Esme’s Wish // A magical middle grade debut

Thank you so much to Elizabeth for sending me a copy of her novel. However, in no way does it impact my review.

9781925652246-Cover.inddEsme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Publisher: Odyssey Books

Synopsis: When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

Review

 

I haven’t read a lot of middle grade for a long time. In fact, I haven’t read middle grade since I was in middle grade (or early high school). Picking up Esme’s Wish was a lovely break and I found myself immersed in the magic that Elizabeth Foster has weaved together so wonderfully.

Esme’s Wish is a coming-of-age tale that starts off as a contemporary and wonderfully transitions into an incredible fantasy as Esme searches for her long lost mother in a mystical realm. Filled with mystery, magic and dragons, the world of Esperance is so lush and vividly described, I felt like I’d been transported there myself.

Foster does an amazing job with her characters. She brings to life Esme’s tension with her family, her grief and self-discovery as she journeys along with her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, across various places. She’s also brilliant at crafting real friendships and dialogue – the interactions between the three were very much entertaining – showcasing the ups and downs of being a teenager despite what world you’re from.

Esme’s Wish is the book I wish I had as a teen. Not only is it enchanting, it harnesses the essence of magic, love and friendship. As an excellent high Middle Grade novel, it’ll spark joy in your heart.

Rating

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.5/5

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Unearthed // A fantastic space adventure

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Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Synopsis: When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

If you like Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and being in outer space, Unearthed is the book for you. Co-written by two fabulous authors, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Unearthed is their second collaboration and it’s a fantastic introduction to their newest duology.

A scavenger and an academic = best banter ever.

I’m a complete sap for complete opposite characters, hence why I absolutely loved the dynamic between Jules and Mia. Their alternate perspectives showcased how a scavenger and  academic can find common ground in the face of insane riddles within an alien temple. I liked how they clashed – Jules is looking to preserve artifacts while Mia wants to steal them for money to save her sister – but they were able to combine their skills to solve the puzzle (even if they were casually insulting each other along the way).

 

Gaia felt like the perfect planet to try and save the human race.

Between the breather masks, the dried food rations and the remnants of the Undying, the setting of Gaia was brilliant for adventure and exploring an alien race. I loved the mystery behind the Undying, the expanse of the planet as the characters traveled along, and the danger of not only encountering another life form, but other humans looking to strip the planet bare of its resources. Oh, you found a cool temple that has been untouched for thousands of years. Sure, blow it up! I also liked the descriptions of each riddle as Jules and Mia make their way through the temple – they were vivid and I could totally sense the Indy or Lara Croft vibe.

The character development was A+

The book really shows that first impressions aren’t always right, and there is more to a person than their occupation. Mia’s scavenger role from the beginning of the novel is quite ruthless. At first glance, she’s selfish and looking out for herself. But her development is quite incredible as we’re given an insight into why she’s taken such an illegal path to get what she needs. She’s brave, witty and intelligent, fast on her feet when it comes to solving riddles. When paired with Jules in a rather shaky alliance, it was fun to see them help each other out of dangerous situations while being somewhat annoyed with each other.

Then there’s Jules. He’s not what I expected at all. He’s sweet, sensitive and way too smart. He’s also quite sheltered and naive when it comes to the harsh reality of his situation on Gaia. With Mia, he’s forced to overlook his initial thoughts of her (she’s a scavenger, the one group of people who destroy what he wants to protect), and work with her. I enjoyed watching him grow in confidence and trust himself more.

Just a side note, the romance is hella adorable. Their romantic interludes are sweet but swift, adding to the ominous atmosphere of the novel as they are always on the lookout for danger.

Unearthed is a fantastic and thrilling outer space adventure with alien puzzles, breathtaking romance and amazing characters. The ending has me excited for the sequel and I can’t wait for it!

Rating

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/5

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper // A brilliant historical mystery

28962906Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books

Genre: YA, Mystery, Historical Fiction

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.

