ARC REVIEW: Romanov – by Nadine Brandes

Title: Romanov
Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
First published: May 7th 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Finished reading: April 29th 2019
Pages: 352

“Something you should learn about us Romanovs is that we like to defy supposed tos.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***


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I knew I had to read this book as soon as I first heard about it. A magical retelling of the story of Anastasia Romanov? How can I resist that?! I confess I had forgotten a lot of details around the Romanov family and their tragic ending… But that didn’t make me enjoy Romanov any less. This retelling mixes historical facts and magic in an expert way and gives us a whole new take on the events set in 1918 Russia. While Romanov can mostly be considered and in fact mainly reads like a historical fiction story, there are also magical elements incorporated that give the story a little something extra. I really liked the magic as described in Romanov and I almost wished we would have seen and learned more of it during the story. Instead, the main focus is on the Romanov family and what happens to them after Nastya’s father had to abdict and the whole family is exiled in Siberia. It’s a story of a family fighting to stay together while they try to hold on to a shred of dignity… The mayority of the story is focused on their time as prisoners in exile and not on the events after as I would have guessed. I enjoyed the writing style, although I do have to admit that the pace is considerably slow and this might be a turn off for those who don’t enjoy slower and more character driven historical fiction. Romanov focuses mostly on the characters and their development, and only gives you a healthy dose of action and magic more towards the ending. I personally didn’t really mind most of the time, although the middle part could get a tad too slow and tedious. The characters and magical take on this famous family mostly made up for it though, and I can definitely recommend it. Historical fiction fans: don’t be put off by the fantasy elements in this story, as it’s surprisingly light on the magic and focuses mainly on the historical elements.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Wicked Saints – by Emily A. Duncan @WednesdayBooks

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Wicked Saints blog tour! A huge thanks to Meghan Harrington for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I fell in love with the cover and blurb as soon as I first heard about this book, so of course I had no other choice but to accept joining the tour. And I can say it was a good decision… Want to know why? Join me while I share my thoughts on Wicked Saints!

Title: Wicked Saints 
(Something Dark And Holy #1)
Author: Emily A. Duncan
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Finished reading: March 17th 2019
Pages: 400

“We are all monsters, Nadya. Some of us just hide it better than others.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Every once in a while you come across a book with a cover and blurb that will blow you away completely. A book that will have you looking at your calendar longingly until the day arrives when it’s finally published. You might also luck out, and be invited to read it early and join the blog tour to help spread the love… This is exactly what happened when I was approached to read Wicked Saints. A dark, bloody and gothic fantasy story with superpowers, mysterious saints and an assassination plot to kill a king… What more to wish for in a story? This debut without doubt met my expectations and I already can’t wait to find out what the sequel will have in store for us.

So what made this story work for me? The first thing that stands out is just how delightfully dark and gothic Wicked Saints is. This story isn’t for those with a weak stomach and blood, violence and monsters are a constant presence in the plot. This dark and disturbing atmosphere sets the right tone for this wicked beginning of a new fantasy series… The setting itself adds to the overall atmosphere. The two main countries at play, Kalyazin and Tranavia, are clearly inspired by Poland and Russia and I liked the little references to names and culture. Would I have liked to see the worldbuilding more developed with more descriptions to make it truly come alive? Most definitely. It would have given Wicked Saints that little something extra that would have made it in an instant favorite… But I was still more than happy with what I got.

I also really liked how Emily A. Duncan incorporated religion into the story, with a clear difference between the Kalyazi culture and their magic by praying to different gods on one side and the Tranavians using blood magic and being called heretics on the other. It was interesting to see this theme evolve during the story, especially in Nadya’s perception of the world as she no longer find herself in the sheltered monastery and learns to put things in perspective. I liked the idea of ‘light and dark’ magic and how it was developed. The blood magic and the vultures are basically the perfect villains of the story, but like in the real world, definitions are messy and there is not just one villain and side to the story.

