Review: Our Dark Duet (The Monsters of Verity #2) by Victoria Schwab

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It’s been six months, and both August and Kate made their choices. August is now a soldier in the fight against the monsters in Verity, and accepting his fate to cleanse the sinners among the humans. But no matter how hard he fights, the other side seems to get stronger. And for Kate, it seems no matter how much distance she puts between herself and Verity, the monsters keep following. In one of her missions to dispatch a monster in Prosperity, she comes across a new type, one that feeds on anger and violence. And as luck would have it, it’s new target is Verity City.

Personal Take: It’s been months since I’ve read Our Dark Duet, and I’m struggling to articulate how amazing and heart-wrenching this book was. It’s the characters, it’s the tension, it’s the world itself. The inner-conflict for both August and Kate is so raw and real. The stakes are high, it almost seems impossible to resolve. And yet, Schwab does, in the most unimaginable way possible. The villains are so evil it’s palatable. I love that she takes risks that makes sense. She surprises me with each chapter. On thing I’ll appreciate is that the romance is not the center of this book. It’s nicely woven in, and really, just a glimpse of it made me swoon. It is enough to believe and cheer them on, and it does not twist characterization in any way. Her books reminds me of how the old YA books used to be. It’s about the story.

While this puts an end to Kate and August’s story, I do hope we get a spin-off of this monstrous world.

Audience: Older readers, be they teens or adults.

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Other recommendations: I’ve read and reviewed This Savage Song, which is the first book of The Monsters of Verity series. I’ve already read her fantasy series, A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light.

Review: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

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Shai is a unique type of forger– one that can forge souls–which is seen as an abomination and is punishable by death. When she is caught by one of her simple forgeries, Shai is convinced that it will be her last. To her surprise, her captures, the Emperor’s closest advisors, offer a chance of freedom, at an impossible price; forging the soul of the Emperor, who barely survived an assassination, and to help uphold the current political balance of the ruling faction. If she fails, she is will face the death she deserves. Given 100 days to create the perfect imitation of a soul she barely knows, Shai must navigate political intrigue and games among the emperor’s advisors, his guards, while secretly planning her own escape.

Personal Take: I’ve been dying to start something by Brandon Sanderson, and a novella seemed to be a good place to do that. The Emperor’s Soul is short but oh so quick and riveting read. The world was introduced in a nicely layered exposition, I almost couldn’t sense it. I loved the world itself, and the special ability of it. The culture was also familiar, but also stood out at the same time. I could not put this book down at all, and I’m glad for it, as I’ve met the author, and was in awe of his world-building knowledge. I can’t wait to read more of Sanderson’s work and learn from his writing.

Audience: Fantasy lovers, or anyone who wants a little taste of Brandon Sanderson’s work.

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Other recommendations: Sanderson has written plenty of fantasy books, among them the Mistborn series and The Stormlight Archive. To aspiring writers, I also recommend listening to his podcast Writing Excuses, as it is fantastic.

Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

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The young King of England is dying. Edward VI, only at sixteen, must now decide who inherits the crown. This is not easy as the kingdom is grappling with hostility and uneasiness towards Edians; humans with the ability to shape-shift. Between his two elder sisters whose loyalties he’s still not sure of, Edward decides to place his kingdom in unexpected hands — his cousin Jane. To ensure the line of succession, Jane is arranged to marry the son of one of the king’s advisors, who’s absence from court sparks quite the rumors about his lifestyle, such as his whereabouts when the sun is out. Unbeknownst to the king and his cousin, forces are on the move to disrupt the power in England, starting with the hunt against Edians…

Personal Take: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this, but from the first page, it was clear that it was going to be a fun read– and oh, how fun it was. The book covers the three point of views; King Edward, his cousin Jane and her betrothed Gifford, each with their own dilemma. It seemed to balance well until halfway through, when three people were just too much for one book (I know George R.R. Martin does more, but I can’t explain it!). The tone was hilarious- I have not laughed this much while reading in so long! As the authors warned at the beginning of the book, it’s really loosely based on historical events, but it didn’t feel too scandalous as the book was meant to be comical all the way.

The book was predictable towards the end, but I enjoyed the lightheartedness. I wouldn’t mind reading the next book for more laughs.

Audience: Mostly older teens and readers.

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Other recommendations: All three authors have independently published books of their own, so be sure to check out Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows and Brodi Ashton!