Ever since high school, I have been fascinated with Jack the Ripper. It only took me picking up Stalking Jack the Ripper to recollect all my musings and theories around the horrendous events. I remember being so adamant that it was a doctor who had to be Ripper, taking on a persona of a madman to hide his cold, calculating profession.

Weaving together historical fact and delicious fiction, Kerri Maniscalco has nailed it with this fictional adaption of the serial killer.

Audrey Rose is a captivating narrator.

As a woman stuck in the bounds of 18th century England, Audrey knows she is unable to pursue what she wishes: a career in forensic science. Instead of fawning over suitable husbands, she’s cutting up cadavers with her uncle’s assistant, Thomas Cresswell. With such witty banter between the two, she is a clever, confident and sassy character that is aware of her chains, and yet goes out to break free from them. There were moments when Audrey’s narration dragged the novel along, but the plot made up for it.

The Victorian setting is captured perfectly.

From dank alleyways, the murky fog and the historical locations of the Ripper murders, Maniscalco does a fantastic job at setting the scene and atmosphere. The underbelly of London is dark, gritty and oh so fascinating. From upper class to the working class, it was easy to navigate the city. It’s worth mentioning that Audrey’s narration is inquisitive and feminist as she travels along the cobblestone streets, considering her gender and her position in society, especially in regards to the Ripper victims being prostitutes. They were not just prostitutes, but mothers, wives and daughters. It was great to see this rather feminist tone in Audrey alongside the Victorian setting.

110% Sherlock and Watson vibes

Thomas Cresswell and Audrey Rose Wadsworth make such a dynamic crime solving duo. Their banter, flirtations and rare serious moments are so gripping I couldn’t put the book down. What I loved about Thomas was he treated Audrey as an equal, not any less intelligent because of her gender.

Stalking Jack the Ripper is a thrilling read with an unexpected heroine. It’s a must-read for all those who love historical fiction, a good mystery and a lot of sexual tension.

Rating

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.5/5

These Violent Delights // A Compelling Tale on Women’s Justice

It has been a while since I have read women’s fiction or anything in the literary fiction genre, but These Violent Delights by Victoria Namkung intrigued me. While the title, from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, was interesting, it was the novel’s exploration of the struggles of women, the pressures of society and how women are treated in the face of adversity that really made me pick this up.

These Violent Delights is a compelling read, packed with information and thorough research on sexual assault victims and trauma. The story is narrated by four women, one being a prominent journalist and the other three are victims of assault by an English high school teacher at Windemere School for Girls. Through these multiple perspectives, the novel offers a greater exploration of sexuality, victimisation and what it means to be a woman in modern day society.

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The Last Namsara // Dragons and Old Stories (Spoiler Free)

Disclaimer: I received a e-ARC of this book from Netgallery for an honest review. 

Drawn in by the allure of dragons, old stories and a sweeping romance, The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli felt like my kind of book. I mean, it has dragons. Do I need to say more? But while it was an enjoyable read, I did have some gripes with it.

Here are my thoughts on The Last Namsara.

Asha is a flawed and feared protagonist.

Asha is feared, loathed, and yet respected to the highest degree. Her history is intriguing. Her fascination with old stories is relatable (because why not like the one thing that attract dragons). It’s her attraction to old stories that drives the plot, as well as her own development. In this world, stories have the power to destroy – she’s playing with fire every time she tells one. I personally liked that she wears her disfigurement with pride. She knows her strengths and weaknesses. So as Asha grows throughout the story, she grows on you too.

The mythology and old stories were so rich and incredible.

loved the immersion of mythology and dragons and old tales throughout the book. It added that layer that kept me hooked. The book jumps between Asha’s perspective and the past, which read like a fairy tale. There are many stories: creation stories, ones about Namsara and Iskari, about forbidden romance and grief, about defying death and corruption. They are weaved into the book like a parallel story line, gorgeous in detail and lore. They were definitely one of the best aspects of the book.

The imbalance in the romance was not my cup of tea.

The romance in The Last Namsara was not appealing to me because of personal taste. I’m not a massive fan of imbalanced relationships, so I didn’t find myself interested in Torwin and Asha’s relationship. The master/slave trope didn’t win me over, and I found the romance moved too quickly to be realistic to both the characters and their personalities.

Other thoughts

  • The supporting characters were great to read about. Safire and her story was intriguing, and I liked the exploration behind Asha’s relationship with her brother.
  • The theme of slavery left me a little uncomfortable, especially considering it was from an oppressor’s POV.
  • DRAGONS ❤
  • Jarek = tool. The end.

 

The Last Namsara is a fiery debut with a lot of ambition and gorgeous stories. If you’re into dragons, a rich fantasy landscape and a pretty interesting protagonist, get on this.

Rating

 

the literary casanova flowerthe literary casanova flowerthe literary casanova flower.5/5

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In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

 

The Goblins of Bellwater // A Modern Take on Goblins and Magic (Spoiler Free)

Disclaimer: I received a e-ARC of this book from Netgallery for an honest review. 

This is a haunting tale of power, of bewitchment, of the capabilities of humans against the supernatural forces of Bellwater. It’s quite possibly the first contemporary book I have read with goblins, and that makes it unique in itself. The novel takes inspiration Christina Rossetti’s eerie, sensual poem, “Goblin Market”, and it definitely translated as a dark and beautiful faerie tale on the pages. Molly Ringle is a fantastic storyteller, and The Goblins of Bellwater delivers on showcasing a town living in unison with magic, fables, and an ancient curse that haunts our four protagonists.

From the very beginning, the atmosphere of the novel is set as Ringle effortlessly slips Washington into the picture. I imagined clouded skies, enchanted forests, things that go bump in the night (it lowkey gave me Twilight vibes, but let’s pretend I didn’t say that). There’s a vibrancy in the setting that will easily immerse you in the story.

Then we meet Kit, forced into a curse following his great grandmother, appeasing the goblins until he slips up and they retaliate, dragging local artist Skye and her environmentalist sister Livy into the story. Upon reading the first few pages, Kit’s encounter with the goblins bore all signs of the classic warnings against dealing with faeries and creatures of the forest. It’s cleverly done and sets the tone for the tale.

From there, it’s a tough balance between bewitched and reality, but through the perspective of Skye – the victim of the goblin curse – you become intrigued as Skye slowly unravels, goblin magic taking over her body. As Livy attempts to bring Skye back to her normal self, Kit’s visiting cousin, Grady, is dragged into the conflict through an enchanted kiss from Skye.

Considering the novel is split between four perspectives, the character development is realistic for such a short novel. I personally enjoyed Livy’s perspective and journey much more than the others; her rational thinking keeps us grounded, and it’s even more compelling to read her side as she develops the courage to overcome an ancient curse she thought only existed in fairy tales.

With that said and done, why didn’t I love it as much as I wanted to?

The pace of the novel started to slow down. Encounters between Grady and Skye were repetitive, and despite their situation, a bit frustrating. While they were cursed, it was ambiguous whether they were both on the same page or were simply rolling with it because, you know, they’re both bewitched. In all honesty, it was an uncomfortable scenario and I felt that some scenes between them didn’t impact their relationship at all. On the other hand, Kit and Livy’s relationship, while much more normal, also stagnated and there didn’t feel like there was much progress in the story until the last third when everything suddenly became more thrilling.

Overall, The Goblins of Bellwater is an enjoyable tale, filled with dark forest encounters, magic, and folklore reminiscent of the classic, gritty feeling of the Grimm Brothers.

Rating

 

the literary casanova flowerthe literary casanova flowerthe literary casanova flower.5/5

 

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A contemporary romance inspired by Christina Rossetti’s eerie, sensual poem, “Goblin Market.” Four neighbors encounter sinister enchantments and a magical path to love in a small, modern-day Puget Sound town, where a fae realm hides in the woods and waters…

Most people have no idea goblins live in the woods around the small town of Bellwater, Washington. But some are about to find out.

Skye, a young barista and artist, falls victim to a goblin curse in the forest one winter night, rendering her depressed and silenced, unable to speak of what happened. Her older sister, Livy, is at wit’s end trying to understand what’s wrong with her. Local mechanic Kit would know, but he doesn’t talk of such things: he’s the human liaison for the goblin tribe, a job he keeps secret and never wanted, thrust on him by an ancient family contract.

Unaware of what’s happened to Skye, Kit starts dating Livy, trying to keep it casual to protect her from the attention of the goblins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Kit, Skye draws his cousin Grady into the spell through an enchanted kiss in the woods, dooming Grady and Skye both to become goblins and disappear from humankind forever.

It’s a midwinter night’s enchantment as Livy, the only one untainted by a spell, sets out to save them on a dangerous magical path of her own.

{Goodreads; Amazon}

Our Dark Duet // A Stunning Conclusion to the Duology

I picked up Our Dark Duet knowing I was in for a roller coaster.  This Savage Song was so exceptional and well-crafted that the sequel simply had to be equal, if not better. And I was not disappointed.

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab is a stunning and masterfully crafted narrative that left me breathless and gripping for the edge. This dark and brilliant tale has devastated me. I don’t know when I’ll be able to read another book.

Here’s how Victoria Schwab broke me.

The premise of monsters, both physical and mental, was incredible.

In a divided city ravaged by Corsai, Malachi and Sunai, it’s not just the monsters we are able to see that plague us. It’s the ones in our head as well, and I love how Schwab eloquently weaved the two together. The introduction of a new monster was thrilling and I loved how the creatures interacted with the world.

August Flynn and Kate Harker are my precious babies.

I won’t lie, I grew so attached to these two in This Savage Song and those fond feelings returned when I picked up Our Dark Duet. Six months isn’t a long time, but it drastically changes these two characters for different reasons and I enjoyed experiencing their growth. There are responsibilities and not enough time to contemplate how they will impact the humanity within them. I loved reading about these two equally: August and his struggle with embracing his dark self while questioning the human aspect of himself, and Kate growing stronger and deadlier with each monster she kills. They really are two amazing characters and it’s heartbreaking that this seems to be the last we’ll see of them.

The writing is dark, gritty and stunning.

There is a complexity to the world that Schwab has created, and while it’s never stated, it sits below the surface bubbling away. The monsters, the humans, the actions they take; it’s all wonderfully tied together and I did not imagine I would swept away so easily. Our Dark Duet makes you think about the line between monster and human, right and wrong, sinner and innocent, and what it truly means to be evil. The depth, the dark beauty and gritty details of Schwab’s writing simply needs to be experienced.

Basically, read this and feel the pain I am in now. 

 

Rating

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THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.

KATE HARKER isn’t afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she’s good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.

Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims’ inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

{Goodreads}

Heart of Mist // A magical fantasy debut

I am a goddamn sucker for YA fantasy. It’s so much easier to read than epic fantasies and I can actually relax rather than crease the space between my brows for eternity. So when I picked up Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer, I didn’t put it down. There is a genuine magical quality that flutters from the pages and I was enchanted from the very beginning.

Here is why Heart of Mist is a must-read.

The characters are so realistic and incredibly written.

I absolutely hate it in fantasy when a hero/heroine seems to be unable to do no wrong. It’s different in Heart of Mist; they have flaws, problems, internal struggles and ambitions. While I adored Bleak and Henrietta’s sections, I found Dimitri’s perspective to be intriguing and unique to the story line. It’s also hard to pull off multiple perspectives, yet each character was given enough time to unravel themselves before us.

Also, I love how Bleak and Henrietta are strong female characters but with different versions of strong. What makes these characters so realistic is the fact their feminity is not stripped away to make way for their strength; it’s a part of them and they bring a new perspective to strong on the table.

The world-building is simply brilliant.

Despite not having a map when I read this (the map will be included in the official release), I wasn’t lost in regards to where the book was taking me. In terms of lore, history and magic, it’s clearly communicated how this world works with a little bit of mystery to keep your interest. The intricacy of the magic and political system was also fascinating.

You know it’s a good book when magic feels real.

I don’t know what it is about Helen’s writing, but everything felt immersive and magical. From the Valian keep to the castle to the sea, there is a quality to her writing that will have you hooked from the very beginning. The magic in this world is unqiue and I love how it plays a part in the protagonists’ lives in a multitude of ways.

Overall, Heart of Mist is captivating in its world-building and brilliant character development. Helen is a true master at weaving together magic, mystery, passion and politics in her standout debut.

Rating

 

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It is on sale now! Go and put this on your TBR!

 

 

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo // A Down-to-Earth Retelling of The Monkey King

A demon invasion is no excuse for bad grades. 

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This tagline speaks to me on a whole new level!

Welcome to another book review by moi and it will be on the one and only, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C Yee. Genie Lo is a self-disciplined and rather tough Chinese American who is looking to finish high school and go to college when demons invade her quiet town. Now, she’s caught in a supernatural mess of fighting them off, training with the Monkey King, and conversing with ancient Chinese gods, which all seems to be ruining her chances of college prep.

I started this book with high expectations after hearing amazing things about it. It did not disappoint. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is incredibly funny, action-packed and you need to read this if you love Chinese folklore. It’s a modern retelling of Journey to the West set in contemporary society (which offers many moments of comedy in itself) and I feel like a lot of Chinese readers will thoroughly enjoy this. As a kid, I watched the live-action adaptions of Journey to the Westbut for those unfamiliar with the story there is enough explanation throughout the novel that will bring you up to speed in no time.

So, where do I even begin to describe how fantastic this book is?

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Genie Lo is the angry teen protagonist we need.

All Genie wants to is get into a prestigious college and ace her classes. She’s an overachiever, has a lot of spunk and is such a nerd. She’s realistic, relatable and entertaining. She’s also got a lot of anger towards a few things (heck, I was an angry teen) but it doesn’t border onto teen angst. She’s also quite conscious of her Asian heritage, often making comments about the differences between her family and Western/American culture; while it adds a break from the battles and banter, it also offers an interesting insight into how some Chinese-American teenagers view their lives.

It is laced with light comedy and action.

When the goofy and rather strange Quentin introduces himself to Genie, it doesn’t end well. But as their stories reveal they have a long history together, it brings a novel’s worth of wicked banter, fighting demons, talking to Chinese gods and getting to know each other.

Genie’s best friend Yunie provided some of the best dialogue I’ve read ever – she is certainly a force to be reckoned with. I also loved the touch of family dynamics, something I found added a genuine quality to Genie and her relationship with her mother and father. Rather than just having her parents as background noise, they are involved and shape Genie into who she is.

I adored the blooming relationship between Quentin and Genie. Both of them offer such hilarious and refreshing perspectives, which is absolutely brilliant. And when they paired with Genie, they make a hilarious dynamic duo. There’s also a lot of gaming and tech references which is A+.

The writing is absolutely brilliant.

How is this a debut novel? The writing is so easy to follow and down-to-earth. Yee balances the novel’s battles with demons (yaoguai) with discussion of Genie’s family history and her relationship with her best friend, Yunie. Oh, and chatting to the Goddess of Mercy.

So what are you waiting for? If you love mythology, action and light romance, pick this up. It’s engaging, exhilarating and downright hilarious. Just read it.

Rating

 

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Netgallery in exchange for an honest review.