Posted in Fairy Tale & Myth Connections

Fairy Tale Connections #1: “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”

5/5 Stars

Author: The Grimm Brothers

Publisher/Imprint: Grosset & Dunlap

Edition: Illustrated Junior Library Edition, Hardcover, 363 Pages

Publication Date: October 17, 1995

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

So the King sent out a proclamation saying that anyone who could discover where the princesses did their night’s dancing might choose one of them to be his wife and should reign after his death.

Grimm Brothers, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”

Summary & Overall Thoughts

Good morning! Happy Thursday! I’ve decided to try something slightly different today. This is not a review of an entire book, but rather of one short story in the Grimm Brothers’ collection of fairy tales.

I’m planning to call this group of posts “Fairy Tale Connections,” because I have a specific purpose for them. Lately, much of the YA market has comprised retellings based on older fairy tales or legends. And I love this current trend! It made me realize that I haven’t actually read many of the original tales that pertain to these YA retellings. But I love fairy tales, so I have decided to try reading some of the originals beforehand in order to be able to better “connect” them with the new retellings. I think it will be quite interesting to see the differences and similarities, how an author chooses to apply the original fairy tale to a retelling. Do you ever do any kind of “research” before reading a novel? Well, this is my version of “research.”

House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig, is the next YA retelling on my TBR list, and it is based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairy tale. So I read the short fairy tale last night and made some notes. One of the first things to notice is that the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are not the happy children’s stories they are often made out to be by companies like Disney. But don’t get me wrong. I still love those Disney movie versions!

The overall story of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” goes like this:

  • A king has twelve beautiful daughters whom he locks in their bedroom at night. (Why? Who knows?)
  • But in the morning, all of the girls’ shoes have been “danced to pieces.” (So where did they disappear to and do all of this dancing?)
  • The king declares that any man who can discover where the princesses go at night within three days/nights may choose one of the king’s daughters to marry and take his place as king after his death.
  • BUT if the suitor fails, it’s off with his head!
  • Of course, the first prince to arrive fails after drinking drugged wine and falling asleep each night. And all the others after him fail, too.
  • But along comes a poor and wounded soldier. He takes the challenge after an old woman (because there’s almost always an “old crone” figure, right?) warns him not to drink the evening wine and gives him a magic cloak to make him invisible. He now has three nights/days to succeed, or else lose his head.
  • So the soldier follows the woman’s instructions and pretends to be asleep as the princesses sneak away. There is an underground passageway of some sort hidden beneath one of the princesses’ beds, and he follows them down.
  • He spies on the the princesses as they meet with twelve princes who take them across the lake in twelve boats to reach the underground dancing castle.
  • After bringing back physical proof from those three nights, the soldier succeeds and chooses the eldest daughter to be his wife.

So, as you can see, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is not a completely happy story. The soldier kept his head, but the eldest daughter was forced into a marriage. Who knows if she even wanted to get married? Plus, those other princes lost their heads! But this fairy tale is still considered a classic, and I really enjoyed the cleverness and magic of it. I am quite curious to see how Erin A. Craig applies it in House of Salt and Sorrows! Happy reading 🙂

Read in Preparation for House of Salt and Sorrows

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Posted in Action/Adventure

Stalking Jack the Ripper: A Gritty Take with a Dash of Romance

4.5/5 Stars

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Publisher/Imprint: Jimmy Patterson Books (Little, Brown)

Edition: Hardcover, 326 Pages

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

Death was not prejudiced by mortal things such as station or gender. It came for kings and queens and prostitutes alike, often leaving the living with regrets.

Audrey Rose, Stalking Jack the Ripper

Initial Thoughts

Ripper TrayI finished reading Stalking Jack the Ripper today, and I really enjoyed it! But be warned! The content of this book does include descriptions of mutilated bodies during forensic examination. If you pick up a book with this title, you’d probably expect it since the nature of The Ripper’s crimes is pretty horrific.

There is much to appreciate about this book:

  • The lead female character, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, is introduced as she is cutting open a cadaver. When a novel opens like that, you know it’s going to offer something unique.
  • The author certainly did her research and it shows, contributing to the authenticity of the novel’s story.
  • The Victorian-era setting is historical and atmospheric. The overall setting is done very well.
  • Forensic science is such a fascinating topic, and the Jack the Ripper case succeeds in being terribly creepy.
  • The extra photographs really enhance the creepy mood of the story.
  • Audrey Rose must discover many family secrets in addition to solving the case, adding to the suspense.

Mother used to say, ‘Roses have both petals and thorns, my dark flower. You needn’t believe something weak because it appears delicate. Show the world your bravery.’

Audrey Rose, Stalking Jack the Ripper

Characters & Romance

Ripper LanternHere is a brief overview of the two main characters.

  • Audrey Rose Wadsworth is the daughter of Lord Edmund Wadsworth. She defies social protocols by secretly apprenticing to her Uncle Jonathan in order to learn the science of “forensic medicine.” Even though she is a young lady living in Victorian-era London, she strives to demonstrate that women are capable of doing anything a man can do. She dreams of attending forensic classes even though it is only “proper” for boys to attend those classes.
  • Thomas Cresswell is Uncle Jonathan’s other assistant and student. On the surface, he is quite arrogant and thinks himself the smartest person in the room. His skills are deductive reasoning and emotional detachment during investigations. But he is also a shameless flirt when it comes to Audrey Rose.
  • I loved the romance between Thomas and Audrey Rose! They have great chemistry and banter. The romance is chaste, which is the type of romance I typically prefer reading about.

Golden-brown eyes were perfectly set into an angular face, as if Leonardo da Vinci had painted him himself…. If he weren’t so infuriatingly aware of his own intelligence, he’d be quite attractive, I supposed.

Audrey Rose, Stalking Jack the Ripper

Final Thoughts

Ripper BasketIt took a little while for the investigation to get going, but once it did, the story definitely hooked me!

One thing that was slightly unclear to me is Uncle Jonathan’s job role/position in relation to the London police force. From where do all the cadavers he receives originate? Is he the city’s official mortician/medical examiner? Or is he simply one of several doctors whom the London police like to consult during their investigations? I’m still a little fuzzy on that because he examines the bodies in his own home.

I did wish to know more of Thomas’s background, but I’m guessing the author will include more about him in the subsequent books.

I also wasn’t too crazy about the spiritualist medium character, but apparently he was one of the historical people involved, so I understand why the author included him. I think it just bothered me that he sort of sends Audrey Rose on the trail of a suspect, and she seems absolutely convinced of the killer’s identity without hard evidence. (I don’t want to spoil, so I won’t say anymore about that.)

I certainly look forward to reading the subsequent books in this series, and the fourth book releases soon in September! I have a feeling I will enjoy reading them. Has anyone else read this series yet? What did you think? Happy reading 🙂

*Content Warnings: The main thing to note is the violence (i.e. mutilated bodies, graphic wounds, guts/intestines, gashes, missing organs, etc.). The romance is very chaste.*

Spines that Shine

Posted in Fantasy

Firian Rising: A YA Fantasy About Mental Warfare with Promising Potential

4/5 Stars

Author: Carly Stevens

Publisher: Carly Stevens (Independent Author)

Edition: Paperback ARC, 458 Pages

Publication Date: July 15, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Pretty Well

*This review is based on a paperback ARC edition provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

‘We are people willing to sacrifice for what is right and in the end we will be victorious.’

Kiria, Firian Rising

Initial Thoughts & Pacing

Firian Rising released yesterday from Carly Stevens, an independent author. This book is well-written, and I truly think it has a lot of potential. It deals with mental warfare, which is a pretty interesting topic. In some ways, the book reminded me a little of the Insignia series by S. J. Kincaid, which also deals with mental battles.

Firian Rising is about the lives of different people in the Western Kingdom, which is ruled by three monarchs called “Keepers.” There are also Tanyu, who are sort of like defenders of the Kingdom. These Tanyu have special powers that allow them to create reality from imagination. It is truly a fascinating topic. I think their powers are quite interesting and complex – in a good way. I especially liked how there are different layers within the special mindscape called the “Unreal.” If a Tanyu goes too far into the “Unreal,” there is the danger of getting “Lost” and losing his or her grip on reality.

Honestly, the first half of the book was a little slow for me. It mostly focuses on building Firian and Kiria’s backstory. Firian grows up to become a Tanyu, and Kiria is groomed to one day take her mother’s place as a ruler of the Western Kingdom. But the pace in the second half of the book definitely picks up, and I really enjoyed the time that Firian and Kiria spent getting to know each other.

Characters & Romance

Extra Firian PicThe two main characters are, of course, Kiria and Firian.

  • Kiria is the heir to one of the three thrones of the Western Kingdom. She finds out that she has an interesting “Ability” of her own, and she struggles with anxiety, uncertain of her ability to lead the Kingdom when the time comes. After an assassination attempt on her life, she is assigned a Tanyu bodygaurd to take her to a safe location.
  • Guess who that bodyguard is? Yep. Firian. I was excited when Firian and Kiria finally meet (about halfway through the book), because it really made things more interesting and complicated. At first, Firian comes across as confident and arrogant, always seeking the approval of others. But over time, I think he starts to genuinely care for Kiria – at least a little bit.
  • They’re both so full of spirit and determination. They make a great pair, and there is quite a bit of tension between them after they meet. I think that aspect is handled quite well. I look forward to seeing how their relationship develops in the future.

‘At the end of this struggle we will rise again, strong in the justice of our cause and joyful because we have seen the fulfillment of our hopes.’

Kiria, Firian Rising

Final Thoughts

So why not a full 5 stars?

There is a bit of geography to juggle in this book, and it took me a while to get a sense of where everything is located. But perhaps there is a map in the finished book that will help.

Another thing that stuck out to me was Firian’s attitude toward women. He seems to either be attracted to their beauty/bodies or to the opportunity for political advancement that he could gain through them. Sometimes, his attitude bothered me, and I didn’t understand some of the things he did – considering his feelings for Kiria. But at the same time, I suppose his lustful behavior is realistic.

I also think the book could have benefited from a bigger “villain” character. Throughout much of the book, there doesn’t seem to be one specific, individual adversary per se. Kiria and Firian are sort of pitted against each other, but it would be interesting to see them fight a villain character together. It is sort of hinted that someone is targeting Kiria’s family line, but we don’t really get the answer to that in book one. Perhaps in the sequel!

I was also surprised at something Firian does at the end of the book to gain a position of power. It didn’t exactly feel like a “heroic” act to me, but perhaps it isn’t supposed to. The characters in this book are forced to make some tough decisions, and I do think it helps to shape their growth.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Firian Rising! Give it a shot if you enjoy YA fantasies about mental warfare! Happy reading, and don’t forget to check out my current Bookstagram giveaway (link is below) 🙂

*Content Warnings: some violence, one of the characters has a somewhat intimate dream, their version of a curse word: “gore”*

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*GIVEAWAY ENDED* – -UNITED STATES only – -Must be AT LEAST 18 YEARS OLD or have PARENT PERMISSION to enter -The choices (all PRE-OWNED): 1.Hardcover edition of Hunted, by Meagan Spooner (minus the dust jacket, sorry) 2.Paperback ARC of Like Never and Always, by Ann Aguirre 3.Paperback ARC of Beastly Bones (Jackaby #2), by William Ritter 4.Paperback edition of Uglies (Uglies #1), by Scott Westerfeld 5.Paperback edition of Pretties (Uglies #2), by Scott Westerfeld -I am NOT responsible for the book(s) after I've shipped them and sent the winners confirmation of shipment -Winners must be willing to give their U.S. mailing address (no P.O. boxes because I can't guarantee the book(s) will fit) -No spam or giveaway accounts -Giveaway not affiliated with or sponsored by Instagram or any other company – -To enter: 1. Like this post 2. Comment which TWO books you would prefer (1st winner will receive their 2 top choices, and I will do my best to work something out with 2nd winner if their top choices are taken) 3. Tag 1 or 2 friends you think would be interested in entering 4. Following is appreciated but not required for this giveaway. If you like my feed, yay!!! (But following to unfollow immediately after is pretty pointless, so please don't do that.) – -Giveaway ends Saturday, July 27 at 8 PM EST -I will randomly select 2 winners and each will receive 2 books. I will contact each winner through DM; each winner must respond within 24 HOURS of notification or else I will have to select a different winner; if private account, I must be able to contact you through DM -May the odds be ever in your favor!

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Spines that Shine

Posted in Fantasy

A Curse So Dark and Lonely: An Enchanting Retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”

4.5/5 Stars

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Edition: Hardcover, 477 Pages

Publication Date: January 29, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

‘I am always surprised to discover that when the world seems darkest, there exists the greatest opportunity for light.’

Freya, A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Initial Thoughts & Pacing

AmazonBooksGood evening, everyone! I adore retellings, and A Curse So Dark and Lonely is an extremely compelling retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I couldn’t put it down once I got to the last hundred pages, and I stayed up late last night to finish it even though I knew I’d have work this morning! This is the first book I have read by Brigid Kemmerer, and I certainly intend to read more of her work in the future.

Here are some reasons why I enjoyed this book so much:

  • I loved Harper, Rhen, and Grey! (More on the characters later.)
  • I was drawn in from the first chapter!
  • The pacing in the first hundred pages and the final hundred pages is done particularly well. The story has quite an addictive quality in those parts.
  • There are some moments that made me laugh aloud – mostly as a result of Harper’s origination from our modern D.C. (The people of Emberfall start referring to Harper as the “Princess of Disi,” and it is hilarious at first.)
  • I think it is difficult to write a story that contains our modern-day world running parallel to a fantasy realm, but Kemmerer does this pretty well.

Rhen was right about choices. There are no easy choices. None.

Harper, A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Characters & Romance

Here is a brief overview of some of the main characters:

  • Harper is pulled out of our modern-day Washington, D.C. and sucked into the fantasy realm of Emberfall. She is quite spunky and fierce! She has cerebral palsy, but doesn’t tolerate people treating her badly.
  • Rhen is a cursed prince who appears arrogant at first, but he truly cares about his people in his heart.
  • Grey is Rhen’s guard commander. He hails from a farming background, and he is intensely loyal to the crown.
  • I loved the romance between Harper and Rhen. It is a sweet slow-burn. Their banter is entertaining to read, and they really have to learn to trust each other.
  • On the other hand, I felt that the feelings between Grey and Harper needed to be more fleshed out. It took me a while to catch on. As is, it feels as if he is only sort of a contender for her affections, but at the same time not a true suitor. It is as if the author perhaps wasn’t certain which direction to take their relationship in this first book or whether to go all the way through with it. I think their connection should have been emphasized more if attraction was the intention.

