ARCs, Books

HAPPILY by Chauncey Rogers | Review

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Laure is a teenage street urchin just trying to get away. Where the rest of the world sees an enchanting love story, Laure sees royal incompetence and an opportunity to exploit it. She’ll have wealth and a way out of a life she detests, if she can only manage to pay off a would-be cloth merchant, outrun the angry bandits, hoodwink the royal family, and survive to tell the tale. {Goodreads}

Recently I was asked to read and review Happily by Chauncey Rogers, and I immediately accepted after learning that it was a retelling of the classic Cinderella story. While this fairy tale has certainly been retold many, many times before, I was intrigued to see how Rogers would make his version unique and captivating. Fortunately, I was not disappointed! Without further ado, here are five reasons to read Happily: 

+ It’s a creative retelling. Nothing about this novel feels stale, overdone, or unoriginal. Rogers has managed to take an old story and breathe new life into it through creating a new fictional world, characters you can’t help but root for, and a plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It can be difficult to find retellings like this that feel refreshing and new, so I always appreciate it when I come across one!

+ Laure is fabulous. Laure, the protagonist, is such a strong, independent, witty, and captivating narrator. She is flawed and often makes mistakes, but that only makes her even more easy to relate to as she struggles to make her way forward. I also really liked how her friendship with Luc happens gradually and naturally, unlike in many fairy tales.

+ The writing style. Rogers’ writing style is witty, entertaining, and engrossing. I quickly became invested in the story early on in the novel and my interest didn’t waver until I finished the very last page.

+ You won’t be able to put it down. There are so many twists and turns in this novel! Just when you think the climax has arrived and everything has been resolved, the plot takes another unexpected twist.

+ The ending makes everything worth it. I love how the classic Cinderella story appears at the end, although inverted. I won’t say more because I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s safe to say that you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks again to the author for an E-ARC! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fairytale retellings, adventure stories, and witty humor.

Do you like fairytale retellings? Do you have a favorite one? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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ARCs, Books

ECHO by Nadette Rae Rodgers | {RECEIVED FOR REVIEW}

*** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ***

Nadette Rae Rodger’s thrilling novel Echo continues the story of Addison and Zach as they grapple with their ever-present dreams. Soon these dreams start to transform into living nightmares as more details of the past are revealed. Why is Mitch so determined on seeking revenge? What is Aunt Carrie’s relationship with dreams? How are these two lives intertwined? All is uncovered in this second installment of the Illusion Trilogy.

A major strength of this novel is the way it seamlessly incorporates numerous different perspectives. Though the main narrator is Addison, we also see through the eyes of Mitch and read several journal entries written by Aunt Carrie. Coupled with very short chapters, the constant rotation of different perspectives adds suspense, intrigue, and depth to the novel. Moreover, I appreciate the use of different fonts to clearly indicate when the narrator has changed because it prevents any confusion from occurring. The variety of fonts also makes reading a lot more fun!

Another strength of Echo is its fairly realistic depiction of an average high school experience. Unfortunately, I feel as though the Young Adult genre is notorious for inaccurately portraying what high school is actually like in real life. Of course, no fictional representation is going to be perfect; however, Nadette Rae Rodgers does an excellent job of constantly reminding the reader that these characters are teenagers dealing with so much besides the obstacles faced in their dreams. Addison struggles with catching up with all of the schoolwork she missed, changing friendships, family dynamics, and worries over what to do with her life after graduating from high school. Even in the midst of her nightmarish turmoil, Addison is still a human being like you and me. 

As with Illusion, the first book in this trilogy, I love its focus on dreaming. I’m someone who often vividly remembers what I dream about at night– but I can’t imagine those dreams coming to life! Nadette has taken something ordinary and made it extraordinary with the Illusion Trilogy, which is precisely what makes storytelling so wonderful.