Review: Thick As Thieves (The Queen’s Thief #5) by Megan Whalen Turner

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As the slave to one of the highest ranking advisors in the Mede empire, Kamet has the full trust of his master, Nahuseresh. With his master trying to improve his standing in the Mede empire, Kamet is sure that his own fortune would come to fruition. But all his plans go awry, and Kamet finds he must flee the Mede empire to save his life. Unexpectedly, Kamet entrusts his survival to an unknown soldier, and sails across rivers and treads wastelands in an attempt to lose his pursuers. As Kamet attempts to regain control of his future, he realizes it’s not an easy task; not when unexpected bonds are made, or when three empires hang in the balance.

Personal Take: The Queen’s Thief is one of my favorite series, and I was eagerly looking forward to read the newest release. I really tired loving this book, but I just couldn’t deny how dull it was. Kamet was not relatable or likeable for most of the book. A few mythological elements seemed forced, and were totally predictable. Many readers commented on how the pace of this book was similar to first book in the series, The Thief, which I remembered enjoying as the introduction to the world. Which was why I wasn’t expecting the pace to be slow again by the 5th book, especially as we’re familiar with most of the world’s terrain and politics. The new angle didn’t seem that relevant to the progression of the major plot. It picked up towards the end when the old characters appeared, and they breathed life into the story. But again, the overall plot has progressed so much to bring us back to another buddy quest with only two characters.

Having said that, I’m hoping the next book will focus on or around the main characters, and politics of the kingdoms.

Audience: The world here can be a bit confusing, so I would recommend older teens and readers.

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Other recommendations: I’ve read and reviewed The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia and The Conspiracy of Kings, and I still recommend reading this series.

Review: A Conjuring of Light (A Darker Shade of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab

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An old darkness has taken over Red London. The Maresh royal family prepare for the worst to guard their kingdom against the unknown invader. Political enemies and allies are formed, and Kell and Lila must join forces with an old enemy to find a way to destroy the new threat. But time is running out, and as the darkness becomes more powerful, Red London’s only defence may not hold for long.

Personal Take: The last instalment of the series is quite an emotional one, and I tried not to reveal too much in the synopsis, as a lot of things happen. The book begins with high stakes, and my nerves were nearly fraught with tension. I have to say, I loved all of the characters, especially the secondary ones. More light is shed on their backstory, and I loved them all. Which was why I was gutted with the payoff each time. The villain, too, was so well crafted. The storylines were well-tied in the end, and Schwab did an amazing job in giving each character the right ending, and not deliver a copout because it was expected.

I cannot wait for the other books to be published about this world, because I still want more.

Audience: Older readers for language.

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Other recommendations: I reviewed A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. I also reviewed This Savage Song, which is part of the Monsters of Verity series (this is a MUST READ!). Schwab has also written Vicious, The Archived series, and The Near Witch.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of Magic #2) by V.E Schwab

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It’s been four months since Red London was ravaged by the power of black magic. Four months since Kell abandoned his illegal activities. Four months since he had saved his brother, the Maresh prince of Arnes, in the only way he knew how. As Arnes and its people try to move past the horrors of what it experienced, the magician’s competition between the three ruling kingdoms came at the right time to Red London. As the other kingdoms make their way to display their magic prowess, Rhy risks political stability by enrolling Kell into the games, while it also draws a mysterious sailor back to Red London, along with a certain pirate.

Personal Take: After the adrenaline-inducing events from the last book, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the sequel. In what one can call Schwab fashion, the book started slow, then built up momentum so fast, I could not stop reading. In A Gathering of Shadows, we are introduced to the politics in Kell’s world. The expansion of cultures was a great addition. Although this seemed isolated from the seemingly bigger plot in the book, I still enjoyed the many POVs that connected towards the end– and oh, what a finale it was.

There is something about Schwab’s writing that just demands full concentration, and you just cannot let go of that world. And with that cliffhanger, I’m dying to see to know what happens next!

Audience: Older readers for language.

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Other recommendations: I reviewed A Darker Shade of Magic, as well as This Savage Song, which is part of the Monsters of Verity series (this is a MUST READ!). Schwab has also written Vicious, The Archived series, and The Near Witch.

Review: Ms. Marvel (Vol 1) by G. Willow Wilson

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Sixteen-year old Kamala Khan is an American Muslim living in New Jersey. By all accounts, she’s ordinary, except for trying to fit in as she is at school, as well as meeting her parents high expectations of her. On the night Kamala decides to break the rules of her curfew, a strange fog engulfs the neighborhood, giving Kamala strange shape-shifting powers. Unwittingly, she takes on the identity of Ms. Marvel, and saves the life of one of her classmates. As if trying to find one’s identity isn’t hard enough as a teenager, now Kamala has to figure out what kind of superhero is she willing to be.

Personal Take: This is the first Marvel comic I’ve read, and I have to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s different from reading a novel, as it catapults readers into events pretty quickly, but I loved the characters the moment I got to know them. The life of an American-Muslim seems spot on, and add to it the complexity of being female– the humor and light-hearted take on it was gold. I also loved Kamala’s inner quest to find out who she is as a person. The setup against the first villain is also interesting, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next volume.

Again, this is my first comic, but I can already feel that this series will be quite endearing to me.

Audience: Younger to older readers.

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Other recommendations: There are about eight volumes of Ms. Marvel out, with the 9th one coming out in July 2018. Needless to say, I will be reading all of them!

 

Review: The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

In a desolate world, a lone gunslinger is in search of the mysterious Dark Tower. In pursuit of his goal, he hunts down the Man in Black, who has poisoned every town the Gunslinger has passed by during his journey. The Gunslinger, Roland, encounters a young boy who remembers nothing of his past, except that he was from a place called New York. Unsure of his purpose in this world, or how he came to be here in the first place, Roland takes him along for the long journey, unknowingly starting a chain of events that tests his loyalty and his desire to find the Dark Tower.

Personal Take: This is the first Stephen King book I have read, and I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure what to think of it. The concept is interesting, but there was so little of the quest that I wasn’t sure what the purpose of the Gunslinger was. Some of the events were really intriguing and creepy, but there was little explanation of why this was happening. Until the end, the events that were unraveling were confusing, and I wasn’t clear why the Dark Tower was important. I know this is the first of the book out of seven, and I am intrigued enough to keep reading the series. But I had high expectations of Stephen King’s writing, and I don’t feel that The Gunslinger met those expectations.

Audience: For older readers, for language.

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Other recommendations: King is known to publish a huge amount of books, but his most notable ones are The Dark TowerThe Shining, It, among other horror books.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

In a universe where the presence of magic varies, Kell lives in a world which prides itself to be in harmony with magic; Red London. He is also the only rare magician – an Antari – to travel to other Londons, which vary in their magical powers. These worlds are sealed from each other, and Kell, being the only Antari in Red London, is the official messenger of the royal Maresh empire, could travel between them. His other unofficial job (and crime) is smuggling objects between worlds for special prizes. But when he accidentally smuggles a mysterious object, with a dark power, into Grey London, where he meets, a thief who robs him, saves him and somehow gets roped into a perilous and magical adventure.

Personal Take: I’ve only read one book by Victoria Schwab, which I LOVED. Reading this one was a similar experience – this heady rush of adventure and action, and colorful characters. The world was build so solidly, so exquisitely, I could almost see it before my eyes. The different Londons almost made me miss London itself. The conditions and lore around magic was very well thought out. The characters were so quirky, and lovable and perfectly flawed, I could not get enough of them. Delilah Bard especially made quite an impression! The magic battles and fights were epic.

The pace was perfect throughout, where it took its time introducing the world, but then we were knee deep in chaos along with our characters. I could not tear myself away from the last few pages, and was left completely riveted by the end of it.

I cannot wait to read the next book!

Audience: Older teens and adults for choicey words, and blood.

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Other recommendations: One of the first books I’ve read by Schwab is This Savage Song, which is part of the Monsters of Verity series, which was mind-blowing, and I cannot wait for the sequel. Schwab has also written Vicious, The Archived series, and The Near Witch.

Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. (From Goodreads.)

Personal Take: By now, anyone who knows me knows about my obsession with Neil Gaiman and his work. So it’s no surprised that I got this the moment it was released, especially as I wanted to get into Norse mythology for a while now. The stories were organized perfectly, starting from the beginning of creation, through events and adventures that brought about the end of the world.

The interesting thing about the way Gaiman approached this, is that he wrote the gods to be casual, adopting a colloquial dialogue in the way they spoke. It wasn’t jarring, but unexpected, which only Neil Gaiman is able to pull off. This in no way hindered how the stories were told though. The gods came to life with each story, slowly revealing their personalities, but also, ultimately, showing what the vikings valued in themselves and their deities.

The end of the arc was the one the that really got me excited– the final culmination of all the choices made by the gods brought into one point, and it was epic. I was still buzzing from the it long after I finished the book. This is a book I’d definitely read again, and it’s opened by appetite to read more about Norse mythology.

It acts a great, light introduction to the subject.

Audience: I’d say adults for the complexity of the stories themselves.

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Other recommendations: As a huge fan of Gaiman, I’ve made it a point at least try to read everything I can get my hands on. Two I recommend (but did not review yet!); American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust, The Graveyard Book and  The Oceans at the End of the Lane. Of the books I reviewed: Neverwhere, Make Good Art, The Sleeper and the Spindle, Good Omen: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnus Nutter.