‘True love requires sacrifice. A willingness to place another’s life above your own.’

Lilith, A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Final Thoughts

DarkLonely SpineSo why not a full 5 stars?

  • The pace in the middle portion of the book slows down a bit (though not terribly), and I wasn’t as captivated as I was in the beginning and end.
  • At times, Harper’s brother Jake acts like a jerk toward her, not believing that she is capable of accomplishing anything of significance.
  • I was also hoping to learn more about Harper’s family/father and Jake’s arrangement with the loan shark.
  • There is a scene with Harper’s mother that is kind of breezed over, and I think it could have been more impactful.

Overall, this book is a fantastic retelling, and my quibbles are minor. If you enjoy retellings, I would definitely recommend it! The ending kept me turning the pages, and I can’t wait to read the sequel next year! Happy reading 🙂

*Content Warnings: graphic fantasy violence (gory wounds/dismemberment/decapitation/etc.), suicide attempt, unwanted attentions forced onto a male character*

Spines that Shine

Posted in Contemporary

Past Perfect Life: Realistic YA Contemporary With a Focus on Family Relationships

3.5/5 Stars

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

Edition: e-ARC, 344 Digital Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: July 09, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Partially

*This review is based on the e-ARC edition provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All quotes used in this review come from the uncorrected proof. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

I try not to think about anything. The past is too painful, the present too confusing, and the future too scary.

Ally, Past Perfect Life

Initial Thoughts

Happy Saturday! I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend! I finished reading Past Perfect Life today. At first I was kind of torn between whether to rate it 3.5 or 4 stars, but ultimately went with 3.5. Since my rating scales may be slightly different from those of other reviewers, let me clarify that 3.5 is a middle-range rating for me. It means that I liked the book, but some factor kept me from rating it higher. In this case, part of the reason is I didn’t feel super strong emotions about the book.

I requested this book because I really enjoyed two of the author’s previous books: Prom & Prejudice and Better off Friends. And there is still much to appreciate here in Past Perfect Life as well.

  • The premise is intriguing. A girl named Ally has been living a quiet life in a small Wisconsin town. Then one day she finds out that her entire life has been a lie, and she is the victim of a crime (even though she doesn’t feel like a victim).
  • The author captures the voice of a teenage girl very well. I’m sure many students would find Ally’s worries about college applications and scholarship essays quite relatable.
  • Eulberg also captures the complexity of the different relationships very well. In fact, it is difficult to choose a “side” in all of this because the author skillfully evokes a sense of compassion from the readers, and all the characters have their own reasons to believe that their particular point of view is correct.
  • There are some cute, funny moments, and I really liked Neil, Ally’s crush. (More on him later.)
  • Ally has a dog named Baxter! Adorable!
  • Ally has such a supportive group of people in Wisconsin, and it is touching to see how much they care about her even though they are not related by blood.

‘And, Ally, I’ve waited this long. I can wait a little longer. You’re worth it.’

Neil, Past Perfect Life

Characters

Here is a brief overview of some of the characters:

  • Ally is living a quiet life until everything is turned upside-down. She is a good student who never gets in trouble. She is quiet and has very close relationship with her dad. She also has a massive crush on Neil, a boy at school.
  • Marian is Ally’s best friend. The friendship relationship between them is written very well, and I think they have a good connection. Marian’s entire family seems to care about Ally very much.
  • Neil is just so sweet! He is one of Marian’s many cousins. When Ally has to leave, he tells her that he is willing to wait for her because she is “worth it.” I actually felt as if there wasn’t enough of him in the book. I really liked the scenes between him and Ally. They make a cute couple. But I was left with the feeling that we don’t actually get to know that much about him in particular.

‘Just remember during a storm, Ally Bean, that light will always follow,’ he used to say.

Ally’s Dad, Past Perfect Life

Final Thoughts

So what prevented me from fully enjoying this book? Partly, I didn’t feel super strongly about it by the end.

  • For one thing, I was hoping there would be more mystery/suspense. But the story is actually less about the crime and more about what happens to Ally after she finds out the big revelation.
  • It also takes a while for the story to fully pick up. (For me personally, it took about 80 pages.)
  • The plot lags a little bit in the middle, and Ally does spend a while wallowing in her misery, which can be depressing to read about.
  • Ally’s mother figure comes across as really controlling in some moments. While I understand that the mother has been through a rough patch, it is quite frustrating that she doesn’t want to listen to how Ally feels about her new life. And her mother’s treatment of her really seems to affect Ally’s emotional health, almost sending her into a depression of sorts.

