Book Review: Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn

Keeper of the Dawn

Paperback, 205 pages
Expected publication: April 18th 2017 by Book Smugglers Publishing

Two days ago, I saw a tweet from the Book Smugglers about the release of their first title in the Novella Initiate, Keeper of the Dawn by Dianna Gunn.  They sent me an epub to read (which in no way affects the honesty of this review), and I found myself wanting to devour it without stop once I got started.  Unfortunately, that was late at night after a long day, so my eyes kept closing and I had to stop about 2/3 in.  But I picked it up again this morning!

This was a fantastic, short read!  It was almost perfect; I just wanted more world building.  But that’s a problem I have with any short fiction pieces.  I always find myself wanting more.

What I did get was great characters and a plot that spoke to me on a deeper level.  It was something I needed right now when my life is mental turmoil.  The whole story is based on being able to achieve your dreams and goals, but you may not make it there the way you thought you would.  It was very uplifting to read a story where the protagonist just follows down the path that was chosen for them because of a prophecy or fate.  Lai knows what she wants, her path is littered with affirmations that she’ll get it, but then she fails and has to readjust.

Along the way, she discovers more about herself and the world she lives in.  We also get a beautifully told female/female relationship that doesn’t feel forced, nor is it just there.  It provides support and stability for Lai when the rest of her life is in turmoil.

Since this is a novella, I don’t want to give away too much, so I’ll stop here.  But know that I loved this piece, and can’t wait to see what else the Novella Initiate has to offer us.

Summary:

Sometimes failure is just the beginning

All Lai has ever wanted is to become a priestess, like her mother and grandmother before her, in service to their beloved goddess. That’s before the unthinkable happens, and Lai fails the trials she has trained for her entire life. She makes the only choice she believes she can: she runs away.

From her isolated desert homeland, Lai rides north to the colder, stranger kingdom of Alanum—a land where magic, and female warriors, are not commonplace.

Here, she hears tales about a mountain city of women guardians and steel forgers, worshiping goddesses who sound very similar to Lai’s own. Determined to learn more about these women, these Keepers of the Dawn, Lai travels onward to find their temple. She is determined to make up for her past failure, and will do whatever it takes to join their sacred order.

Falling in love with another initiate was not part of the plan.

Keeper of the Dawn is a tale of new beginnings, second chances, and the endurance of hope.

Book Review: Frostblood by Elly Blake

Frostblood (Frostblood Saga, #1)

Hardcover, 376 pages

Published January 10th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I’m happy to share that I finally had the opportunity to read this gripping fantasy.  There were parts that reminded me of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, but Elly Blake was able to give us a wonderful story that unfolded into something that, while maybe not the most original, was definitely a fun read.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Dream Magic by Joshua Khan

Dream Magic (Shadow Magic, #2)

DREAM MAGIC, A SHADOW MAGIC NOVEL

by Joshua Khan

Disney-Hyperion | On Sale April 11, 2017

Hardcover ISBN: 9781484737620 | $16.99 | $17.99 Can. | 352 pages | Ages 8-12

Ebook ISBN: 9781368002462

Even though I loved Shadow Magic and was intrigued by this cover, my fear of spiders almost stopped me from reading this amazing story.  But I’m glad I chanced the nightmares, which I didn’t have thankfully, because this book was just as good as the first one.  The crystalline spiders were indeed quite creepy, but they totally fit with the story and I loved that they were so integral to the plot as they added a sense of urgency to the characters.  I liked them so much that I drew up some of my own to share 🙂

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#RETELLINGSRC2017 Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted

Hardcover, 435 pages
Published May 19th 2015 by Del Rey
Finally, I was able to make time to read this book!  I have heard so many good things, and it’s been sitting on my shelf since I heard about it at ALAMW15.  I’m so glad I had the “excuse” of choosing this title for the Retellings Reading Challenge 🙂
The story and characters were riveting, and I found myself unable to set it down for very long.  I especially loved that the Woods had their own personality, which lent to giving the whole story a thrilling and darker aspect.  This is a retelling/reinterpretation of the Beauty and the Beast story, and there are hints and throwbacks throughout the story to give you the sense of the original, but this story’s main feature is all its own.
As this is a standalone, you can expect to read a full story that wraps up almost all the loose strands by the final page.  Characters develop and grow throughout, and you get to see a good chunk of this fictional world as the story unravels.  In a book world that features series quite heavily (and I adore that and seek them out), it was nice to have a contained story that didn’t rely on additional materials.
There were a few things that I found disappointing like the distinct lack of actual dragons, and the ending didn’t seem to have enough explanation throughout the first part of the book.  It needed a bit more development and lore to seem more believable.  But overall, this is a very solid example of an author taking a familiar story and putting their own twist on it, successfully.

Summary:

“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Blog Tour Review: Dragonwatch by Brandon Mull

dw-blog-tour-image

Hardcover, 384 pages
Expected publication: March 14th 2017 (TODAY!) by Shadow Mountain
One of my absolute favorite series when I was younger was Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.  I started reading it when it was first published and found myself recommending it to everyone because “people of all ages will like it just like Harry Potter!”  Yep, I thought this series could span the generations, and I proved that by enjoying re-reads every few years.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)

Hardcover, 544 pages
Expected publication: March 28th 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
 After waiting
and waiting
and waiting
and waiting,
and then some more waiting in desperation,
I can finally say that I’ve read this book!

