for both of them.

Another thing I loved was Callie’s, and by extension Tucker’s, interaction with the rest of the characters in this book, most especially with Lucy because she’s one of my favorites. More than an aunt, she’s like an older sister for Callie, and like her, is also swallowed up in guilt after Chloe’s death (although she copes with it in a different way.)

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Overall, How the Light Gets In is an enjoyable read that perfectly blends summer romance and paranormal mystery. It has its flaws, yes. It starts slow, and at times it meanders through unneeded introspection. But there’s much more to love in this one that I overlooked them and focused on the good stuff instead. I’d definitely recommend this to YA contemporary readers who love a bit of mystery (and a ghost story).

about the author

p

KATY UPPERMAN is a wife, mama, author, reader, baker, and wanderer. She writes novels for teens and teens at heart. She’s a Washington State University alum (go Cougs!), a country music fanatic, and a makeup stockpiler. She loves the ocean, pedicures, sunshine, Instagram, Dirty Dancing and The Princess Bride, Jelly Bellies, true crime documentaries, and Friday Night Lights.

Katy’s debut novel, Kissing Max Holden, was published August 1, 2017, and her sophomore effort, The Impossibility of Us, released July 31, 2018. Her third novel, How the Light Gets In, will be out August 6, 2019. All three books are with Swoon Reads/Macmillan. She’s represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Agency.

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Win a copy of Katy Upperman’s “How the Light Gets In” and some swag. Open INTERNATIONAL.

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Flipping Through the Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes

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Phannie the ginger bookworm – Review + Favourite Quotes
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Bemused Bibliophile – Promotional Post

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Wishful Endings – Interview
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Bookishly Nerdy – Review
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The Reading Life  – Promotional Post

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The Clever Reader – Review + Favourite Quotes
Book Rambler – Review
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In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
A Dream Within A Dream – Promotional Post

AUGUST 18TH

L.M. Durand – Interview
Cafeyre – Review + Favourite Quotes
Booked J – Review
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Mini-reviews: “The Impossible Girl” and “A Beautiful Poison” by Lydia Kang

I’ve been reading book after book in the last couple of months, but have neglected writing reviews for them as usual. I’m going to rectify that starting with these two books that I’ll be reviewing in this mini-reviews post.

I read The Impossible Girl and A Beautiful Poison back in April when I was on my free trial of Kindle Unlimited. I enjoyed both of these two as they both appealed to the history nerd in me and the medical professional that I am. The crime mystery element weaved into these two books was another thing I really liked about these books.

Given all their similarities though, these two books stand well apart from each other. And me being me, might just prefer one over the other a little bit more.

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Title: The Impossible Girl
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens – dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts – a legend amnog grave robbers and anatomists – sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

This book was immensely interesting especially with all the medical bits and pieces thrown into the narrative. I ended up on an hour’s worth of research rabbit hole after this, reading more about resurrectionists and the history of anatomy (which was intriguing and gruesome and brow-raising at varying measures.)

But, more than the fascinating history of the time, it was the characters that got me. Cora was just such a strong main character. She’s wily, smart and cunning, but she’s also vulnerable, closed-off. Theo, while immediately appearing to be the opposite of Cora’s grey cloud personality, has secrets of his own. Together, these two form a formidable bond that had me rooting for them right until the very end.

This was a carefully crafted story full of twists and turns. The end actually took me by surprise in a good way. I never expected the ending to happen the way it happened, but when I finally got to it, I realized that it has been hinted to all throughout the book. It’s a testament to Lydia Kang’s subtle plotting, something that I very much appreciated.

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Title: A Beautiful Poison
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many vicims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned – and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her close to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone – even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

A Beautiful Poison was just as interesting as The Impossible Girl. Lydia Kang again uses her medical background and history – the Gilded Age this time – to create a vivid backdrop to her story.

However, I felt like the author just pulled on a bit too much in this one – looping in WWI, the Spanish Flu into this story’s collection of strings. I love plot twists like any other reader does but, with this one, it felt overdone, unnecessarily overcomplicated. It didn’t help that the relationship between the three main characters – Allene, Jasper, and Birdie – was already complex in itself. The three have their own agendas and constantly maneuvered over and around one another just so they get what they want simply because they want it. They aren’t exactly the kind of characters you’ll root for, and I didn’t. I, maybe, felt a bit of empathy but I didn’t care enough about them even after the book ended.

What kept me reading, however, is the mystery – the whodunnit part – that I think was still well done. Piecing together the clues dropped in between dialogues and scenes kept my mind turning. The final twist in this story was a total surprise.

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Both books, though classed as adult fiction, have great crossover appeal. Teens and young adults will just as easily love them. I definitely would recommend them to mystery and historical fiction readers.

Review: “The Merciful Crow” by Margaret Owen

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Title: The Merciful Crow
Series: The Merciful Crow #1
Author: Margaret Owen
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Publisher: Henry Holt (BYR)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

A solid story from start to finish, debuting author Margaret Owen tackles discrimination head-on in The Merciful Crow.

A future chieftain
Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect the royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.
A fugitive prince
When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses – and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.
A too-cunning bodyguard
Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?

This book took me by surprise in all the best ways.

Rich and immersive, The Merciful Crow is everything I wanted in a Fantasy and more. An intriguing story set in a unique universe starring diverse characters in an epic quest – this is the kind of book that’ll take you by the scruff your shirt and drag you inside its world not caring if you’re ready for it or not.

Margaret Owen writes with a razor-sharp and unyielding – which fits TMC. From the get-go, she immediately sets the tone and pace of the story with a punchy first line, sustaining it right to the very end. Her characters, all from diverse backgrounds, appearances, and gender identities, take readers on a high-stakes quest across their kingdom. It was a frame after frame of action that kept me on my toes (and kept me turning the pages.)

But more than those obvious bits, there’s just so much more to The Merciful Crow and it’s these elements that make this book stand out.

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A well-built world and a unique magic system

This is the first thing that really stood out for me. It was obvious the careful planning that went into the making of this story’s universe. Owen crafted an expansive kingdom of diverse peoples; a kingdom where a person’s birthright determines their fate – caste, trade, and magic included.

The Merciful Crow quote #1

It’s a fictional world that still feels pretty much like ours. You could easily draw out real-world parallels – the Hindu caste system and the bubonic plague immediately came to my mind when I started this book – which helped with filling out the minute details.

The bigger elements though, like the details about each group’s magic and how it works, were seamlessly woven into the narrative and it made for a smoother flow of the story. No info dump here, whatsoever!
A story that bites

The Merciful Crow takes an unflinching look at discrimination and systematic prejudice. The kingdom’s caste system provides a rich ground for inequality to grow and fester, with people thinking their caste being above others by basis of birthright alone. The Oleander Gentry – something that just reminds me so much of the KKK with their white cloaks and masks – and the power-hungry Queen Rhusana capitalizes on their people’s prejudices to advance their own agendas.

The Merciful Crow quote #2

TMC hits close to home, probably too close. A hard truth as it is, the things that the Crows – being the lowest caste – suffer in this story is the reality of a lot of people in our world. I very much appreciate how the author handled these topics. She was harsh when the story called for harsh and empathetic when the story called for empathy, never sugarcoating anything. It was this that made this story more real to me.
A feisty female protagonist you can rage with

Hands down, Owen did a great job with her characters. All of them are fleshed out, their mannerisms and actions, the way the relationships between characters developed were very organic – realistic. Still, somehow, Fie just really sets herself apart.

Fie is one angry lady and, I say, she has every right to.

The Merciful Crow quote #3

Being a Crow, Fie has seen and experienced just about all the injustices the higher castes threw down their way. Her mother was brutally murdered by the Oleanders, the same people who seek their help with the plague won’t even pay them their due. Nevertheless, despite these, Fie’s spirit remains unbroken. She refuses to accept things as they are and will do her damndest to change the status quo for herself and the Crows.

Fie’s such a powerful character, one you’ll root for to win. In a plot-driven story, she broke through and made me feel whatever she was feeling, and that’s a testament to how Owen wrote her character.

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I absolutely loved The Merciful Crow. It’s a unique story that just feels so real perhaps because of the hard issues it tackled.

This one read like a standalone with pretty much of the plot threads tied up as cleanly as the author could have, but I’m happy to get another installment next year. The ending leaves enough space for a continuation. I certainly want to see how things pan out for Fie and Tavin, Jasimir, and the Crows. This is definitely a must-read!

about the author

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Born and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, MARGARET OWEN first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.

The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked in everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.

Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page and negotiating a long-term hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.

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Review: “The Storm Crow” by Kalyn Josephson

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Title: The Storm Crow
Series: The Storm Crow #1
Author: Kalyn Josephson
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Rating:
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Magic flies high in this first half of a planned duology by debut author Kalyn Josephson.

In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.

That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.

But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.

I will be honest here. I deliberately kept on pushing back writing this review. I can’t tell you how many Word documents I’ve opened and closed, how many false starts and scrapped drafts I went through before finally bringing myself to write this.

And, yet, I still feel guilty.

On the surface, The Storm Crow had everything I like in a Fantasy – an interesting premise, an intriguing world with diverse peoples and culture, heaps of adventure. The promise of a heroine battling depression (because it is an everyday battle) was another draw. Never mind that the plot has been done countless of times, I wanted to see a character who openly admits to having depression lead a story. But, somehow, even with all these, this book fell flat.

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A lot of telling, not much showing

This was the first problem I had with this book. Being the first of a planned two-book series, there was a substantial amount of worldbuilding to be done. I get that, anticipated it. What I didn’t expect was being told stuff – about the characters, the world they move around in, the lives they and their people live.

There’s a reason why when you look up writing advice show, don’t tell is one of the first tips you get. Being told of what’s happening, how everything works and looks made for bland storytelling and, I hate to say this, it bored me, led me to put down the book several times.

The Storm Crow quote #1

Background image by Tran Nguyen

A story lost in its own world

Not to take anything away from worldbuilding – it is an important component of any story, especially if you’re writing Fantasy and Sci-Fi – but when you put too much focus on it, the story you are trying to tell gets lost in the middle of all the bricks of your world. This is exactly the case with The Storm Crow.

Perhaps Josephson bit more than she can chew, but I don’t think it’s because TSC’s worldbuilding was particularly ambitious. In my opinion, the issue here was control. The author put in too much, and while I appreciate the diversity worked into the characters and their world, I think it would have been better if she trimmed down on the details. The book was bloated with chunk after chunk of worldbuilding elements and it eclipsed the story.

Pacing (or the lack of it)

This issue sort springs from the first two I’ve already mentioned. The author’s focus on worldbuilding, which was unremarkable in the first place, screwed up the whole story’s pacing. It was so slow that it took my focus out of what’s happening with Thia and the other characters. It was, in short, boring.

The Storm Crow quote #2

Nothing happens

With the exception of a few surprises, you literally only have to read the book’s summary to know what happens in this half of the duology. That’s it, end of story.

Wooden characters

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the representation and diversity worked into TSC. If anything, it was the promise of a protagonist battling depression that hooked me in the first place, and yes, her having depression is an integral part of Thia’s character but it felt so clinical, like rattling off a list of signs and symptoms from a textbook.  She felt like a talking head, her character so dull that by the end of the book I didn’t really care what happens to her.

The Storm Crow quote #3

As for the rest of the characters, I couldn’t say much about them because I didn’t get to know them at all. They were barely fleshed out, their characterizations felt superficial. I think the only character who managed to somehow retain my attention was Kiva, but even her character needs more work.

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To sum up, The Storm Crow could have been a good book. Kalyn Josephson shows promise and she does, I feel, have a story to tell with Thia, the magical crows and this curious world she created. This book just needed more work. As to whether or not I will read the last half of this two-book series? Maybe, if only to feed my desire to know what happens next, but it wouldn’t be high on my list.

about the author

Kalyn Josephson

KALYN JOSEPHSON currently works as a Technical Writer in the tech industry, which leaves room for too many bad puns about technically being a writer. Though she grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, she graduated from Santa Clara University with a degree in Biology and a degree in English (Creative Writing). Currently, she lives in the Bay Area with four awesome friends (because it’s the Bay Area and she’d like to be able to retire one day) and two black cats (who are more like a tiny dragon and an ever tinier owl). THE STORM CROW is her debut novel.

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Review: “Bright Burning Stars” by A.K. Small

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Title: 
Bright Burning Stars
Author: 
A.K. Small
Publication Date: 
April 24, 2019
Publisher:
 Algonquin Young Readers
Rating: ⭐
Get it:
IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks
Content Warnings:
body dysmorphia, severe disordered eating, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, drug use, grief

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

 

Two best friends find themselves in opposite sides of a competition in this compelling debut set in the dazzling world of ballet.

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. and as selection day draws near, the competition – for the prize, for the Demigod – becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

I remember reading the blurb of this book and thinking how interesting it was. A dead body, two best friends in a very cutthroat ballet school, a love triangle – it was like sweet nectar to a honeybee and I fell for it.

Bright Burning Stars was a letdown.

I desperately wanted to love this book, but there were just too many things in it that left a bitter taste in my mouth. Everything from the characters to the story’s pacing down to the way certain arcs were handled and resolved felt off to me. So much so that even if there were still parts of the story that I liked, I just couldn’t shake off the funny (and infuriating) feeling this book left me with.

If I were to only look at this book as solely a ballet story, Bright Burning Stars would have been a good one. Having been a former dance herself, A.K. Small was able to bring to life the drama and the competitiveness of life at a topnotch ballet school. All the best parts – parts that I loved – were contained in these short, sporadic scenes. Small’s exacting descriptions of every step and movement the dancers, especially Kate, Marine and Cyrille, made created a vivid picture in my head.

It was all downhill from there.

This was supposed to be a quick read – just 304 pages. I could have finished reading it in one sitting, yet it took me 13 days to get through the whole thing, and I put part of the blame on the wonky writing.

The pacing, for me, lacked the rhythm this story called for – it slowed in the parts that needed speeding up and careened in the parts that needed more fleshing out. It totally doesn’t help that the characters – both main and secondary – were all shallowly drawn, caricatures made of shadows instead of solid lines. I couldn’t help but think just how big of a misstep this was both for the author and the story. Small, at the best moments of this book, showed great talent. She writes with a certain clarity and sharpness, and with a plot this interesting, she could have done a great deal more.

While the conclusion was satisfying enough, I just couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling this book gave me especially with the way it handled some things. I get that this was a story about toxic friendship, and that it dealt with dark, heavy topics, but it could have been handled better. Instead, all of it felt like mere plot points and not integral parts of the characters’ stories.

Overall, Bright Burning Stars could have a been a better story. Some might find something here for themselves, but for me, this just didn’t work.

about the author

Angela Small credit _Becky Thurner BraddockA.K. SMALL was born in Paris, France. At first years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States, where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

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Review: “Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon” by Mary Fan

Stronger than a Bronze DragonTitle: Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon
Author: Mary Fan
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Imprint: Page Street Kids
Publisher: Macmillan
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

An epic, adventure-filled steampunk fantasy, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon is sure to take readers on a hero’s quest full of magic, danger, and action.

When a powerful viceroy arrives with a fleet of mechanical dragons and stops an attack on Anlei’s village, the villagers see him as godssend. They agree to give him their sacred, enchanted River Pearl in exchange for permanent protection – if he’ll marry one of the village girls to solidify the alliance. Anlei is appalled when the viceroy selects her as a bride, but with the fate of her people at stake, she sees no choice but to consent. Anlei’s noble plans are sent into a tailspin, however, when a young thief steals the River Pearl for himself.

Knowing the viceroy won’t protect her village without the jewel, she takes matters into her own hands. But once she catches the thief, she discovers he needs the pearl just as much as she does. The two embark on an epic quest across the land and into the Courts of Hell, taking Anlei on a journey that reveals more is at stake than she could have ever imagined.

I must admit, steampunk is one of the subgenres that I haven’t been exposed to much. So when I saw this book, I took my chance. And boy, it was more than worth it.

From plot to setting to characters, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon was and had everything I wanted in a Fantasy. It threw together a mix of elements I never thought would go so well together – magic, lore, machines – all played in a backdrop inspired by Qing dynasty China. Mary Fan’s careful plotting shone throughout, all the twists and turns making the adventure joyride that was this book even more enjoyable.

But it didn’t start out that way for me.

While they ultimately ended up growing on me, for the first few chapters of the book Anlei and Tai seemed too troupe-y: Anlei playing the strong female character card who can and will kick anyone’s ass and Tai taking on the role of the charming but arrogant love interest. As the story progressed and their backstories were spilled though, I began to understand their motives and their nuances. Yes, Anlei is a tough girl, stubborn and incredibly capable but she’s also a daughter and a member of their small village’s community. She craved glory and adventure the same way her blood called for her to avenge her father’s murder, to protect her family, her village, and her people.

Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon quote #1

Tai, meanwhile, has a complicated history. Half-yueshen (pure spiritual beings who has free reign over the moon) and half-human, I think he doesn’t really know his place in the world. The yueshen won’t accept him into their realm because he’s half-breed, while his father hid him, foisting his care onto his servants. He likes to think the best of the family left to him and uses laughter and humor as both an armor and mask to hide behind.

It was wonderful watching Anlei and Tai grow close to each other. Even though they started out as begrudging allies (more from Anlei’s side rather than Tai’s,) the two eventually discover that they have more in common than they first thought. Both have noble causes, and the subsequent trials and hardships they faced together only served to peel back more and more layers of their characters. I couldn’t help but like them.

Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon quote #2

Though this was a mostly solid story, there were still a few details that could have been improved. The villain, Viceroy Kang, comes to mind immediately. As the main antagonist, he was typical – power-hungry and cruel – and unimpressive. It was a shallow rendering of a character that’s supposed to provoke our protagonists into taking action. His motivations were only briefly touched, and it left me with a few unanswered questions: Had he always planned the things he’d done even before he married Tai’s yueshen mother? Is that why he caught her and married her in the first place? I can live with these questions, but they’re just pesky enough to bug me.

Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon quote #3

The quick pace combined with the number of plot threads Fan tossed into the story could also sometimes be overwhelming. There were just too much happening at one single time, and, admittedly, I had to put the book down a couple of times to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.

Overall, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon was an exceptional stand-alone that blended together steampunk and fantasy. This was one of the most vividly and creatively imagined stories I’ve read in a while. Though there were a few parts that could have been improved, they were minor and didn’t hinder me from enjoying the book. This one comes with high recommendations from this self-confessed fantasy lover.

about the author

authorMARY FAN is a hopeless dreamer whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books – a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil.

Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.

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Giveaway

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Win a copy of Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan (US only.) Giveaway ends June 25.

Follow the Tour

JUNE 11TH

JUNE 12TH

NovelKnight – Interview
The Reading Corner for All – Review +  Favourite Quotes
Crowing About Books – Review +  Favourite Quotes
Caitlin Althea – Review

JUNE 13TH

Uwadis – Character Interview
Lost in Storyland – Review

JUNE 14TH

The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Inked In Book Blog – Review + Favourite Quotes

JUNE 15TH

The Bibliophile District – Guest Post
In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
A Court of Coffee and Books – Review + Favourite Quotes

JUNE 16TH

Kait Plus Books – Interview
Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
Port Jericho – Review

JUNE 17TH

Twilight Reader – Top 10
Utopia State of Mind – Guest Post
Betwixt the Pages – Review

 

Review: “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

42051103Title: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Imprint: Berkley
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest opinion.

 

Warm and touching, Roselle Tan’s debut touches on loss, family, culture, self-discovery and the healing power of food.

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around – she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.

There are those rare books that leave you feeling light and full all the same time. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is one of those books.

Deliciously magical and vibrant, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune was a treat to read. Roselle Tan weaved together a charming story that centers on family, community, and self-discovery using food a mediator – a bridge – between characters, bringing them together.

3

Loss – the dealing and accepting of it- is another theme central to this book. Having lost her mother right before the start of the story, Natalie had to deal with anger, loss, and grief. She hasn’t seen nor spoken to her mother in the whole seven years she was gone from their home in San Francisco, and the suddenness of her death understandably brought out some hidden resentments and, of course, regrets. It was heartwarming how Tan handled this part of her story, depicting with great care and love the nuances, values, and rituals of an Asian family.

2

Though Natalie carries the task of moving the story, the secondary characters added more color into the narrative. They are the community Natalie re-discovers and gains amidst her loss, and each one of them has their own thread in the story. Celia and Old Wu are the most memorable of these characters for me, and they were quite contrasting. Celia is such an open person, friendly and bright and vivacious. She takes in Natalie immediately, welcoming her into the fold and guiding her and re-introducing her to their old neighborhood. Old Wu, meanwhile, is a traditionalist. I’ll admit that I didn’t like him at first. He was too harsh Natalie and I felt that he judged her without even trying to get to know her. As the story went on and I got to know his connection with Natalie’s laolao, I understood where he was coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed reading parts where these two supporting characters appear and the difference between them only made them all the more fun to get to know.

1

While I loved most of this book, there were still a few things I thought could have been done better. The story meandered at times, spending too much time dwelling on one moment instead of moving on. The connection between plot threads also felt spotty at some points in the story, but perhaps the biggest issue I had was the romance. It was unnecessary and it felt like it was added as an afterthought. The story could have stood on its own without it. Daniel didn’t add much into it anyway, and I actually think Natalie talking about her ex-fiancé had more page-time than Daniel.

Overall, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune was an incredibly delightful read. This is not YA but could easily be enjoyed by a younger audience. It was such a heartwarming and delightful story about family and community. All the food mentions in this book will certainly make you hungry so take it from me and have some snacks handy by your side before reading this.

P.S. I’ll definitely try my hand at all the recipes in this book even if I know I’m a Celia and no Natalie. You’ll get the joke when you read this book.

about the author

Roselle LimROSELLE LIM was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She lived in north Scarborough in a diverse, Asian neighborhood.

She found her love of writing by listening to her lola (paternal grandmother’s) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels.

An artist by nature, she considers writing as “painting with words.”

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram

INTL Blog Tour + Review: “Stay a Little Longer” by Dawn Lanuza

Stay a Little Longer (Dawn Lanuza)

Title: Stay a Little Longer
Author: Dawn Lanuza
Publication Date: May 28, 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million | Kobo | iBooks

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.

 

A perfect romantic read, Dawn Lanuza’s Stay A Little Longer is sure to leave hearts beating faster and feeling just as full.

They were perfect strangers – all perks, no strings. Until they weren’t.

Elan wasn’t supposed to meet Caty. She lived halfway arounf the world, and he barely left Manila. Yet here he was, giving her a ride to the airport. Covinced that they would never have to see each other after that day, Elan and Caty started to bond over truths, dares, stolen kisses, and games in hotel rooms and bars.

With brief encounters that turned them from acquiantances to friends – tipping to the point of lovers, always – will Elan and Caty keep settling for a day, or will someone finally dare to stay long enough to discover: Is this love?

I have a confession.

I am just a little bit in love with Stay a Little Longer.

Okay, I lied. I’m in love with this book. Like a lot in love.

With a realistic storyline a lot of people would be able to relate to, likable and believable characters, and straightforward and succinct writing, there’s a lot to love in this little book. It was a quick read, with only 200++ pages. I managed to finish reading this within the same day I started it. But, even with its brevity, Dawn Lanuza made every page count. She wielded perfect control of the story’s pace, dropping hints for readers to pick up just enough to tease them and unloading revelations about the characters in all the right places. Maybe the third person perspective made me feel like there’s still somehow a transparent wall in between me and the characters, but nevertheless, it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story.

As much as I loved the writing though, it was the characters – Elan and Caty – who were the stars of this book.

Stay a Little Longer Quote #1

When we first meet Elan and Caty they were both in love with other people. Living in opposite halves of the world, the two wouldn’t have met but chance brought them together.

Caty and Elan couldn’t be more different from one another. She’s loud and sometimes brash, while he’s quiet and closed-off. However, as they began to get to know one another, the two discover unlikely similarities until what started off as awkward became familiar, instinctual even – strangers becoming friends then evolving into something more, always hovering over an invisible line.

I loved Caty and Elan. I think most people will find a bit of themselves in both characters. They were real and relatable, and so, so easy to like. I rooted for them from the get-go. They had great chemistry and their attraction was very obvious right from the beginning of the story. It was truly a treat watching these two come together in the end, frustrating and tough as it was at times.

Stay a Little Longer Quote #1 (1)

Stay a Little Longer perfectly captures the push and pull of falling in love – its sweetness and urgency, its mess and complications. It didn’t discount the difficulties of maintaining a long distance relationship, which I, as a person whose own LDR burned out, appreciated. The ending was perfect and entirely satisfying, a balm to my jaded heart.

This book has my highest recommendations. Romance and NA readers will definitely find it easy to fall in love with this one, but I think everyone else will find something in Stay a Little Longer that they will enjoy. I will definitely explore other #romanceclass titles after this.

About the Author

Dawn Lanuza

DAWN LANUZA writes contemporary romance, young adult fiction, and prose poetry. She has two first loves – music and writing – and is lucky enough to surround herself with them. She currently lives with her family and a very loved cream toy poodle.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

 

Follow the Tour

Check out the rest of these cool bloggers and their blogs for the rest of the Stay a Little Longer Blog Tour hosted by The Royal Polar Bear Reads and The Nocturnal Fey.

May 22

Erika @ The Nocturnal Fey

Rafael @ The Royal Polar Bear Reads

Jen @ Jen D Bibliophile

May 23

Angela @ Hiding Behind Books

Jenny @ Levicorpvs Blog

Alice @ Married to Books Reviews and Blog

May 24

Shaa @ Moonlight Pages

Cathrina @ Puggyreader Writes

Jennilyn @ Rurouni Jenni Reads

May 25

Ynnah @ The Youngvamp’s Haven

Bryan @ Bryan Hoards Books

Rachel @ In Between Book Pages

May 26

Naadhira @ legenbooksdary

Gerald @ Gerald the Bookworm

Danielle @ dmcireadsblog

May 27

Kat @ Reading After Ten

Princess @ Princess and Pages

Provocatrix @ Provocatrix

May 28

Kath @ The Last Reader

Jessica @ Endless Chapters

Rebecca @ Bookingway Reads 

And, to end this post, I’ll leave you with a song that reminds me just a little bit too much of Caty and Elan.

Review: “Romanov” by Nadine Brandes

Romanov (Nadine Brandes)

Title: Romanov
Author: Nadine Brandes
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Imprint: Thomas Nelson
Publisher: HarperCollins Christian Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: PublisherIndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.

A YA historical fiction with a magical spin, Nadine Brandes’ new work re-imagines the story of the youngest daughter of the family Romanov.

The history books say I died.
They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them…and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She liks him. She thinks he might even like her…

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad…and he’s on the other.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started on this book. Growing up on Disney’s Anastasia, I’ve long been fascinated with the unfortunate young Grand Duchess’ story. The thought of her escaping and surviving her family’s fate was a wishful thought, and I guess that was what I was hoping to read about.

Nadine Brandes, however, had other plans.

Romanov puts a magical spin to Anastasia’s re-imagined story. With spell masters hunted by Bolsheviks keenly intent on bringing down the Russian monarchy, this book was an interesting one that mixes fact with fiction. Brandes did an excellent job balancing history and finding just the right parts of it that she could stretch to fit the story she wanted to tell.

Research, of course, was key.Romanov quote #1Brandes did a lot of reading and digging to set a steady base for this story to stand on. This was most prominent in the first half of the story where details of the Romanov family’s lives were detailed and narrated. Some of the facts included in the story I already knew about from reading books and documentaries, but others were new to me. I didn’t know that Anastasia, or just Nastya to her family, was a mischievous girl. She loved pulling pranks on just about everyone and was even called shvibzik or imp in Russian. It was definitely a nice bonus learning more about the family and the way the author dropped the historical gems she found in her research brought them to life for me, made them feel more human than the history books could and would ever do. If you’re a history geek like me, you should definitely read Nadine’s author’s note at the end of the book. In it, she talks about what’s true and what parts of the story she played with to make this book.Romanov quote #2I loved Nastya and Alexei. Maria, too. Zash, meanwhile, grew on me as I continued reading. For me, their characters were the most formed and the most entertaining. They made me laugh and giggle with their shenanigans, made my heart ache for them as they slowly lost hope and, definitely, made me go “Tsk, don’t do that. Stop” a number of times.
Nastya, however, has a special place in my heart. She was a bright and curious girl. She loves her family and would do anything for them. I felt for her. Having been betrayed by the person you were starting to fall in love with and watching your whole family and the most loyal of your staff murdered is enough to crush anyone. But Nastya, though weighed with pain and grief, had to do what she can to help herself and Alexei escape and survive. It was her determination, not the powerful spells, that made her beat the odds set against her in the end.Romanov quote #3I loved most of Nadine Brandes’ additions and changes as they lent Nastya’s story more color. However, there were still a few things that, while I didn’t outright hated, felt unnecessary to me. Zash was an interesting character by himself with his own motives and different background and personality that sets him apart from the Romanovs. However, his and Nastya’s romance felt forced. In all honesty, these two were more pushed together rather than having chosen each other on their own accord. In all honesty, I would have been happy enough with them being friends. Their relationship felt unnatural to me.

Overall, Romanov was a wonderful re-imagining of history. Magical and intriguing, this story has family at its core. Fans of Nadine Brandes’ other YA historical fantasy Fawkes will definitely go heart eyes for this book. YA historical fiction lovers will find a lot to love in this one as well.Author Q&A (2)

 

Nadine BrandesNADINE BRANDES once spent four days as a sea cook in the name of book research. She’s the author of Fawkes and of the award-winning The Out of Time series. Her inner fangirl perks up at the mention of soul-talk, Quidditch, bookstagram, and Oreos. When she’s not busy writing novels about bold living, she’s adventuring through Middle Earth or taste-testing a new chai. Nadine and her Auror husband are building a  Tiny House on wheels. Current mission: paint the world in shalom

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