In the end, I do think it is good that Ally is able to finally find her voice and make herself heard. And I would still recommend this book to readers who enjoy realistic fiction with a focus on family relationships! That is what the book is mainly about. I’m also willing to give the author’s other books a chance, and I would certainly recommend Prom & Prejudice if you’re unsure of where to begin with Elizabeth Eulberg’s books. (I adore Jane Austen retellings!) Happy reading 🙂

*Content Warnings: Some swearing (including a few uses of the s-word and f-word), thoughts/behavior that can come across as depressing*

Spines that Shine

Posted in Fantasy

Spin the Dawn: An Elegant Retelling Filled with the Magic of the Sun, Moon, and Stars

4/5 Stars

Author: Elizabeth Lim

Publisher/Imprint: Knopf

Edition: e-ARC, 288 Digital Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: July 09, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

*This review is based on the e-ARC edition provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All quotes used in this review come from the uncorrected proof. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

Ask me to spin the finest yarn or thread, and I can do it faster than any man – even with my eyes closed. Yet ask me to tell a lie, and I will stumble and falter to think of one.

Maia, Spin the Dawn

Initial Thoughts

Spin the Dawn FanI truly enjoy reading retellings, and Spin the Dawn is a pretty good one in my opinion. It is inspired by Mulan, but it is still its own original tale as well. Maia is the daughter of a common tailor. After her father falls apart from the death of her mother, Maia disguises herself as a boy and takes her father’s place in the competition to become A’landi’s royal tailor. During her journey, she must construct three magical dresses, one made of sunlight, one of moonlight, and one of the blood of the stars.

There is a lot to like about this book:

  • The prose style is elegant and descriptive.
  • The setting is Asian, and the mythology is Chinese-inspired!
  • The competition to become royal tailor is fierce!
  • Magic abounds in this tale – including a magic carpet, magic scissors, ghosts, and demons.
  • Maia truly loves her family, and that is what motivates her most of the time. Her devotion to her family is touching.
  • The romance is sweet and is not insta-love.

My whole life, I’d been told what I couldn’t do because I was a girl. Well, this was my chance to find out. The only thing I could do was take it.

Maia, Spin the Dawn

Characters & Romance

The two characters at the heart of this story are Maia Tamarin and Edan, the Emperor’s Lord Enchanter.

  • Maia is a strong, determined young woman living in a society that keeps telling her what she can’t do. I love that her family background is well developed, and she undergoes great character growth throughout the story. She meets Edan while she is disguised a boy for the royal tailor competition.
  • As the love-interest, Edan is quite intriguing. His background is a bit mysterious, and we don’t learn everything about him in this book. But his predicament is quite interesting. (I can’t say more without spoiling a large plot point.)
  • The chemistry between Maia and Edan is believable, and their banter is endearingly funny. They seem to have a genuine trust that develops over a period of time. (Although, Maia does do something near the end that may affect that trust later on.) I truly think they make a great couple, and I am eager to see how their relationship will progress in the sequel.

“Seize the wind,” I whispered. “Don’t become like the kite that never flies.”

Maia, Spin the Dawn

Final Thoughts

Spin the Dawn CranesWhy didn’t I give the book a full 5 stars? For one thing, it just didn’t suck me in immediately. A lot of the first half of the book is slower paced and feels like set up for the second half of the story. (But I did really enjoy the second half!)

Also, there’s one “villainous” competitor who kind of disappears in the second half of the book, when I had hoped he would continue to cause conflict. I mean, he does in a way, but is not very present in the second half because the “villain” becomes someone else. But perhaps he will show up again in the sequel.

Another thing I suppose I should point out is the disability representation. One of Maia’s three brothers returns home from a war with paralyzed legs. While I’m glad that there is disability representation, the book does sort of present the paralysis as something that needs a “cure.” Ever since I took a course about disability studies, I’ve just been more mindful regarding the different ways disability is presented in literature. This does not mean that the book is bad. I’m simply pointing out the manner in which the book includes disability so that readers can be fully informed.

Overall, I thought Spin the Dawn was quite creative and original, and I really enjoyed the second half. If you enjoy retellings, I would recommend giving this one a try when it comes out on July 09th! Happy reading!

P.S. Do you like my paper cranes? I made them myself 😀

*Content Warnings: A woman is stripped and flogged, and there is one sex scene between the two main characters (but not a very long scene and not super explicit).*

Spines that Shine

Posted in Action/Adventure

Aurora Rising: Guardians of the Galaxy + Alien Legolas + Star Wars

4/5 Stars

Authors: Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Publisher/Imprint: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Edition: Hardcover, 470 Pages

Publication Date: May 07, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Fairly Well

“Who am I to deny gravity, Aurora? When you shine brighter than any constellation in the sky?”

Kal, Aurora Rising

Initial Thoughts & Narration Style

Ice cream aurora

Good morning, everyone! I’m literally sitting at my kitchen table, eating leftover iHop pancakes. (Who else loves iHop?) Yum! I finished Aurora Rising yesterday, and wow, it was quite a ride. There was so much hype surrounding this book, and it made me feel a bit nervous reading it. I did not end up loving it, but it definitely earned at least a 4-star rating from me.