And it was awesomely amazing!

When Laini Taylor spoke at the SLJ Day of Dialog in May of 2016, she spoke about our myth-hole.  The part of your soul that craves mythology and storytelling.  Well, Strange the Dreamer made me realize just how empty my myth-hole has been the last couple of months.  Part of that has been stress from work, but another part of that has been the books I’ve chosen to read.  There were some stand-outs (i.e. A Shadow Bright and Burning), but I had been reading to finish lists and challenges, so it felt like “required” reading.

Well, no more!  Laini’s beautiful wordsmithing has reawakened my awareness of my myth-hole’s requirements, and I’ll be paying closer attention to what I want to read while still working in books that I’ve promised to read (either to NetGalley or authors).  I did make a point to only request things that I was really excited about instead of titles that just looked kind of interesting, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem anyway.

I really don’t want to spoil anything about this book, so I’ll just leave a few quick statements about the actual book and leave it to you to read the story 🙂  I can’t wait for the sequel to come out though.  I hope we don’t have to wait too long!

The characters had a lot of depth and interpersonal reactions that felt solid and true in a fantastical setting.

The setting was beautifully described with vivid imagery without taking any of the focus away from the story or characters.

The ending was complete but also a cliffhanger.  It was the kind of wrap-up that leaves you wanting more but not with the anger of a crazed person.

Summary:

Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Throwback Thursday: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch (The Witchlands, #1)Truthwitch (The Witchlands, #1)

415 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Tor Teen
Finished reading the lovely Truthwitch yesterday, and I’m sad it took me so long to get around to reading it.  Especially since I met the author twice (once at BookCon 2016 and on her recent Windwitch tour) before getting past chapter two.
I’m very glad that I took advantage of those opportunities though because I really liked this book and these characters.  It’s hard to describe the actual story because the book focused a lot on world building and characterization.  Normally, this would be a detriment to the plot, but I think we were given enough story that it worked.  This is definitely not your basic action plot.  There’s a lot of thought given to relationships, emotions, and internal reasoning.
I’ve already gotten several people hooked on the idea of reading this book, and I’m glad book two is out already.  Even if I do have to wait until I get some other books read for reviews 🙂
PS I was inspired by the descriptions of the taro cards mentioned and have started working on designing some fan art.  Can’t wait to share it with you!

Summary:

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Waiting on Wednesday: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Wintersong

Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: February 7th 2017 by Thomas Dunne
 I liked this book, but I didn’t LOVE this book.  The story and characters didn’t live up to my expectations, which stemmed from learning this is a Labyrinth reimagining, and, in the end, I couldn’t overcome my disappointment.  That’s not to say the writing isn’t good, and I know that people have–and will–love this book.  But, I didn’t, and that makes me sad.
To try and explain my feelings without being spoilery, I’m going to use my older method of review with pro/con bullet points.  I apologize if there are minor spoilers, but I’ve tried my best to avoid them.

Pros:

  • The characters have depth that matches the story
  • Goblins act like goblins
  • Focus on music throughout
  • I liked the inclusion of both the old religion and the new
  • We get to see what happens after the main character goes through the “labyrinth”

Cons:

  • Not enough clever riddles
  • The term “sacrifice” means you give something up completely (to me anyway) and that’s not how it was used in this novel
  • Goblin King presents as sullen throughout most of the book
  • I wanted the Goblin King to be snarky and clever, and he fell far short of that
  • The ending was unsatisfactory after the rest of the novel, not a cliffhanger, per se, but close to it

I’m hoping this author has more stories to tell, so I can give it another go.  Normally, I prefer authors to focus on the characters’ development, but here I felt like the story was under done.  As a debut, this was a fun effort, I just wanted more.

Summary:

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.

Book Review: Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles #1)

Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 3rd 2017 by Amulet Books
 I knew nothing about this book before I traded for it through #booksfortrade, but it looked interesting and was a newly translated release.  I actually got it read this past weekend when a cold decided to take up residence within my skull.  I couldn’t sleep and had watched too much TV by Sunday afternoon, so I picked up the closest book to my reading nook, which happened to be this title.  I wasn’t intending to just pick it up and read.  Normally, I select several and kind of read the back cover and beginning chapter or pages until something drags me between the pages and I forget to come out again.
Let’s just say, this book led me away like a siren, and me the foolish pirate who didn’t even notice she was drowning.  Luckily, that was a good thing here!
I devoured this book very quickly that afternoon due to a couple of things.  First, the story’s pacing was great plus the translation wasn’t rigid.  It was so fluid that I didn’t realize it was a translation until I did some research for this review.  The other reason was page length.  This book did not include superfluous pages.  The world building, characterization, and story were all given plenty of room to build and grow.
Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)
I did find myself comparing Maresi to Robin LaFevers’ Grave Mercy due to the similarities of girl goes to secluded place of full of only women following ancient traditions.  But then this story branches off and explores different themes than Grave Mercy.  So, it doesn’t feel like I’ve read the same story twice.
My last comment on this fun and fantastic book, is that I appreciated that these abused, disadvantaged girls weren’t all put there after being raped.  Rape is talked about, but the main character was not abused by her family or any other man.  That might be because the audience is more focused on middle grade than teen, but it was a relief nonetheless.
I recommend anyone looking for a good, fast read pick this up and share with friends!

Summary:

Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice there, arrived in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts.