Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: The Valiant by Lesley Livingston


The Valiant by Lesley Livingston
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Rating: 5 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss/ARC

Summary (from Goodreads):

Lost to history, the story of the female gladiator has never been told. Until now.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king and the younger sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha. When Fallon was just a child, Sorcha was killed while defending their home from the armies of Julius Caesar.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister's footsteps and earn her place in her father's war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured by ruthless brigands who sell her to an elite training school for female gladiators owned by none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon's family might be her only hope of survival. 

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, deadly fights in and out of the arena, and perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier and her sworn enemy.

A richly imagined fantasy for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Cinda Williams Chima, "The Valiant" recounts Fallon s gripping journey from fierce Celtic princess to legendary gladiator and darling of the Roman empire."

What I Liked:

This book was incredible. I've not read any book - Young Adult or Adult - featuring female gladiators, so I was immediately intrigued, upon reading the premise. Discovering this book was truly a blessing, because this book was every bit as ferocious and kickbutt as the synopsis and the hype promised. I'm honestly stunned.

Fallon is the second daughter of the Celt king of the Cantii tribe of Prydain (Britain). Her older sister Sorcha was captured and killed by Romans years ago, and Fallon has grown up hating the Romans and desiring vengeance. Fallon is a fierce fighter, and wants to be a warrior of her father's war band. But she is captured by slavers, who take her to Rome and sell her to a woman who trains female gladiators. The Ludus Achillea  is filled with girls Fallon's age, who have been trained to be gladiators to serve Julius Caesar. Fallon must train to be deadly and vicious, in order to survive fighting in an arena, like all of the the other female gladiators of Ludus Achillea. Fallon must put aside her thirst for vengeance against Rome in order to survive and fighter for her freedom.

The first thing I want to say is that this book is nothing like Sarah J. Maas's (note the last line of the synopsis on Goodreads, also copied above). Maas's heroines (any of them, in any series) pale in comparison to Fallon and her fellow gladiators. I've always thought Maas's heroines were weak, and they definitely appear so, compared to the highly skilled ladies of this novel. I'm only bringing up Maas and her characters because of the synopsis above - don't let that "comparison" trick you. This book is nothing like Maas's, and for the better.

From the start, I liked Fallon, and was cheering for her. She is turning seventeen, and she is going to make a bid to her father to be a part of his war band, like her sister had years ago. But she is captured, dragged across lands and seas, sold, and then trained to be an even better fighter than she was. Fallon never loses her intense, defiant spirit. She was made and destined to be a gladiator, with her intelligence, defiance, persistence, and skill. Fallon isn't a merciless killer, and she is not without honor. I liked how human she was, how much she had to learn, and how far she had to become, in order to be a noticeable gladiator. 

She grows so much, emotionally and mentally as well. Being captured and taken from her beloved home and loved ones strikes an incredible amount of anger in Fallon's heart (as it should). But Fallon begins to realize that the world is so much larger than her Cantii tribe, and that there is more to Rome than she ever thought. I loved seeing Fallon mature as the story progressed. The book takes place over months, possibly a year or more, so it's a long time for a lot of character development (and Livingston delivers).

The world-building of this story is so beautifully written. I felt like I was in the ancient times, especially throughout Fallon's journey from Prydain to Rome. The descriptions of Rome, the markets, the warriors, the clothing - everything seemed incredibly realistic to the time period. It's clear that Livingston did her research very well. 

I am such a fan of the sisterhood and female friendships of this book. From the start, we know that Fallon deeply misses her sister Sorcha, and has mourned her death for years. Fallon is captured and chained to another captive, Elka, and while they don't hit it off at first, Elka and Fallon become friends during the journey. They are sold together to Lady Achillea, and train together. Their friendship, along with others, is powerful. It was especially encouraging to see this strong relationship, when not all of the female gladiators were intent on being part of the "sisterhood" of the Ludus Achillea. There are ruthless rivalries, and Fallon finds herself amidst several almost immediately upon entering the ludus.

