Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Review: The Life and Death Parade by Eliza Wass

**Book Cover Photo here**

**This book was provided for review through NetGalley**

What it's about:
      One lovely summer night lit with fairy lights and filled with the sounds of laughter and children's games, Nikki Bramley visits a psychic, who tells him he's going to die.

     A year later, Nikki's family and Kitty, the girl who loved him, are reeling with the bizarre and traumatic circumstances surrounding his death.  When Kitty goes looking for answers, she finds much more than she bargained for in the Life and Death Parade, a group of psychics who pray to a myriad of saints and may or may not be all that they seem.

What I thought:
      Ok, so real talk: This book sounded so interesting and cool.  Psychics? Creepy portents that come true? REVEALING THE MYSTERIES OF LIFE AND DEATH AND WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO NIKKI BROMLEY?! Yes. It all sounded so good.

     HOWever, in my opinion, this book was a bit of a letdown.  The first half of the book seemed like a bit of a hot mess.  The characters felt like miserable cardboard cutouts, and I didn't really care about what happened to them, because all this dramatic stuff goes down right off the bat, and I felt no connection to them.  I feel like, in order to feel something for the characters in a book, you should know them and be connected with them first. Throughout the first part of the book I just felt vaguely annoyed with everyone, because nothing had really been explained or described character-wise.  Another thing I noticed was that the characters often said something, then two pages later, completely changed their minds and said the exact opposite thing.  It was like none of them could keep their story straight and everyone was either lying or just confused about how they felt.  

     The story itself feels kind of like it's being summarized by someone who read an actual book--sort of like a rambling sparknotes version.  There's a LOT of descriptive language about the scenery and the actions of the characters, but no really solid storyline that tells the reader where we've been and where we're headed.  Every time we come to some new information, it's like one step forward, two steps back.  Instead of becoming clearer, the story just gets weirder and more confusing.  At one point when I checked to see how far I was, expecting to be about 10% through, I discovered that I was 30% done with the book, but nothing really had happened yet.

     The back and forth between the present and the flashback scenes is not very well executed.  The flashbacks seemed to be out of order and don't actually explain anything, they just make Nikki (which, tbh, totally seems like the female version of this name to me) look crazy and psychotic, which is sort of an established fact, since they keep referencing how he went nuts after the psychic foretelling his death.  Also, you know, he's now dead via mysterious circumstances surrounding a creepy psychic visit.

That being said, things did definitely pick up for the better during the second half of the book. There were some big twists that I totally was not expecting, and I'm glad I didn't DNF the book, like I saw that some people had done on the goodreads page for the book.  One of my favorite parts was the actual Life and Death Parade scene. I feel like it was vivid and beautiful; one part psychic fair, one part foresty Burning Man.  Once we got more information from that scene, the story did really start to come together and make more sense and get much more interesting! I enjoyed how the mystery of Nikki's life and death was revealed, and the ending was unexpected, but in a good way!

Overall, I think the first part of this book didn't grab me and pull me in the way I would have wanted, but the second half of the book was interesting and mystical and just a tad bit creepy, but in a good way!

Rating: 3 stars.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book Review: Fatal Throne by Candace Fleming & More

**This e-ARC was provided to me for review purposes through NetGalley!**

What it's about:
     In this book, a collection of authors tell-all from the point of view of Henry VIII and his Six Wives.  Though fictional, the stories of each woman are steeped in history and well-researched. 

What I thought:
      I enjoyed this book, though is not my usual type of read.  However, being a pretty big Anglophile (can't help it, I grew up with an English Nana--it's in my blood, literally), I find myself always having been very interested in the lives of Henry VIII and his many wives (and actually, in real life, I've been in the cathedral in which Henry VIII is buried!).  I've read a few other books on the subject, though most of them have been from the pov of Mary or Elizabeth (Henry's daughters, for those not in The Know), so it was quite different for me to see povs directly of Henry and the Wives.

No lie, I actually own this mug.

     I also very much enjoyed seeing how the lives of the wives intermingled before Henry was involved.  Most texts, I find, rely on either the narrative of Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn, so it was refreshing and interesting to to see/learn more about the other 4 wives.

     We additionally get to see a bit about each wife from Henry's pov, which, though interesting, gave me an even lowered opinion of him. Guy was a douchebro. And his "motto"? "Sir Loyal Heart"?! Don't even get me started about how *not* true it is.

Yeah yeah yeah, Henry, you're, like, soooo great. Except when you have your wives killed mostly because you found a new hot girl to marry. NOT.