Wicked Saints has a dual POV, where the story alternates between Nadya and Serefin. They initially represent the cliche good and evil in the world, but as we get to know the characters better we learn that conclusions are not that easy to draw and things are not black and white but rather grey. I’m personally a big fan of the characters and their development. Not only Nadya and Serefin, but especially Malachiasz as well all turned out to be a fascinating characters. I admit there were some cliches involved and I can’t do anything else but agree there are certain similarities between Wicked Saints and the popular Grishaverse, but personally I wasn’t all that bothered by that. The dynamics between the different characters are great and the secondary characters are mostly well fleshed out as well.

As for the romance… Do I wish the story didn’t go down that road? Probably. Wicked Saints is pretty mild on the romance though and we are spared a love triangle (or at least for now), so that is most definitely a bonus. This is by no means a sappy fantasy story and most of the plot is black and gothic to the core. It’s my kind of fantasy, where the wicked and powerful get a leading role and are ready to kick ass. I loved the duality of this story; between the different countries, cultures and light and dark magic. It is a story with a fascinating premise and a lot of promise for what is yet to come, and without doubt recommended to those who enjoy darker YA fantasy stories with strong main characters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.

SOCIAL LINKS:

Website: https://eaduncan.com/
Twitter: @glitzandshadows
Instagram: @glitzandshadows
Tumblr: http://glitzandshadows.tumblr.com/

BUY LINK:

https://static.macmillan.com/static/smp/wicked-saints/


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ARC REVIEW: The Fever King – by Victoria Lee

Title: The Fever King
(Feverwake #1)
Author: Victoria Lee
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Dystopia
First published: March 1st 2019
Publisher: Skyscape
Finished reading: March 5th 2019
Pages: 376

“Everything worth doing had its risks. Sometimes you had to do the wrong thing to achieve something better.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Skyscape in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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It was coverlove at first sight when I saw The Fever King first mentioned and after investigating further I really liked the sound of the blurb was well. I think that magic acting like a virus is a fascinating idea and a great starting point for a new series… The Fever King is set in a dystopian alternative future where a magical virus has been killing a lot of people for more than a century; the survivors end up being witchings with supernatural powers. They are basically a mix between witches and superheroes and it is an interesting take on the whole ‘a spider bit me’ phenomenon. Not everything about the plot might be all that original, but it is the characters who make this story stand out for me. For a YA dystopian series, there is a lot of focus on the characters rather than the dystopian world, but in this case I didn’t mind that much. Would I have liked to see more development of the alternative future the characters have to struggle in? Maybe. But Noam, Dara and even Lehrer make up for those holes and make this story worthwhile. Noam and Dara are easy to like and it was interesting seeing their characters and interaction evolve over time. Even Lehrer proved to be an interesting character, although I did had my guesses about him which turned out to be right… The other characters could have had more character development though. I did like how none of the three main characters is clearly good or bad, the author instead opting for blurred lines and basically humanity. The story started out quite slow, but picked up in the second half up to the point that it felt like a race against the clock. The writing is overall engaging and makes it easy to get to know and root for certain characters. Some of the plot twists were easy to guess and I didn’t agree with everything, but overall this was without doubt a very entertaining start of a new series. It does end with a cliffhanger though, so you’ve been warned…

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Noam has spent his whole life trying to help refugees fleeing magical outbreaks and trying to live in the nation of Carolinia. He was born here, but his parents have always been illegal… One day, Noam wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the magical virus that has been tormenting the country for over a century. Him surviving means he is now a witching, and powerful enough to attract the attention of the Minister Of Defense Calix Lehrer himself. They soon discover his ability to control technology, and Noam accepts Lehrer’s offer to train him personally as a way to fight for the rights of the refugees from the inside. But that is easier said than done…

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Gorgeous cover aside, this was without doubt an entertaining start of a new dystopian alternative future series. In The Fever King magic is in fact a virus that will kill most and leave the survivors with superpowers. A very interesting take on magic and without doubt one of the stronger features of this story. While the worldbuilding is a bit simple and not that developed, the three most important characters (Noam, Dara and Lehrer) mostly make up for it as they all have something special to add to the story. I would have liked to see the other important characters being more developed though, and the pace did start out a bit slow. But the story ends in a whirlwind and will definitely leave you craving for more.