I looove the romance! It's amazing, the journey Fallon is taken through, and not just her journey to becoming a gladiator. She doesn't expect to fall for a Roman decurion, and pretty much resists the attraction and feelings of affections that bloom, at first. It's somewhat of a hate-to-love romance, at least on Fallon's end. I think Caius Varro was intrigued by Fallon from the start, even when she tried to kill him. I loved their dynamic. Caius never tries to dominate or own Fallon, and he sees her as his equal. The progression of their feelings and whatnot is somewhat slow and subtle, and I loved it. Things do get a little heated but I also liked how the romance was not at the forefront at any point in the book. No love triangle!

Caius is probably my second or third favorite character of the book. He is an extremely skilled, extremely powerful Roman officer, and he is often at the academy, reporting for Caesar. He seems arrogant at first, but as the pair fall for each other, Fallon can see that he has her best interests at heart. He is a good man and an excellent match for her, in terms of personality and temperament. Did I mention that I'm a little in love with him? Swoooon.

The story builds to an epic showdown in which we finally get to see Fallon's skills and training be tested, as a true gladiator. She is fighting for Caesar, and the stakes are very high for her. The ending of the book gets very fast-paced and very thrilling. The whole book is well-paced and extremely engrossing, but the last quarter picks up speed.

The ending is perfect! There are elements that are extremely wonderful, and elements that are purposefully open-ended. I love that some things are hinted at, and you kind of have to imagine what life will be like in the future, for Fallon and ____ and _____, etc. But I also love that some things are very concrete ad permanent. I'm especially thrilled about something developments. I love that this book is a standalone, because it ends really neatly, and while I wouldn't mind seeing more from this world, I'm glad Fallon's story ends here!

What I Did Not Like:

I really can't think of anything worth mentioning, that I didn't like! You can probably tell how much I enjoyed the book. It swept me off my feet!

Would I Recommend It:

Historical fiction fan or not, I highly recommend this book! I don't tend to give super high ratings like this one often, but when I do, it's usually for an amazing book that is a new favorite. Female gladiators kicking butt should be enough to reel anyone in, but throw in the politics and intrigue of Julius Caesar and ancient Rome, some incredible world-building, an engrossing plot, a swoony (and forbidden) romance, and a fantastic ending, and you've got a winner. 

Rating:

4.5 stars -> rounded up to 5 stars. That did not take long! Only twenty-three days into the new year and I've handed out my first five-star rating. Granted, this is the thirteenth book I've read for the year already. Honestly, I would have been so disappointed had I not enjoyed this book, and I'm glad it turned out to be every bit as sensational as everyone said. The hype is strong with this one, and rightfully so!


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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman


The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman
Book Two of the Lady Helen series
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers 
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen and her maid, Darby, to spend the summer season in Bristol, where Helen can sharpen her Reclaimer powers. Then the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work take hold, and his sanity begins to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are ever higher for Helen, and her decision will truly change the world…

What I Liked:

The Dark Days Pact is an excellent follow-up to The Dark Days Club - it follows none of the sequel slump pattern that we've seen so often in Young Adult trilogies. I liked The Dark Days Club very much, though at times I found that book to drag a little. This sequel was thoroughly intriguing and entertaining, with a lot of action and revelations, and a little bit of angst. I enjoyed this book immensely and I am looking forward to reading the final book in the series.

Lady Helen is well on her way to becoming a fully trained Reclaimer, and an official member of the Dark Days Club. Mr. Pike comes to Bristol to swear her in, and he also gives her a task: obtain an important journal of a secretive nature. But it's clear that Mr. Pike has another intent - spy on Lord Carlston, and get rid of him. But Lord Carlston has been showing signs of deterioration, in his health. Time is running out to find a cure, which also hinges upon the journal. Helen must get the journal before Carlston does, or risk breaking her oath as Club member. But she doesn't trust anyone except Carlston, Mr. Hammond, Mr. Quinn, and Darby, and she doesn't think Mr. Pike is honorable. The journal itself isn't what it seems, and Helen's decision about what to do with it will have consequences she can't comprehend.

This sequel moves at a faster pace than The Dark Days Club, which I appreciated. I loved The Dark Days Club, but there were definitely times when I really felt the length of the book (500+ pages). This book is also around that page length, but it has more action and intrigue, in my opinion. Helen was always getting up to something sneaky, which I thought was hilarious (good for her!). 