     I think my favorite section of the book was that of Anne of Cleves.  She was one of the few wives/ex wives that survived Henry, and her section was told through memories/hallucinations as her cancer kills her.  Morbid, yes, but also very vivid and imaginative, which broke up the other wives' more monotonous, "Here's what's happening/ what happened" storylines. 
     There's also a really cool bit at the end from Elizabeth's pov, which really "sticks it to the man", since Henry's last dying entry in the book mentions how glad he is to have a son who will be a great King, and that neither of his daughters will ever be on the throne.
Take THAT, you misogynist!

     I also liked Catherine Parr's section.  Since she survived Henry while still married to him, it was interesting to see how exactly she managed to *stay* his wife, even though he tried to do away with her.

     Overall, I really liked seeing the process of a not necessarily powerful woman suddenly being thrust into the Top Female Spot and seeing how each woman dealt with it, as well as dealing with Henry and his terrible conduct and eventually failing health.  There's definitely something regal and yet sort of sad about this book, much like the queens themselves.  It's a modern-day obituary that brings to light the feelings, hopes, and dreams of the deceased.  

Rating:  3.5 stars.  

Book Review: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

**This book was provided to me through NetGalley for review purposes!**

What it's about:
     This story follows our main character, Winnie Mehta, through a break-up with the guy she *thought* was supposed to be her soulmate--as in Raj, the guy with an "R" name who she would meet before her 18th birthday and who gave her the prophesied silver bangle bracelet that would prove his love and devotion.  Yes, I said PROPHESIED. 

You can't fight a prophecy, right?!?

    But when things go south in their "perfect" relationship, it starts to bleed over to the rest of their lives, including the film club that she and Raj "co-president", and which runs a film festival every year.  A film festival that Winne NEEDS to be part of if she wants to fulfill her dream of attending the NYU Film School.  

    Well, as you can imagine, interesting and....unexpected things begin to happen from there on out.

What I thought:

     Firstly, a disclaimer: if I relate closely to anyone in this book, it'd be Winnie's bff, Bridget.  I am a blonde-haired, blue eyed girl of Scandinavian ancestry--pretty much as far as you can get from any of the cultures of India or its geographical neighbors.
     But man, do I like...*really* love Bollywood movies.  I don't even remember the first one I saw, but I was in middle school, and after that, I was instantly a fan. I get that a lot of them are super cheesy, and like...nobody in real life breaks out into perfectly choreographed song and dance numbers, but they span a *ton* of themes and can be both super entertaining and also very powerful, sometimes all at once.

(Side note: this is from Lagaan, one of my all-time FAVORITES. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend! Sure, it's 3 hours long, but it's got history and drama and romance and it will give you ALL THE FEELS.)
    A second disclaimer: the setting of this book ABSOLUTELY affected the way I read it.  My grandparents lived in Princeton, NJ for almost my entire childhood and I spent a LOT of time there during holidays and summer breaks.  Being able to recognize landmarks and places in a book, even though their names were changed? Weird for me, but also super fun.  Like...the theater Rose Theater is based on? I probably walked by that place like 5738 times as a kid.  And the ice cream place, Robert's Sweets? Totally not the real place, but it *is* very close in name.
     Strangely enough, Princeton is also the place where I first saw a movie mentioned in this book: Bend It Like Beckham, directed by someone who shows up in this story: Gurinder Chadha.  The previously mentioned Nana brought me to the movies to see it, then I promptly went to the bookstore (again, in Princeton) to buy the soundtrack, which I still listen to to this day.

     But I digress.  Back to the actual reason you may be here: the book! (Though if you're enjoying my trip down memory lane, yay! And thanks for putting up with me.)

     This book is a contemporary YA romance mixed with a bit of a "finding your true self" story all wrapped up in a package filled with Bollywood references and dreams of Shah Rukh Khan (which *totally* makes me want to have a dream with him in it. It'd be so amusing).

This is Shah Rukh Khan. He is an absolute GEM.

       Since there's a prophecy involved, and we know its contents pretty much right off the bat, it's kind of easy to assume that the plot would take one of two directions.  The headstrong but straight-laced heroine wants to control her own destiny and succeeds, thus disproving the prophecy, or.....the headstrong but straight-laced heroine wants and tries to control her own destiny, but in doing so, ends up with a self-fulfilling prophecy instead.
      However, it's how we go through Winnie's journey with her that's the fun part.  All at once, you're both hoping she finds the true soulmate of the prophecy by the end of the book and also rooting her on for wanting to just ignore silly superstitions and make her own way in the world.  

     The secondary characters were well-thought out and likeable, though my pet-peeve of adult characters not JUST LISTENING to younger people in important situations did show up (I don't know about you, but the adults I grew up around didn't write off EVERYTHING I SAID as nonsense or teen drama. I'm not sure if I was just lucky, or if this is just really not realistic).  Even the Ex, Raj, was a fairly enjoyable character by the end.  Also, I'm not going to go into particulars, but...Dev.