Many aspects of the book were quite enjoyable:

  • It is action-packed! There are space pirates, space monsters, and plenty of fighting!
  • In some ways, the book feels like a mash-up of Guardians of the Galaxy and elements of Star Wars – with a hot alien version of Legolas.
  • Instead of using crass terms, Aurora curses using baking terms: “Son of a biscuit!”
  • The humor throughout definitely made me laugh!
  • The world-building is pretty detailed, and the alien lifeforms the authors created have very interesting qualities/traits.

However, in some ways, Aurora Rising disappointed me a little. But that mostly has to do with the narration style.

  • This book’s narration is witty and sarcastic, and sometimes it feels as if the narrator is talking TO the reader in certain moments. I think you have to enjoy this narrative style in order to really love this book. Personally, I prefer a more serious, lyrical narration style, so I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I wanted to.
  • There is also a LOT of sass in the dialogue, and sometimes it feels as if the sass takes over the scene. So I might have preferred a little less of this as well.
  • The chapters are often quite long. I tend to prefer shorter chapters, because they usually help move me through a book at a faster pace.
  • In addition, there are a LOT of characters because the squad team has seven members.

Characters & Romance

Aurora spine image

I did have trouble connecting emotionally to the characters, because there are just so many POVs. I typically prefer no more than 2-3 POV’s in a book. Otherwise, it can be difficult for me to really feel for the characters. It takes a while to introduce all of the characters in this book, and we don’t get to spend that much time in a single character’s head.

Here is a brief overview of the squad members:

  • Aurora is over two centuries old and is part Asian. She is pulled out of cryo-sleep unexpectedly and thrust into the year 2380. She has creepy visions and develops powers of telekinesis.
  • Tyler is the squad’s witty, confident leader. Because he rescues Aurora, he misses his chance to select his own squad members and is left with the misfits nobody wants.
  • Scarlett is Tyler’s twin sister and the team’s diplomat/negotiator. You can expect a lot of sarcasm from her.
  • Cat is the team’s pilot. She has crazy flying skills, as well as a ginormous crush on Tyler. Sometimes Cat’s negativity and jealousy were a little annoying and repetitive.
  • Zila is the team’s scientist. She has no social skills whatsoever.
  • Finian is the squad’s tech guy. Is a Betraskan alien, with a mobility condition. He uses a high-tech exosuit to help him move. He is also quite sassy.
  • Kal is a Syldrathi alien. He is the Legolas-like, warrior figure and the team’s combat specialist.
  • I wasn’t entirely into all of the romantic relationships. I wanted to root for them, but one couple’s bond forms due to a mating “Pull.” It’s not necessarily bad, and I do think the couple is cute, but I kind of wished there had been more reasons for them to like each other, too.

Final Thoughts

Here are my other reasons for withholding a star from my rating:

Aurora Rising actually felt quite long (almost 500 pages). Despite the action scenes, it took me a while to actually finish the book.

Furthermore, the “villain” at the end was not what I was expecting… There was so much build-up regarding the reason everyone in the galaxy is after Aurora. I just thought that the ultimate “villain” would be something other than what it was.

Don’t get me wrong. Aurora Rising is certainly well-written, and the authors make a good team. I enjoyed the story quite a lot! I just think that the narrative style may not have been the best for me in particular. Perhaps the sequel will be a library read for me. But please do give it a try if this sounds like it would be your cup of tea! Plenty of other readers have enjoyed this book immensely. Happy reading 🙂

*Content Warnings: Sci-fi violence, swearing – including the s-word and one clear use of the f-word (plus a few interrupted f-words)*

Spines that Shine

Posted in Fantasy

Wicked Saints: One Bloody Adventure

4/5 Stars

Author: Emily A. Duncan

Publisher/Imprint: Wednesday Books

Edition: Hardcover, 385 Pages

Publication Date: April 02, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Fairly Well

“Dazzle the monsters, Nadya. You’ve already charmed the worst of the lot; the rest should be easy.”

Malachiasz, Wicked Saints

Initial Thoughts

Wow. There is so much blood in this book! That was one of the first thoughts I had after finishing Wicked Saints today. You’ll see what I mean if you read it for yourself. But it includes things like blood mages cutting themselves to use their powers, etc. Sometimes, it did make me feel a little uncomfortable, but other readers may not mind as much.

The opening chapter definitely sucked me in! The whole first part of the book when Nadya is on the run was quite engaging. But the book loses a bit of momentum later on, and it took me longer to get through the middle chunk of the book.

I love books that draw upon mythology/folklore influences, so I thought it was cool that this book is inspired by Russian and Polish folklore.

I enjoyed the snippets of information about the saints provided at the beginning each chapter. They added a touch of authenticity to the mythology.

Characters

Overall, I wish there had been more character backstory. I didn’t really connect with them all as much as I’d wanted to. Here is a brief overview of some of the characters:

  • Nadya is a Kalyazi cleric who has been cooped up in a monastery for most of her life. Kalyazin, her country, is at war with the country of Tranavia. She is the one person who can converse with the gods and request power from them. I enjoyed Nadya’s POV chapters more than I enjoyed Serefin’s; I think it took longer for Serefin’s plot arc to develop. Some aspects of Nadya’s powers are a tad confusing, but the magic in her world can do interesting things.
  • Malachiasz seems to be the most interesting character to me. He is someone important in Tranavian society, but also a certain kind of “monster.” Although Nadya first considers him an enemy, she must learn to trust him in order to accomplish her goals. Honestly, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the romance between them. I wasn’t rooting super hard for them, but I did find their relationship interesting since they are enemies. Personally, I think more chapters from Malachiasz’s POV would have added a lot to this book. I really wanted to know more about Malachiasz’s past and history.
  • Serefin is one of the most powerful blood mages in Tranavia, and he also happens to be the prince of Tranavia. He is called home from the war in order to attend an event in which female blood mages of the nobility compete to become queen (similar to the competition in Red Queen). He undergoes an interesting transformation near the end of the book.

Final Thoughts

Here are some other reasons why I didn’t give Wicked Saints 5 stars:

The more abstract, “philosophical” scenes threw me off a bit – specifically chapters 25 and 31. I’m the type of reader who usually needs to understand what’s actually physically happening in the concrete world. I felt that these two particular chapters kind of gloss over what actually happens to the characters, and I was a but confused. (I won’t say anything more about this due to spoilers.)

Aside from the general concept that Vultures somehow undergo transformation there, we don’t know what actually happens in the salt mines. I’m hoping for a scene down there in the sequel.

Also, what happened to Nadya’s friend Konstantine? Other than what happens in the first few chapters, I have no idea what happened to him. (Nadya thinks he’s dead, but are we ever given actual confirmation of this?)

Wicked Saints is overall an entertaining story. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped I would, but I would still recommend to other readers if you think it would be your cup of tea 🙂 Have you read it yet? What did you think?

*Content warnings: Self-harm (blood mages repeatedly cut themselves to access their powers), torture, some intimate kissing (no actual sex, but close), and one scene in which a father slaps his son*

Spines that Shine

Posted in Fantasy

The Candle and the Flame: A Vibrant Tale Based on Arabic Folklore

4.5/5 Stars

Author: Nafiza Azad

Publisher/Imprint: Scholastic

Edition: Paperback ARC, 400 Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: May 14, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Quite Well!

*This review is based on an ARC edition provided by the publisher. All quotes used in this review come from the uncorrected proof. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

“The desert sings of loss, always loss, and if you stand quiet with your eyes closed, it will grieve you too.”

Prologue, The Candle and the Flame

Initial Thoughts & World-Building

Happy release day to The Candle and the Flame! What a lovely tale! There are many aspects of this book that I enjoyed. Here are some of my overall thoughts:

  • I loved the Islamic and Arabic mythology/folklore in this tale! There is fiery magic and plenty of good-looking Djinn!
  • The world-buliding and culture of Noor City are vibrant and beautifully described.
  • FOOD is very present in this story! All the delicious-sounding dishes contribute to the already authentic feeling of Fatima’s world.
  • The female characters are strong and determined to make a place for themselves in this world.
  • Names play a large role in this novel, and the Name Giver’s powers are quite fascinating.
  • The writing is lovely – though a bit formal in diction.
  • There is not as much “action” as I was anticipating; the book is more focused on court life and political intrigue. But I did enjoy the action scenes that are included!
  • The characters generally feel well developed.

“I always have room for dessert.”

Fatima Ghazala, The Candle and the Flame

Characters & Romance

I won’t go over all of the characters since there are many involved, but here are a few important people:

  • Fatima Ghazala is a human girl (about 18 years old) with djinn fire. There is an event that occurs that results in Fatima manifesting additional powers, and she suddenly becomes very important in the world of the Ifrit and the court intrigue of her own country’s human ruler. She is a strong woman who finally gains the courage to stand up for herself. And she always has room for dessert!
  • Zulfikar is the Emir of Noor City, the commander of the Ifrit army on earth, tasked with protecting the humans living in Noor from mythical monsters. He is 25 years old in human years, and his physical appearance is quite striking. He makes a decision that unexpectedly bonds himself with Fatima Ghazala.
  • The romance between Fatima Ghazala and Zulfikar is so sweet! At first, I did feel that their feelings of attraction occur just a tad bit quickly. But throughout the story, their relationship does grow and develop into genuine love.
  • Sunaina is Fatima Ghazala’s sister (not by blood). She is entirely human and possesses a great talent for creating makeup. She, too, is seeking to find her rightful place in the world.
  • Bhavya is a princess who does not wish to conform to society’s standards for her; she does not want to marry for the sake of her royal “duty.” She is forced to make some difficult choices by the end of the story, shaping her character growth quite a bit.
  • As side characters, the three Alif sisters are quite endearing. They are Fatima Ghazala’s closest friends, and the drama they create among themselves is entertaining to read about. They are also loyal and steadfast.

“‘Noor,’ Jagan told her, ‘means light. But not just any light. Noor means heavenly light. The kind of light you see in a mother’s face the first time she sees her child.'”