You can clearly see Helen's growth, in this novel! Much of this book is focused on her training as a Reclaimer, and so we see her grow in that way, but also in general. She stands up for herself and doesn't let herself get shuffled around. When her oath to the Days Days Club comes up against her loyalty to her friends, and Carlston, she doesn't meekly follow one side or the other. She seeks more information and bides her time, but ultimately, she makes decisions. I wouldn't say she is totally decisive at first, but she really grows into a stronger character. There are so many feminist moments in this book in which I was cheering for Helen. Especially every time she told Selburn she didn't need a protector - you go, girl! 

That being said, it's interesting how Goodman worked that strong, feminist attitude into Helen's character. It was always there, but I like how Helen really stands up for herself, especially towards the end. She definitely is confined by societal rules and customs, but at the same time, she makes choices for her reasons, and not society's. Recall that this series is set in the 1800s - so it's painfully obvious that, historically speaking, this is a "man's world", and females are subservient (given the time period). But Helen doesn't appreciate having to hide behind a man - and she doesn't let it happen. Again, she is still confined by society's "rules" for women, but she does things her way. She has to come to terms with some difficult decisions, like dressing as a man for disguise, and cutting her hair, but Helen is a tough girl.

Along those lines - Goodman has done a fantastic job in building the world of this series. The novel is set in 1800s England, so there was a lot of research that needed to be done to write this book. Goodman has quite the eye for detail! I read a lot of adult historical romance novels, so I'm very used to this setting, but I must say, Goodman really outdoes herself with the world-building. Drop in all the monsters and supernatural powers and important magical objects and we've got a very interesting world in a realistic historic setting. Well done by the author!

This book is told in third-person, limited to Helen, and I liked this mode of storytelling. First-person is so common in Young Adult literature, but I think I much prefer third-person. Goodman writes it very well. 

The other characters besides Helen are incredibly important and so well-fleshed out as well. Carlston is arguably a protagonist, equally as important as Helen. He is ailing and clearly not getting better, and no one can figure out what is causing his deterioration. Fits of temper and bursts of madness are evidence to his deterioration, and try as they might, Helen and the gang can't hide this from Mr. Pike (who clearly wants Carlston gone). But Carlston shines in this book; he trains Helen efficiently, and he never tries to control her (like, dare I say, Selburn attempts to do). I wouldn't say that Carlston is sweet or tender - he is a quietly brooding warrior with a bit of a temper. Yet he cares so much about Helen, and he doesn't take care to make it less obvious. The poor man! He suffers quite a lot, in this particular book. 

Darby is her usual feisty self, and she and Mr. Quinn get close. We learn a lot about Mr. Hammond, and I adore him so much. His sister, Margaret, is annoying as ever (but in an endearing way). A character that becomes very important in this book is Delia; her addition to the main plot was surprising, but in the end, very welcoming. Selburn is unfortunately in this book, more in second half, and honestly he is the peskiest of flies. 

In the first half the book, the focus is on training Helen and Darby, and for Helen, making the deal with the man to get the journal. But the man, Lowry, wants something that Helen refuses to give, and then she finds out that Carlston is looking for the journal (not knowing that she is too), so Helen must sneak around and try to find out more, in order to steal the journal herself. But plans never go planned, and so there is a lot of close calls and nighttime excursions.

The romance is so obvious and wonderful (assuming you like Carlston). I didn't really see Selburn being part of the romance in The Dark Days Club, and as annoying as he is, I still don't see him being a real threat. Romantically speaking, it's all Helen and Carlston. While Carlston isn't a big softie, he gets romantic (for a moment!) in this book. The bond they have goes beyond being Reclaimers, or sharing energy, or whatever: it's clear that they both love each other. I'm hoping Goodman works that out, in the end, because there really is no other ship to be boarded. 

The ending is good in some ways, and painful in others. I love how exciting the ending is! It was a mad race to make this or that happen, and so every single character in this book was converging to one spot. All of our main characters are still alive and well and survive the scuffle. I did mention that the ending is slightly painful, and it is. It's a cliffhanger that has little to do with Reclaimers and Deceivers. Still, I have hope, and I'm very excited to read the next book. 

What I Did Not Like:

I will complain about a thing that I can't say specifically because that would be spoiler-y. But. Remember how I said that there isn't really a love triangle? That is very true, because Helen is in love with Carlston, and vice versa. Never mind that Carlston is still technically married (his wife has been missing for six or so years). Never mind that the Duke of Selburn is obnoxiously obsessed with Helen and won't stop asking her to marry him. Which is weird! Why does he persist? She has rejected him so many times. Again, I'm complaining about a thing that happened in this book that I can't say specifically. But, it's a thing that I want to see disappear very quickly, in book three, if possible.