     I also found Winnie's struggles with the expectations surrounding her to be pretty realistic.  I mean, if my entire family was obsessed with some random prophecy about my love life, I'd get a bit annoyed/stressed out about it as well. Then when things go wrong with the guy you thought was "the One" since childhood, I mean--no wonder she's got kind of a complex about this whole bit of divination.  

     Overall, I don't think you need to be a fan of/knowledgeable about Bollywood in order to read this book (It does add to the enjoyment, but I don't think it's necessary).  It's a solid story that I think will satisfy many types of readers!

Rating:  4 stars.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Book Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

**This e-ARC was provided for review purposes through NetGalley!**

What It's About:
         Anathema Island has been the home of the Blackburn daughters for 8 generations, ever since Rona Blackburn traveled there to make a new home for herself.  The thing is, Rona didn't get along so well with the original settlers of the island, who feared her strange ways and uncanny powers.  When they tried to burn her home down--with her inside of it--she cast a spell that bound their bloodlines to the well-being of the island and her own family.
        Generations later, the youngest Blackburn daughter, Nor, hopes the "gifts" that come with her lineage leave her with an uneventful life.  However, when a strange book shows up promising spells that could only be successfully completed by someone possessing Rona Blackburn's full abilities, Nor senses something bad is coming--and she suspects it comes in the form of her estranged, powerful mother. 

What I thought:
         Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  Mostly it was the wonderfully witchy ambiance that was captured so well in the story and setting.  If Anathema Island was a real place, I'd definitely want to visit. Probably wouldn't like to live there, since crazy stuff happens to people who live on the island, but I'd probably want to check out the lake and shops and sweet nature trails, at least.  

The moody setting paired with the actually witchy characters was hitting all of the buttons for me.  This would be a great one to read on a crisp fall evening close to Halloween.  The Blackburn women are so compelling and I really want to know more about the women between Rona, Judd, Fern, & Nor.  I just really adore a cast of characters made up mostly of a long line of generational witches.  

Another thing I liked about this book was that it had the perfect combo of intrigue, magic, & mystery mixed with this super intense underlying feeling of foreboding and dread.  You will, when reading this book, definitely get a true bit of stomach-clenching stress while waiting for the ball to drop (and by the ball dropping, I mean Fern showing up on the island).  We keep getting snippets and bits of information both about what she's up to in the present intermingled with Nor's memories of the past, so you slowly learn how terrifying and BAD it is that she's up to her old tricks in a big way.  

I also really enjoyed that the focus in the story was on the relationships between Nor and literally everyone else on the island.  Spoiler Alert! She's related to every original settling family, which provides for a very interesting dynamic, especially considering the reason for those relationships and shared blood is caused by the curse Rona Blackburn put on them back in the day.  I loved her relationships with Judd and Madge and her grandfather, because they were so diverse and that made the story feel more realistic.  

And lest I go through this whole review without mentioning the conflict and antagonist of the story, I'm gonna talk about it: Fern.  Fern, the Blackburn daughter with a super creepy power who realizes that she can use it to gain a semblance of the full Blackburn powers she's always wanted.  Let me tell you, Fern is an awesome character, solely because she's terrifying.  I don't want to spoil a whole lot, but the way she gains her influence in the world is *so* creepy.  Like....a "the body snatchers took away my mom and dad and nobody will believe me because the cops are also body snatchers" kind of creepy, which just adds to the panic and feeling of doom that resonates throughout this story.  

So listen, if moody, witchy vibes and a great antagonist sound like your kind of read, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.  Alternately, you could pick it up then put it down until October to further immerse yourself in a spooky and thematic setting for your reading!

Rating: 4 stars.  

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

**This e-ARC was provided through NetGalley for reviewing purposes!**

What it's about:

          Lady Amalia Cornaro never expected to come home from a book-buying run as a newly-minted Falconer, an elite branch of the military trained to control the magical abilities of mage-marked "Falcons", but she has suddenly found herself the unwanted warden of Zaira, a powerful fire mage.  When her ambitious mother decides to use this newfound power to the advantage of the Cornaro family, Amalia is suddenly thrown into much more of the court intrigue than she would have been as "just the Cornaro heir."  Rumors have been spreading in the nearby city of Ardence of a Shadow Gentry, and when a group of mage-marked aristocratic children are kidnapped, it's up to Amalia, an unwilling Zaira, and Marcello, a Falcon officer, to discover what game is afoot and unmask the harbingers of war between the two kingdoms!

What I thought:

         I'm not going to lie...the first half of this book dragged a little for me.  I liked the characters right away, but during the first half of the book there were a LOT of little details that didn't always seem necessary for the reader to know all at once.  This did aid in the worldbuilding and the character development, as well as prepared the reader for all of the stuff going on behind the scenes, but for me it was just a bit of information overload.