Jagan, The Candle and the Flame

Final Thoughts

Why didn’t I give The Candle and the Flame a full 5 stars? Mainly, it was not easy for me to get into the beginning of the story. The reading pace is a bit slow-going in the beginning due to the abundance of names, places, and titles that the reader must absorb. And there are many names that begin with the letter “A,” so it took me a while to remember who is who. I relied heavily upon the list/glossary that is provided. I haven’t seen the finished copy of this book, but I think a map would be helpful for readers. Nevertheless, once I became more familiar with the names and terms, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Overall, this is a beautiful tale of hope, the story of an ethnically-diverse city trying to heal itself and become whole again. I would highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasies based on Islamic or Arabian folklore. And I sincerely appreciate that the content of this novel is actually age-appropriate for a YA audience!

The novel concludes with a satisfying ending that warms the heart 🙂

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Spines that Shine

Posted in Fantasy

Dark Shores: Spunky Pirate Teams up with Rugged Legion Commander

4/5 Stars

Author: Danielle L. Jensen

Publisher/Imprint: Tor Teen

Edition: e-ARC, 325 Pages

Hardcover Publication Date: May 07, 2019

A Spine that Shines? Fairly Well

 

*This review is based on an e-ARC edition received from the publisher via NetGalley. These are my honest opinions. Thank you.*

Initial Thoughts, Setting, & World

I finished reading Dark Shores this morning, and I enjoyed many aspects of this book. It was my first time reading anything written by Danielle Jensen. It took me a little while to really get into the story. But once I did, I was pleasantly surprised. Dark Shores is not exactly a pirate story, but there is plenty of action on land and at sea. I love a good, action-packed story!

First of all, I loved the setting and the world! The Empire in this book is inspired by Ancient Rome. I love settings inspired by ancient civilizations. The people of Celendrial are basically like the Romans, with togas, militant legions, tumultuous politics, and a thirst for conquest. One thing I should mention is the slight info-dumping in the beginning of the book. The world can be a lot to absorb at first. But the information seemed important in order for the reader to understand the world, so it didn’t bother me too much.

In this world, there are also meddling gods/goddesses with cool powers. And the author created creepy, zombie-like beings that will suck the life out of their victims through touch. Eek!

Characters

Here are my thoughts regarding several of the characters. I enjoyed the witty dialogue among the humorous side characters, but I loved the two feisty main characters even more.

  • Spunky seventeen-year-old Teriana is a member of the Maarin people, who are seafaring traders and merchants. The Maarin people are the only ones not under the control of the Empire in their part of the world. Teriana’s people also hold the key to traveling to the other side of the land of Reath, called the Dark Shores, which has been kept secret from the rulers of Celendrial. But Teriana is forced to give up that secret when the lives of those she loves are threatened.
  • Legatus Marcus is the commander of the Empire’s most notorious legion. He is tasked with finding a route to the Dark Shores, holding Teriana and her crew members hostage. But there is more to Marcus than meets the eye. He is not exactly who he claims to be. Separated from his family at a young age, he survived his grueling military training despite his asthma-like condition. As commander, he makes tough choices in order to protect the lives of his soldiers, his brothers-in-arms.
  • I think the romance between Marcus and Teriana is done well. It is a tension-filled, slow burn romance. And I mean, real slow. No insta-love here. They are real enemies at first, and it takes quite a while for them to even develop and then actually admit their feelings for each other.
  • I do question the way Lydia’s character (Teriana’s friend) is handled in the book. I feel that perhaps her potential wasn’t fully utilized; her purpose in this book is primarily to help initiate the main conflict. I kind of wish for more from characters like Lydia – especially if they are introduced in the beginning in a way that makes them seem as if they will play a larger role in the story. But Lydia doesn’t really play any other role.
  • I also noticed that several other characters, such as Bait, weren’t very fleshed out and kind of faded from the main storyline. At least, that’s how it felt when I was reading.

Final Thoughts

That ending left me reeling! I had been reading the entire book as if it were a standalone novel. Then it suddenly ended, and I was like, “Wait, did I miss something?” Apparently, there is a sequel planned. Hooray! Because there are several conflicts and loose ends that are left unresolved at the end of the book. I was a little disappointed that there isn’t more closure in the first book, but I look forward to seeing how the author will wrap things up in the sequel.

Another thing that stuck out to me is that we don’t actually get to see Teriana’s homeland in this book, and I kind of wished we had. But perhaps we will in the sequel.

I also noticed that there is no actual appearance of Urcon, the corrupt ruler whom Marcus’s men fight against near the end. Because there is so much talk about how evil he is, I was slightly disappointed that there is no scene with him specifically in it.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this action-packed adventure! If the story interests you, feel free to check it out when it releases tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and I hope my review was helpful 🙂

*Content warnings: violence/torture, some swearing throughout (multiple uses of the s-word and at least one f-word), one intimate scene that sort of fades out.*

Spines that Shine