Personally (and this is just a theory, and not a spoiler), I'm hoping that Selburn is the Grand Deceiver. We still don't know who is, by the end of this book (though we get some more information about the Grand Deceiver). I'm hoping it's Selburn, because he is so slimy in a nice way. He's too protective and invasive, in terms of Helen and her business. Sure, it would be convenient if he were the Grand Deceiver, but still. A girl can hope.

Would I Recommend It:

Despite the not-love-triangle, I really enjoyed this book, and I'm loving this series. Dare I say this book is even stronger than The Dark Days Club? Perhaps it is. So many aspects of the story are strengthened - Helen, the plot revolving the Grand Deceiver, the journal (not spoiling), the romance (that ONE scene, mercy). There are even seeds about Carlston's wife, and Helen's parents, and a darker matter about Reclaimers and Deceivers. This book sets up for an intense showdown in book three! I highly recommend this series if you like historical fiction, paranormal fiction, steampunk fiction. I'm not a huge fan of Cassandra Clare's books, but this series reminds me a little of The Infernal Devices, in terms of the world-building. 

(I like this series SO much better than The Infernal Devices, mind you.)

Rating:

4 stars. My heart will be shriveled and withered by the time book three is published! I'm not sure I can handle the ending of this book for so long. But I'm trusting Goodman to deliver a fair and good ending, for Helen, and Carlston, and Darby, and Quinn, and the others. I'm looking forward to getting book three in my hands as soon as possible!


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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#213)


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!


So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, January 15th to Saturday, January 21st?


(all links to Goodreads are provided!)


A whole bunch of 2016 ARCs

I won this from a giveaway from the ladies at YA Wednesdays! Thank you!



Wow! Thank you so much, Macmillan! The poster is so glossy.



Thank you, Penguin! 



Thank you, Berkley! I'm reading this one soon and I can't wait. :D


Bookplate

Thank you, Sourcebooks! These were the preorder incentive, for preordering Breath of Fire. I loved both books! =)


What a week, right? I don't know what to say, honestly. A big part of me naively still can't believe this country is going in the direction that it is. I hope everyone has a good week.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: The Wish Granter by C.J. Redwine


The Wish Granter by C.J. Redwine
Book Two of the Ravenspire series
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Summary (from Goodreads):

An epic fantasy inspired by the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, about a bastard princess who must take on an evil fae to save her brother’s soul, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Shadow Queen.

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence that he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague, who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother...and her soul.

What I Liked:

C.J. Redwine has yet to disappoint me! I love her books and I am always looking forward to reading more from her. This latest novel was a delight, and it had a different feel compared to the rest of her books. It was a delightful story!

Ari and her twin brother Thad are illegitimate children of the king of Súndraille. When the queen finally gives birth to a son - the new legitimate heir - she sends bounty hunters to kill Thad and Ari. But Thad makes a wish with the Wish Granter, Alistair Teague: let him (Thad) become king of Súndraille. And so it happens, because being king has consequences. Teague is a ruthless fae that tricked Thad into being king so that he (Teague) could gain control of the kingdom, and begin to take over other kingdoms. But Ari won't sit around and let it happen - especially since she isn't under any contract of Teague. With the help of the new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, Ari begins to devise a plan to take down Teague. But Teague is hundreds of years old - and a fae - and he is much cleverer than any human. Sebastian and Ari must both make sacrifices in order to see the kingdom - and each other - safe.

I love how Redwine creates a world and makes it unique and wholly her own. This particular world spans across this entire Ravenpsire series. However, this book is set in the kingdom of Súndraille. In this kingdom, there is abundant crime, poverty, and drugs. The problems of this kingdom seem so modern and understandable - so like today's problems. I love how the author has the characters approaching the problems with actual solutions. How do we get rid of criminals? How do we get drugs off the streets?

Another thing that Redwine does so well is dig deep into her characters. Each one of her characters, whether primary or secondary, are so fleshed out. Ari, for example. She is the bastard daughter of the king, and she grew up like a servant. She isn't comfortable being a princess, the sister of the newly declared king. She prefers simple clothes and she doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. She is good at bargaining, baking, and numbers, and she loves having plans and lists. Ari isn't a sword-wielding kickbutt female - rather, she is insanely clever and a very talented baker.