I totally loved the three main characters, Amalia, Zaira, and Marcello.  The character development in this book was fantastic, and we got to see the characters grow and change throughout the story.  Amalia and Marcello had some great chemistry, and Amalia's relationship with Zaira was great as well.

The magic system was so cool (albeit not necessarily fair to the characters), and I loved how it was treated differently in the two drastically different societies we glimpsed in this story. 

The politics in the story were also surprisingly interesting to me! Normally I'm not all about the "political court intrigue" heavy novels, but I enjoyed everything happening here.  Prince Ruven was a great character, and the politicians dealing with Ardence and Raverra were really interesting, including the members of Amalia's own family.

The ending wrapped up nicely for this part of the story while also hinting at more to come, so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next to these characters!

If you like well-done worldbuilding and lots of court intrigue, definitely give this one a try!

Rating: 3.75 stars.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Halayda by Sarah Delena White.

*This e-ARC was provided through NetGalley for review purposes!*

What it's about:

              Sylvie lives on the edges of a society in which mages are the ruling force, and anything fae-touches is scorned or used for its magical properties.  Once a student of alchemy, she now provides for a rag tag group of half-fae children by selling her alchemical creations. Once a year, the human and fae worlds come together--and so do Sophie and the Fae King Taylan, in hopes of maintaining the fragile balance between their two worlds.  When disasters strikes in the form of an alchemical attack, Sophie and Taylan must travel through the Fae kingdom in order to save it and the human world from the clutches of an evil Star Fae long thought dead.

What I thought:
          So, to be honest, I didn't *super* love this book.  I enjoyed the fae/human relationship story, and the fact that one world cannot quite be well without the other, but I don't think it hit the right buttons for me.

Firstly, I felt as though there was a whole chunk of backstory/character development that went on before the story started that we didn't get to see at all.  It was like the reader was supposed to automatically be invested in these characters when we weren't really given a whole lot of information about them.  I just felt like something was missing in the beginning that we should have been told in order to aid in our understanding of the world and characters. 

Secondly, I felt as though the first half of the book dragged a bit.  I knew there was some big reveal coming, but I just felt like I was waiting....and waiting...and waiting to finally get the big reveal about the whole Dragonfly thing.  Plus, it was kind of predictable, what with the "half-human, half-fae alchemist Chosen One" thing going on.  Once we heard about the mysterious, elusive, and rarer-than-rare "Dragonfly", it was pretty clear that the story was heading toward a "SOPHIE IS THE DRAGONFLY" billboard.

Other than that, I did like the dynamic between the different races of Fae.  I loved the Banshee general and the mysterious and dangerous qualities of Taylan, and even, yes, the abilities and idea of the Dragonfly.  Once the story got moving and something of consequence actually happened, I enjoyed the rest of the read!

This is one that I'm not sure I'll continue on with.  The book really dragged for me--it took me almost a month to get through because I wasn't feeling any real motivation to finish it.  I liked some concepts, so I may read the inevitable sequel, but I'm not quite decided on it yet.

Rating:  3.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: These Ruthless Deeds by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

**This E-ARC was provided through NetGalley for review purposes!**

What it's about:

         This sequel takes place soon after the events of These Vicious Masks, and follows the continued adventures of Evelyn and her friends in the high society of 1880's England.  Despite the previous untrustworthy connections of the mysterious Society, Evelyn joins forces with them in order to put herself in the position to aid others with powers like hers.  When a recon mission in India goes awry, Evelyn and her friends discover more sinister things about the Society--and vow to discover who is the driving force behind the terrible deeds.

What I thought:

         This was a very solid sequel.  It picked up a few weeks after the events of the first book, and we got into the intrigue right away.  I don't want to get too carried away with details, since this is the second book in the series, but I loved all the new characters we got to meet and was glad that we were able to still see the old characters we loved from the first book (some more..ahem...surprising than others).  

This part of the story takes the Society from something intrinsically evil to something that could be used for good--as long as the right people are in charge.  However, that's part of the mystery--who is in control, and why are they making the choices they are? Are they here to help powered people, or use the powered for their own gains?

Oh man, though. Just when you think everything is going according to our protagonists' plans, SHIT. GOES. DOWN. That ending, O.M.G.

(Actual footage of me reading the ending of this book)

Like...I cannot and do not want to give away ANY spoilers for that ending because holy Moses, it's CRAZY, in a terrible but also so unexpected and just--wow. These authors are evil geniuses, I think.  

So listen, go do yourself a favor.  Go read These Vicious Masks, then read this one, then cry because we don't have the third book yet and WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?!?!?!

Rating: 4 stars.