Overall, I was captivated, thrilled, and enthralled by Echo. This trilogy is for anyone looking for suspense, adventure, twists, and even some romance. Nadette Rae Rodgers has wrapped everything a good story needs into this beautifully written package.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

Do you dream often? Is there something you dream about a lot? What’s the best or worst dream you’ve ever had? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ARCs, Books

HEMMED IN edited by M.R. Nelson | ARC Review

Hemmed In is a collection of six short stories written by women, about women. In the words of editor M.R. Nelson, the stories in this collection are about “women, the restrictions on their lives, and the ways they found to make space for themselves despite those restrictions.” When I was offered an ARC of this collection in exchange for an honest review I immediately knew I had to accept. Not only does Hemmed In include a story by Willa Cather, one of my all-time favorite writers, but it also highlights stories and writers that are often forgotten. My favorite aspect of this collection is the common thread that links these stories together: a woman’s role in society, both among men as well as other women. I’ve most often come across short story collections organized by shared time periods or by the same author, but this one struck me as particularly interesting and unique. Since there are only six stories, I’ll share my thoughts on each one:

+ “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. I was sucked into this story from the moment it began. This murder mystery demonstrates a mutual understanding that can exist among women. It emphasizes the importance of being there for each other, being empathetic, and reaching out before it’s too late to do so. Though we may not always realize it, we share similar experiences that we can all learn and grow from.

+ “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin. I read dozens of short stories by Chopin for one of my courses last semester and I love the way she manages to captivate the reader in just a few quick pages. This story counters the idea that mothers are supposed to be eternally selfless. How can you take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself, too? By choosing to splurge and spend money on herself rather than her family, the protagonist shows that women are people with needs, desires, dreams, and wills of their own.

+ “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Unlike the other stories in this collection, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written with a sort of stream of consciousness style as though the protagonist is writing her thoughts in a journal. Though her husband, a physician, repeatedly assures her that time alone will help her “recover,” what she really desires is to play a more active, social role in society. This powerful story of a supposedly “sick” woman illustrates the way women have been trapped physically, mentally, and emotionally. Gilman’s writing is clever, genuine, and really puts the reader in the shoes of the protagonist.

+ “Little Selves” by Mary Lerner. This story is just so, so sweet. Despite the fact that the protagonist is on her deathbed, she nevertheless finds solace in looking back on her happiest memories. Lerner’s optimistic story suggests that women are capable of leading fulfilling lives that they can look back on fondly.

+ “The Leading Lady” by Edna Ferber. I love that the overall message of this story is the importance of camaraderie and friendship among women. It made me want to call up all of my amazing friends who are women and thank them for always being there for me, just as the protagonist finds comfort in speaking with the women she meets in the hotel. This is “girl power” at its finest!

+ “The Bohemian Girl” by Willa Cather. I was thrilled when I discovered that a Willa Cather story is included in this collection. I fell in love with this story from the very beginning, especially because it gives off strong My Antonia vibes. In fact, there are many similarities between this short story and that novel. For instance, there are the familiar conflicts between home and away, rural areas and cities, the past and the present. Both Nils and Jim Burden inevitably return to their pasts on the farm, though with differing outcomes. This is actually the first short story I’ve read by Cather, but it certainly won’t be the last!

Overall, the entire premise behind a “taster flight” of short stories such as Hemmed In is brilliant and incredibly effective at highlighting a specific point or theme. In this case, these stories work to showcase not only the talent of women as writers but also the perseverance of women in spite of the discrimination and subordination we have faced throughout history. As an added bonus, I have now been introduced to several writers whose work I need to read more of!

Would I recommend this to a friend?: Yes!! I would recommend this to anyone interested in feminist writing, any of the particular authors featured in the collection, or simply short stories in general.

What are your thoughts on this collection? Have any related recommendations based on these authors? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ARCs, Books

ZERO by Morgan Dark {ARC Review}

25376893“A baffling robber.
A mystery hidden for years.
And an elite boarding school where no one is who they say they are.
Kyle Bradford is the envy of Drayton College, but everything takes a turn when a dangerous shadow, hidden in the darkness, starts to stalk him. From then on, his life falls apart. Unjustly accused of being the main suspect behind the robberies terrifying high society, he is forced to prove his innocence. And to do so, he has to find the real culprit: Zero, an infallible criminal who keeps his identity hidden under a silver mask. What Kyle does not know is that his enemy is keeping a secret. A secret he would sacrifice everything for.
A dizzying, heart-stopping thriller you won’t be able to put down.”

Goodreads.com

*I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.* Thank you to Rubiños 1860 for giving me the opportunity to read and review this ARC!

After reading the little blurb about the ARC of Zero by Morgan Dark, I immediately knew that I would have to give it a go. This book was actually already published in Spain in September 2015, and an English translation was recently released on June 28th in the United States after experiencing fantastic success overseas. Eager to see what the buzz was all about, I dove into Zero ready to be thrilled and surprised.

Copy of June-11

+ Suspense. I love how this book is suspenseful right from the beginning, before you’ve even met the main character or the stage has been completely set. The result is truly an edge-of-your-seat feeling that kept me reading long after I should have gone to bed for the night. There are plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected obstacles that pop up along the way, making this novel an engaging and exciting read.

+ The setting. There’s something about a boarding school setting that hooks me right into any story. Drayton College, though a bit unrealistic, intrigued me endlessly with its interesting history, traditions, and perspective on education. Besides, it seems like fictional boarding schools are the perfect place to brew up some trouble (Hogwarts, anyone?).

The main character. Although there are many characters in this story, the primary focus is Kyle, the main character. In fact, we almost exclusively hear about his own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Such a narrow lens might seem too specific at first, but with time I realized that it actually suits the story quite nicely. Zero is much more plot-driven than it is motivated by characters. By concentrating on Kyle, the narrative allows the plot to come to the forefront of the reader’s mind without being clouded by too many other characters.

+ Originality. The overall premise of Zero is a unique modern twist on an old idea: the enigmatic, masked thief who steals from the rich without getting caught. The reveal of how Zero manages to maintain his impeccable success record, while not necessarily realistic, is undoubtedly unique.

Copy of June-12

I honestly had no complaints about this novel until I got about 75 percent through it and accurately guessed Zero’s actual identity. After that, the story dulled in comparison to the suspenseful tale it was before. There were still a few suspenseful surprises at the very end, but I couldn’t help feeling as though the driving question behind the entire novel had been much too easy to answer. It makes logistical sense when considering the details that lead up to the big reveal, but knowing how it would ultimately end rendered the conclusion quite anticlimactic for me. However, had I not correctly guessed Zero’s identity the ending would have been completely satisfactory.

Copy of June-13Despite the rather disappointing ending, my overall experience reading Morgan Dark’s Zero was a positive one. I loved the feeling of being so invested in the story and desperately needing to know what on Earth would happen next. It’s not every day that you can find such a mysterious, suspenseful read!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Especially to a friend who loves mysteries, boarding school stories, or Robin Hood-like thieves.

What are some great mysteries that you’ve read recently? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ARCs, Books

ARC Review: SHADOW SCALE

shadow scale coverAuthor: Rachel Hartman

Number of Pages: 608

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Release Date: March 10, 2015

“The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?”

– Goodreads.com

***I received this ARC copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.***

 After several long years, the eagerly awaited sequel to Seraphina has finally arrived! I loved Seraphina, so I certainly had high expectations for Shadow Scale. Although I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book, this sequel was nevertheless a worthwhile read!

Besides Rachel Hartman’s amazing writing style, my favorite aspect of this book is the meticulous attention to detail regarding everything in Seraphina’s fantasy world. Each kingdom has different languages, cultures, and customs that are explained in the story with surprising clarity and ease. I don’t know how the author was able to keep them all straight in her head! The politics of the kingdoms are also quite complicated, as are the backgrounds and personalities of the characters. It’s always apparent when an author really pours their effort into fully fleshing out a fictional world, as is the case with this novel.

Seraphina is a fantastic main character. Not only is she fascinating because of what she is- half dragon, half human!- but she is also a well-rounded, balanced female character. Often times girls are portrayed as either stone cold or soft and fragile, but Seraphina is strong, independent, and compassionate all at the same time. She isn’t afraid to show her emotional side, but she also understands when it is necessary to buckle down and be tough. She has her own interests and passions (primarily music) and although she does have a love interest, she doesn’t require his constant presence in order to function (unlike some female characters in YA fiction…). I really admire the multidimensional young woman that Rachel Hartman has created in this story, and I wish that there were more girls like her in YA fiction.

Speaking of her love interest, I also really liked how romance isn’t an enormous part of this novel. Yes, it is certainly present- and thank goodness, because Prince Lucian is such a great guy!- but it is not really emphasized until the end of the novel when everything is coming to a close. The focus is largely on the action and adventure that Seraphina experiences, which is refreshing to read about in a genre plagued by a need for romantic relationships. Along with her romantic relationship with Prince Lucian, she also highly values her friendships with Glissenda, Abdo, and Orma.

I could go on and on about all of the things I love about this sequel. Jannoula, the main antagonist, was so twisted! You almost sympathize for her because of her tragic past, but at the same time she’s so evil that you can’t really like her. She was such a dynamic, unpredictable character and she added an important element of suspense and drama to this story. Also, I really liked learning more about Seraphina’s mind garden, which reminded me a lot of Sherlock’s “mind palace” in the BBC TV series “Sherlock”. Watching it change over time was very intriguing, and it offered a unique look directly inside of the main character’s mind.

My main complaint is that the first half of this novel had a rather slow pace. Until the twists and turns started happening, it seemed like the story was dragging quite a bit. After that, though, the plot really started to quicken and thicken (yay rhyming!) and I couldn’t put the book down. Moreover, I sort of had an issue with the ending of this book, particularly with what happens in the epilogue. I won’t spoil it, but it seemed out of character for Seraphina to just settle for something that she was so passionate about. Personally, I think she should have insisted that it turn out differently, even though what actually occurred did make some logical sense. She was such a strong character, and I really wanted to see her go after what she really wanted! However, I can see why it would realistically make sense for her to sit back and let things take their course.

Overall, I really enjoyed this sequel even though it wasn’t as amazing as the first novel. I don’t know if there will be a third book in this series, but I really hope so!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! I would definitely suggest reading the first book, though, because I think it would be really confusing if you started with this one. This is a great book for anyone who is interested in reading an excellent YA fantasy story that is thought-provoking, action-packed, and unique!

Have you read Seraphina or Shadow Scale? What are your thoughts on either or both of them? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ARCs, Books

ARC Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC (Preview!)

Author: V.E. SchwabA Darker Shade final for Irene

Number of Pages: 400 (preview was about 100)

Publisher: Tor Books

Release Date: February 24, 2015

“Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.”

– Goodreads.com

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC ebook of A Darker Shade of Magic from NetGalley that was a preview of about 100 pages in exchange for an honest review.

I have never read anything by V.E. Schwab before, but I have heard so many amazing things about her work that I finally decided to give it a try. I received an ARC preview of this book from NetGalley, so it was only a section of the actual full novel. However, I can already tell that this is going to be an awesome book!

One of the most tricky things about fantasy stories is building up and fleshing out the fantasy world in which it takes place. If the author includes too many details all at once it will slow the pace of the plot down, but not enough information in the beginning can lead to confusion. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but Schwab reaches it and maintains it throughout this part of the novel. After the first ten pages or so I felt quite comfortable in Schwab’s fantasy world, and I better understood who the characters were and what roles they played. Well is a great main character, and I love learning more and more about him as details of his past are slowly leaked.

The whole idea of the different Londons all being kingdoms that have conflicting views on magic is really fascinating to me. I love when authors take something real- London, for example- and add a fantastical twist to it. The real elements make it seem almost realistic, even though you know there’s no way it could actually be true. I can already feel the tension between the different colored Londons, and I can’t wait to see if any conflict arises between them.

Overall, I already have a really good feeling about this novel .It’s unique, captivating, exciting, and unlike YA fantasy novels I’ve read before. Since I haven’t read the entire book I’m not going to rate it, but if the story maintains this level of awesomeness then it will definitely have a  high rating in my eyes. I’m so excited to read the rest of the novel, and as of right now I’ll definitely be adding more of V.E. Schwa’s work to my TBR list!

Stay tuned for my review of the full novel!

Yours,

HOLLY