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ARC REVIEW: Smoke And Key – by Kelsey Sutton

Title: Smoke And Key
Author: Kelsey Sutton
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal
First published: April 2nd 2019
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Finished reading: March 8th 2019
Pages: 304

“I suppose some things don’t have a proper explanation. They just are.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Entangled: Teen in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I admit it was coverlove at first sight when I saw this title for the first time, but it was the blurb that convinced me that I had to read Smoke And Key no matter what. The promise of what basically can be called a Corpse Bride inspired fantasy story with both a paranormal and a thriller twist just sounded too good to pass up on… And I still believe the premise of and idea behind Smoke And Key is one of its strongest elements as a whole. Under is such a fantastic, magical and daunting world and I would love to have seen in even more developed, although I do understand that the lack of information only adds to the overall mystery and intrigue around the place. I loved the fact that the characters in Under are named after something they had with them when they arrived. Simple, but fascinating as you try to find out the stories behind those objects and names… The beginning of Smoke And Key made a huge impact on me, and a lot of this impact had to do with the worldbuilding and writing style. It was able to put me under a spell straight away, and for a little while I was sure I had found myself a new favorite. Where did it go wrong for me then? I can’t put my finger exactly on the why, but part of it has to do with the fact this story has a very slow pace. I didn’t mind in the beginning, but I started to notice it more and more as things continued. The plot itself could have been stronger, as for a story with such a fantastic premise the actual story didn’t live up to expectations for me. The idea behind Key reliving those memories in such a real way is really interesting, and it is used to add a little suspense to the story as you try to guess who is behind the attacks and how the characters fit together. I did see the final reveals coming from a mile away, which was a bit of a disappointment for me. My main problem was with the appearance of the romance scenes and of course the dreaded love triangle though. Why does this story have to have one?! I absolutely loved the beginning of Smoke And Key and as I’ve stated before, I still love the premise of this story. Sadly, the executed was a bit underwhelming for me. Fans of romantic paranormal suspense will probably have a more positive experience though.

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When she wakes up she has no idea where or who she is… The only clue hanging around her neck: a single rusted key. That’s how she gets her name, as everyone is named from whatever belongings they had with them when they fell out of their graves. Because Key no longer breathes nor has a beating heart, and Under is a place she is struggling to come to terms with. Key is determined to remember her past and find a way out, but who can she trust? What is really going on in Under?

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There were a lot of things I loved about Smoke And Key and this is by no means a bad read. There were just certain elements that really irked me and failed to live up to the fascinating blurb and fantastic beginning for me. The slow pace, the romantic elements, the love triangle, the predictability of the plot… All things that made me enjoy the story less than I thought I would. I still love the premise of this story as well as the historical setting, Under and its Corpse Bride feel characters and the magic among other things. It’s a very interesting story and I have no doubt this world will stay with me for a while.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #86 – Moon Over Soho & The Woman In The Window

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time a sequel I have been meaning to read ever since enjoying the first book last year and a 2018 hyped release I’ve been putting off but was also really curious about. Moon Over Soho turned out to be an excellent read, while The Woman In The Window failed to convince me completely.


Title: Moon Over Soho
(Peter Grant #2)
Author: Ben Aaronovitch

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
First published: April 21st 2011
Publisher: Gollancz
Finished reading: February 22nd 2019
Pages: 375

“For a terrifying moment I thought he was going to hug me, but fortunately we both remembered we were English just in time. Still, it was a close call.”


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I’ve been meaning to continue the Peter Grant series ever since I read the first book last year… With book number three ordered and currently on its way to my home, I thought it was about time I did. Not only do I love the covers of this series, but I really like the mix of different genres the stories represent. Moon Over Soho can be read as a stand-alone, although you do miss background information about the characters and magic… I suggest reading them in order anyway, since the stories are without doubt entertaining. Book two has a musical twist and includes the London jazz scene as one of the elements of the story. The focus of this story is on Grant and Nightingale again, and we have new supernatural beings to hunt. The writing style makes it easy to read the story and the sarcastic and dry humor was right up my alley. I liked the plot and the way the story follows two different cases at the same time. Part of the plot is solved by the time you reach the final page, but we have a new dangerous character still on the loose we will probably see more of in book three. I’m really enjoying my time with this series so far and I will be looking forward to the next book.


Title: The Woman In The Window
Author: A.J. Finn

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Finished reading: February 24th 2019
Pages: 449

“My mind is a swamp, deep and brackish, the true and the false mingling and mixing.”


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Surprised I hadn’t read this one yet? With all the hype around The Woman In The Window last year and the mixed reviews out there I had decided to stay away… But curiosity took over and with the news of a movie on its way I decided to give in and give it a go. I ended up having mixed feelings about this story. In a way this is quite an entertaining psychological thriller with the typical unreliable narrator you understand right away can’t be trusted to tell you the truth. I appreciate the focus on agoraphobia, as this story might help people understand better what it is like to have to live with it. The writing flows and makes it easy to keep turning those pages, although I do admit the pace was slower than I would have expected and especially in the first half of the book. The Woman In The Window is mostly focused on the main character Anna and nothing much happens until you reach the final part. Another thing that was a huge turn off for me: I was able to guess almost every plot twist from a mile away. Especially the first big one was so easy to see through that I was really disappointed. Anna is not an easy character to like, and while I feel for her having to deal with her agoraphobia and nobody believing her, I was never able to warm up to her or the other characters for that matter. The plot itself was a bit weak and, as I said before, nothing much was happening during most of the story, which made the pace feel a tad slow and the story dragged in parts. It wasn’t all bad and there were certain aspects of this story I liked, but I wasn’t blown away by it either.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #85 – Shatter Me (DNF) & Wintergirls

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two books that have been published over five years ago and titles I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. The first, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, sadly turned out to be my first DNF of the year. The second, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, is without doubt an emotionally tough read to read with lots of trigger warnings and a prose that is both beautiful, almost bordering the magical realism realm and at the same time somehow started to irk me.


Title: Shatter Me
(Shatter Me #1)
Author: Tahereh Mafi

Genre: YA, Dystopia, Romance
First published: November 15th 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Finished reading: February 13th 2019
Pages: 357
DNF at 51% (182 pages)

“The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”


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WARNING: It’s unpopular opinion time again! Please don’t feel offended if you love this series. We are all entitled to our own reactions and feelings after all…

Ever had your sixth sense screaming at you to back off and stay away? Well, that is what happened to me whenever I started thinking about trying the Shatter Me series. I’m not sure why or how, but there was just something about it that made me think it wouldn’t be for me… But curiosity won in the end and made me ignore my instincts. I should have known better… Because sadly this turned out to be my very first DNF of the year. Why? There were various reasons, but the main one is this: I absolutely could not stand the writing style. The endless metaphors, the short sentences, the wacky grammar, the 1 2 3 4 numbers… It seemed like every single word and page was destined to annoy me to the limit and I simply reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I feel sad for reacting this way to a story I know so many seem to love, but that doesn’t take away that Shatter Me and me definitely didn’t get a long. Nothing much was happening in the pages I read either; lots of words, metaphors and feelings, but no real actions or proper worldbuilding descriptions. The fact that I could already see a love triangle coming from a mile away didn’t really help either. Things might have improved in the second half, but since I had such an extreme reaction to the writing style and had already started skimreading just to reach the end faster, I decided to throw in the towel and leave this series alone to be enjoyed and treasured by those who can connect to it. Oh well, at least I know for sure now… Intuition, you were right. Sorry I didn’t listen to you.


Title: Wintergirls
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: March 19th 2009
Publisher: Speak
Finished reading: February 20th 2019
Pages: 300

“The sentences build a fence around her, a Times Roman 10-point barricade, to keep the thorny voices in her head from getting too close.”