Sebastian is quite possibly the youngest weapons master to ever exist, at eighteen. He knows how to use any and every weapon in the king's arsenal. He grew up under the care of one of Teague's most deadly collectors, and his father was cruel and hard on Sebastian. He doesn't like being touched, he hates crowds, and he doesn't say much. A man of few words, but the words he says are carefully chosen and hold a wealth of meaning. Everything about Sebastian is disciplined and precise - because he fears turning into his brutal and cold father.

This book is written in third-person limited POV, and we get chapters from Ari's POV, Sebastian's POV, and surprisingly (or not surprisingly, if you've read Redwine's novels), Teague's POV. I like third-person, and I liked the triad of perspectives from which this story is told.

It's always interesting, how Redwine gives her villains a voice in the story (i.e. a POV). Her villains aren't just evil caricatures out to kill everyone and take over the world. Redwine gives the villain a backstory and a purpose. Teague isn't a soulless Wish Granter (ha! pun intended). There are reasons for him being the way he is. Don't get me wrong, he's still a villain. But we better understand his origins, his motives, and his intent, with the elaborate backstory.

I love fairy tale retellings! This is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, but not in the way you think. The girl spinning gold is not Ari, though you can probably guess that Teague is Rumpelstiltskin. This story is based on Rumpelstiltskin, though I'm not sure I'd necessarily call it a retelling, since most of this book does not follow the story of Rumpelstiltskin. But it's so cool how Redwine took the original story of Rumpelstiltskin and made it into something different, interesting, and fascinating.

This book seemed lighter and more fun than her other books, though there were high stakes and heartbreak in this book. A key part of this book is Ari's baking - she loves food, and she loves to bake. Also, the way this book is told is almost humorous, with the writing style being so candid and almost conversational. 

The story itself is indirectly split into two parts - the first half being about Thad and Ari's adjustment to being royals, and Ari getting to know Sebastian and starting to plan how to take down Teague; the second half being about them dealing directly with Teague, in which he forces Ari's hand and she signs a contract with him, and Sebastian comes up with a plan to save her. I like how the story was set up, because there was enough action and twists to keep me extremely invested.

I like the romance! It was slow and sweet, definitely there but there weren't a lot of scenes devoted solely to the romance. There wasn't a ton of physical interaction, but you could really feel how Sebastian and Ari fall for each other and develop feelings for each other. There is no doubt of their emotional connection.

I love how this book ends! It's a wonderful ending, and everything feels fairly wrapped up. Redwine ends the book a little differently from what you might expect, and I like the ending (though a part of me would have loved her to go a little further). Still, it was a great ending to a lovely book!

What I Did Not Like:

There wasn't anything specific that detracted from the story! I personally would have loved more Sebastian/Ari moments (you know what I mean), but their relationship wasn't a potent, chemistry-filled one. It was a sweet romance, and I can't complain (too much) about that. Again, nothing specific really took away from the story.

Would I Recommend It:

Personally I'd recommend any of Redwine's books, this one included. I love that her latest novels are standalone novels. As much as I liked her Defiance series, not having to wait for the book to know what happens next is really satisfying. I recommend this one if you like fantasy, fairy tale retellings, sweet romances, clever girls, and strong, silently brooding boys. (Here's looking at you, Sebastian.)

Rating:

4 stars. I can always trust Redwine to write an interesting and clever story! I love how her heroines are uniquely their own - smart, yet not without faults - and her heroes the same - intelligent and strong, yet not without weaknesses. I look forward to reading the next Ravenspire novel! I'm hoping that there will be cameos from this book and book one, in the next book.


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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones


Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

What I Liked:

I know what you might be thinking: how did she not love this book to pieces? Why doesn't it say "5 stars", or at least "4 stars"? Believe me, I'm probably as surprised as you are. I fully expected to absolutely adore this book and gush about it after reading it. I expected to fall in love with a mesmerizing, seductive story; I didn't fall in love with the story, and (to me) it wasn't mesmerizing and seductive.

Liesl (short for Elisabeth) is the oldest of three children. She is the plainest child, the one most often forgotten. Her sister Kathe is beautiful, curvy, and flirtatious. Her brother Josef is a musical prodigy, playing the violin like no other. Liesl herself is a genius composer, but only Josef knows about the music in her soul. And it's a music that the Goblin King wants. No one believes in the Goblin King, save Liesl's grandmother... and Liesl herself. When she was a little girl, she used to be friends with him. Now she is older and no longer believes in her childhood fantasies. But when her sister is taken by the Goblin King, Liesl immediately strikes a bargain with him to get her out. In exchange for her sister's life, Liesl will marry the Goblin King and live in the Underground. She is no longer alive to the above world, and her family will soon forget she existed. In the Underground, Liesl is captivated by the Goblin King, whom she is slowly remembering that she has known him her entire life. As they grow closer, Liesl finds herself creating more music, and developing strong feelings for him. But nothing lasts forever, and a price must be paid. There are consequences for every action, and Liesl must decide what to sacrifice once and for all.

There are plenty of reasons to love this book, plenty of reasons why I understand the hype. For one, the writing is so beautiful. The author has a great writing style, and I love how wonderful the writing of this story was. Everything flowed idyllically, with a lull. The author has a talent for writing, and it shows, in her debut novel.

I'm not really familiar with the fairy tale on which the author based this story, or Labyrinth. However, I can tell that this is a retelling of a fairy tale. The story in general is so interesting. It has a Hades and Persephone feel to it (but more romantic, sort of). The world-building is well-written; I was expecting a lot of fantastical elements, and goblins of course, and there is a lot of all of that. Goblins, changelings, magic, twisted words, bargains... this story has it all.

Liesl goes through quite a transformation, in this book. Part of why she was willing to go down in the Underground with the Goblin King was because she wanted to be loved and wanted, for the first time in her life. She once believed she was plain and unr markable; by the end of the book, she has more self-worth, and she thinks more of herself. She is so selfless throughout the book, and by the end, she still has that soft heart, but she is also a stronger woman.

The Goblin King - I almost wish we could have read from his perspective. He is an enigma and a puzzle, and we slowly learn about him as the story goes on. I liked him, but I wasn't entranced by him (like many other readers were). I can understand the fascination with him, but he didn't come across as anyone special (more on this in the next section). I did like him though.

The romance is hot and cold. Liesl and the Goblin King clash and burn and simmer. They push and pull, and so there are scenes in which there is some serious heat, and then there are scenes in which they don't even want to look at each other. This book has content that is definitely "mature" and not for younger teens. 

I'll talk about the ending in the next section. Overall though, I get the hype. Really, I do. And I think this is a well-written fantasy story with a great pairing and a sweeping tale. But maybe it was just me - I didn't fall in love with the story.

What I Did Not Like:

Maybe the book was over-hyped for me? I felt a little disappointed, even as I was reading. I was waiting for that OMG-THIS-IS-SO-GOOD moment, in which I knew I would be gushing for days about the book. I still haven't quite hit that point.

My irritation started with the beginning of the story - I hated Kathe. She's beautiful, selfish, and so, so spoiled. She only thinks of herself (though we see, as the story goes on, that that is not quite true). She is shallow and I honestly felt bad for Liesl for having to deal with her. But Liesl is a selfless sister, as sisters are. 

I think I'm most disappointed in the romance - I wasn't all that convinced and sucked into the romance. Don't get me wrong, I shipped Liesl and the Goblin King. I can see why people think the romance is seductive and sensual. But I was... unimpressed? Maybe I was expecting more when people were like "oh the romance is so gritty and dark and sexy". It wasn't? The story takes a darker turn after the halfway point, and I suppose this book is a little sexier than any given Young Adult novel, but I didn't think it was particularly sexy. 

Maybe it's because I have read so many adult romance novels and I know what a sexy romance in a story really is? How sexy seduction can actually be, in a fictional story? I'm not sure. But the romance was underwhelming in terms of the chemistry. Don't get me wrong! It's still a fairly sensual romance and there are a few hot scenes between Liesl and the Goblin King! I personally was unimpressed though.

All of their hot and cold was a little annoying too, to be honest. I didn't really understand their physical relationship either. At one point, it was like Liesl wanted the Goblin King to have sex with her to "fix" her. Is sex something that "fixes" people? Maybe it is, but in this book, it seemed so weird that sex was what unlocked Liesl's music. That seemed nonsensical. But hey, maybe I'm missing something that was part of the original story or fairy tale. 

In terms of the Goblin King himself - he seemed somewhat one-dimensional. I understand that the story is all about Liesl's transformation, but I couldn't get a good enough sense of the Goblin King. We learn about him so, so slowly, and most of the time, it's like he's a piece of meat to Liesl, or something like that. He's the most interesting character of the book, but I feel like he is reduced to his height and his smiles.

Also, is it me or did the plot kind of meander? I couldn't really get a sense of where the story was going, after a point. So Liesl makes the deal with the Goblin King and she is now in the Underground and married to him. Okay? What's next - how they fall in love and ride off into the sunset? There was no "larger" plot at hand. You'd think there would be some impending doom, like the world ending, or the laws of the magical world being broken, or goblins escaping into the above world. But nope, the rising action and the climax are incredibly underwhelming. Where was the story going? I'm not sure.

So maybe the pacing was off, for me? Because it felt like the story meandered and went nowhere, and then BAM! Liesl has a choice to make, in the last 5% of the book (or thereabout). The climax occurs in the last 5% or so, which makes no sense. The ending was a slap in the fast, in terms of how it just showed up, with little explanation or execution.

The ending! The ending is so anticlimactic, underwhelming, and horrible! Horrible meaning cruel, though I saw it coming. What was the point? What was the point of the entire story? WHY was that allowed? What are the consequences? It happened in the past - how? Why? What came after? I had so many questions after I read the end of the book. The end literally makes no sense, and we get no explanation as to why it was allowed, what the consequences were, what the "aftermath"was.

Not to mention that the ending is so cruel and not a HEA. Every book doesn't have to end in sunshine and rainbows but... with a romance like this one? Color me disappointed that this book didn't end differently. There are so many ways the author could have ended this book. She choose the easy, predictable, and cruel way.

Unfortunately this book has left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. 

Would I Recommend It:

It's hard for me not to recommend this book, because it is a beautifully written, well-crafted story. And so many people have loved it. But I was unimpressed. I can appreciate the author's writing and the story and what she was going for, but the execution fell a little flat for me. However, I think anyone who was looking forward to reading this book should give it a chance. It could be me and my mood - or it could be the fact that I've read so many beautifully written, sexy romance novels that are the definition of "seductive" and "sensual". Then again, this book was underwhelming and not just in terms of the romance/chemistry, for me.

Rating:

3.5 stars -> rounded down to 3 stars. I hate to rate this book so low - though admittedly, 3 stars isn't super low. I so thought this book would be perfect for me - fantasy, fairy tale retelling, delicious romance. I was a little disappointed, but I'm most likely in the black sheep camp. I see the author is writing a companion novel - honestly, if the story doesn't feature Liesl and the Goblin King in some (happy) capacity, then I'm not sure I'm interested in the companion novel. I really don't want to read about Kathe. Josef, maybe? Really, I want more Liesl and the Goblin King.


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Swoon Thursday (#208): Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones


- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting


This week, my swoon is from Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones!


So I grasped his cloak and pulled him close, crushing our lips together in a kiss.

The kiss is sweeter than sin and fiercer than temptation. I am not gentle, I am not kind; I am rough and wild and savage. I bite, I nip, I lick, I devour. I want and I want and I want and I want. I hold nothing back.

Elisabeth, he exhales into me, and I feel my lungs, my body, my loins fill with his breath. He fills me and I want to be filled by him. I open my mouth to let him in, but his hands come up and wrap themselves around my arms.

No, no, no, I think. Don't push me away. Light my fire. Make me burn.

But the Goblin King doesn't push me away. He grips me closer, and I am met. Our lips part and greet like partners in a dance, meeting, twining, clinging. When he pulls away, I moan, but his mouth never travels far, kissing the corners of my lips and my chin, his nose brushing the skin of my cheek.

- eARC, 52%


Read my review of Wintersong


I had a lot of different thoughts on this book, but I really liked the author's writing, and the kissing scenes were always lovely. =)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (#212): The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.


This week, I'm featuring:


The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: July 18, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she's been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta's training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1901 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.



I absolutely loved this author's previous standalone (Unhooked), and I can't wait to read this novel novel! Historical fantasy for the win. :D