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I have been meaning to try one of Laurie Halse Anderson‘s books for years, but somehow other books always ended up getting in the way. The BTB Epic Bingo challenge was the perfect excuse to finally pick up Wintergirls. I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this story, and if you go in blind you will definitely be up for a surprise. Trigger warnings are in place for eating disorders, self harm, cutting, suicide and mental health problems… Wintergirls is a story that will bring those cold and chilling winter feels and is an emotionally draining read that shows us the struggle of the main character with her eating disorder and the way she sees herself and her surrounding world. It’s not an easy or happy read, but I thought the topic was well handled and represented in Lia. The prose is both beautiful, almost bordering the magical realism realm and at the same time somehow irked me at points. I named magical realism because the writing sometimes almost has that otherwordly and magical feel, especially the descriptions of how Lia sees herself and the world. The story also has a hint of paranormal with a symbolic feel; those two aspects making it hard to properly place the story in just one genre. I suppose you can say this is mostly a realistic fiction story with a mental health angle, where we can see how the eating disorder takes over Lia’s life through her very own eyes. I had a hate/love relationship with the writing style, but there is no doubt that the writing has that original and almost otherworldly feel and I can understand why so many people seem to love this story.


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YVO’S SHORTIES #84 – Half Lies & To Make Monsters Out Of Girls

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time two short reads I picked up to fit two BTB Epic Bingo prompts: the prequel novella Half Lies by Sally Green and the poetry bundle To Make Monsters Out Of Girls by Amanda Lovelace.


Title: Half Lies
(The Half Bad Trilogy #0.5)
Author: Sally Green

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Magic
First published: November 13th 2014
Publisher: Viking Books For Young Readers
Finished reading: February 9th 2019
Pages: 72

“Who would think that a drunken misery-guts like him could be so poetic? But then again maybe that’s what poets and artists are like. “


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I should have known after my less than satisfying experience with Half Bad last year, but since I already owned a copy of the prequel novella AND both sequels I’m giving the trilogy another chance. I’m having a feeling Half Lies wasn’t the best place to start… Novellas are always short and not having a well developed plot and characters is not that much of a surprise. Still, I found myself craving to know more about their past in France and I would have liked to see more focus on magic as well. Instead, Half Lies was basically a sappy forbidden love story where two quite cliche characters fall in love a la Romeo and Juliet. I liked the Giving details and the discovering of power bits, but like I said before those elements are mostly pushed into the background (except for Gabriel’s problems with his power). My biggest struggle was with the writing style. There is just something about the way this story is written that is a huge turn off for me… This might have had to do with the abuse of brackets or short sentences, although it might just have been the writing style as a whole as I remember having similar problems in Half Bad. All in all this prequel novella wasn’t really a success for me and the ending felt a bit abrupt… I’m hoping my experience with the sequel will be a better one.


Title: To Make Monsters Out Of Girls
(Things That H(a)unt #1)
Author: Amanda Lovelace

Genre: Poetry, Feminism
First published: September 18th 2018
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Finished reading: February 10th 2019
Pages: 168

“there was
no comfort

 

to be
found in

 

the
pages

 

that once
pulled me

 

through
it all.

 

– you took things i didn’t know you could take.”


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After reading and enjoying the Women Are Some Kind Of Magic poetry bundles, I decided to try Amanda Lovelace‘s other bundle To Make Monsters Out Of Girls as well. Her poems are easy to recognize and this was another excellent collection. It is true that the structure of the poems is simplistic and basically seems like hitting the space bar ever few words, but I personally think this simple style gives the words and message behind the poems even more power. Amanda Lovelace writes without fear and is fully open about her experience with abusive and toxic relationships in the past. She uses words to not only express feelings, but fight those monsters and free herself (and hopefully others) in the end. I’ve said it before, but these stories are very easy to relate to for anyone who has experienced a toxic relationship (or is still experiencing it) and will provide both comfort and and empowering message to let you know you are worthy and can beat that monster. It’s not the style, but the words and the emotions behind those words that make To Make Monsters Out Of Girls into such a success for me. Her poetry isn’t for everyone, but those who can connect to her words will be able to treasure it.


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