Monday, December 17, 2018

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao Review

Title: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix
Author: Julie C. Dao
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Rise of the Empress, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was one of my favorite books of last year, so I was so excited when the sequel finally came out. After yet another library haul redo, I decided to keep Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix: I didn’t want to take it back to the library before I’d had a chance to read it. I was richly rewarded for my patience, and Julie C. Dao has become one of my favorite authors with this spellbinding, lush duology! It picks up where Forest of a Thousand Lanterns left off, with Xifeng’s stepdaughter, Jade, coming of age. With beautiful prose, magic, secrets, folktales, and more than one magical creature, I loved Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, and I was so happy with how these two wonderful books ended! I can’t wait to see what Julie C. Dao has in store for us next!

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix picks up where Forest of a Thousand Lanterns left off, with Xifeng’s stepdaughter, Jade, coming of age to eighteen. I loved how this book brought Jade, as a young adult, into the spotlight. Forced away from court and her father at the young age of four, she is forced to navigate the glittering, treacherous arena that is her stepmother’s court. All the while, she is trying her best to deny what is her true birthright: the throne that her stepmother has stolen, through wicked magic, murder, and deceit. Forced again to leave her rightful home, Jade of the Great Forest must reach deep inside of herself to claim what is hers by right and law, even if it means confronting all of her deepest fears and fiercest demons…

I really enjoyed this book! It took a little bit to get into it, since it had been a while since I’d read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. But Dao returned with gorgeous prose, breakneck pacing, strong, well-drawn characters, magic, shocking twists and thrills, more than one awesome magical creature, and an amazing ending! Sequels make me so nervous; I call it sequel anxiety, because there have been so many times where I’ve loved a book and was so exciting for the next one, and got let down. But that wasn’t the case with Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. I loved how, in this book, it was Jade in the spotlight, fighting for her rightful place on the throne and the broken land of Feng Lu. Her character development was wonderful; it was my favorite part of the novel for sure. I loved watching her transition from a sheltered, na├»ve girl into a strong, courageous young woman, and I also adored her friends, Wren and Koichi. I really liked the way that the story felt like a classic folktale; I’m such a sucker for anything that feels like a fairy tale. And that ending! It was so fulfilling and exciting; that, too, was one of my favorite parts. My feelings are bittersweet, but overall, I really loved The Rise of the Empress duology, and I can’t wait to see what Julie C. Dao is going to do next! Absolutely stunning! The bottom line: Gorgeous, thrilling, and courageous, I loved Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, and I’m so sad that it’s all over! More please! Next on deck: My New Crush Gave to Me by Shari Petroff!

Broken Things by Lauren Oliver Review

Title: Broken Things
Author: Lauren Oliver
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Lauren Oliver is one of my favorite authors: I loved her dystopian series, Delirium, so when I heard that she had a new book coming out, I reserved it at my library. It’s been sitting on my library stack for almost a month now, and after an enormous rehaul, I pushed it to the top once I realized that someone had put a hold on it. I’ll be honest: I finished this book about a week ago and I couldn’t review it right away: My feelings were too tangled up. Even now, as I put the review on paper, I’m still not sure exactly how I feel. Overall, I really enjoyed it, but there were some things that are sticking like thorny burrs in my brain, and so I’m going to do my best to vocalize how I feel. Lauren Oliver has penned a dark, spinetingling tale of obsession, toxic friendship, dangerous secrets, and the power of stories, and I was captivated, even though there were some parts I wish had been taken care of more neatly.

                It has been five years since Summer Marks was brutally slain in the woods. The entire world believes that Mia and Bryn, her best friends, did the killing as a result of the three girls’ obsession with a fantasy novel called The Way into Lovelorn. But there’s a twist: They didn’t do it. On the anniversary of Summer’s deaths, both Bryn and Mia, set adrift by the false accusations and the loss of Summer herself, are drawn back together in an attempt to clear their names and find out the truth about who murdered Summer. All over again, the line between fact and fiction, truth and lies, blurs, and they both must confront what really happens in the woods five years ago, even if it means unearthing secrets that could end up deadly…

                There were elements of the book that I really enjoyed, and others that I’m still chewing on like pieces of gristle, sticking in my brain. Lauren Oliver writes with her signature, quiet bravado, pulling punches and delivering pacing like no other. The prose was gorgeous, even captivating, and I was utterly spellbound by Mia, Bryn, the ghost of summer, and the small snatches of the fictional novel, The Way into Lovelorn, that preceded each chapter. I liked the mystery of it and the way the point of view bounced between Mia and Bryn, seamlessly joining the past and present. I also really liked the side characters, especially Wayne, Owen, and Mia’s parents. I enjoyed the way that I was constantly guessing; mysteries and thrillers make me nervous because I tend to guess the killer before I even crack a hundred pages. But there were several parts of the book that bothered me, which was the ending. I won’t spoil it, because it’s one of the biggest plot points in the whole novel. But it just really bothered me; I was really hoping for more resolution. I wanted, too, more information about Summer; I wanted more of a proper picture of who she was in a person, the good and the bad. Nonetheless, Lauren Oliver has created a dark, horrifying tale of monsters, both real and imagined, obsession, secrets, and desire that will stick with me for as long as I live. The bottom line: A beautifully written, meticulously plotted mystery filled with secrets, shocking twists, and real-life monsters, Lauren Oliver has created a gripping, tense thriller of a book that will stay with me forever! Next on deck: Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix by Julie C. Dao!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen Review

Title: When We Caught Fire
Author: Anna Godbersen
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Anna Godbersen first won my heart way back in 2005, my freshman year of high school, with her bestselling Luxe series, so when I found out that she was writing a brand new standalone, revolving around a love triangle and the Great Fire of Chicago, I was so excited. She became one of my favorite authors with her first series, and I was so happy that she was finally writing another book. I reserved it at my library, and after another library haul return, I put it at my stack. It took me almost a week to read it, as my life has been insanely busy recently, but I really enjoyed this book: rife with romance, betrayal, disaster, both social and natural, secrets and danger, When We Caught Fire took one of my least favorite tropes: the love triangle, and framed it within one of the most horrifying natural disasters in history. When We Caught Fire was beautifully written, captivating, frightening, and surprisingly informative. One of the reasons that I so love historical fiction is that I can learn about things that happened before my time, in my favorite format: A story! When We Caught Fire is one of my favorite books of 2018. Lush, beautiful, and more than a bit painful, I expected nothing less from Anna Godbersen, and I hope that there’s more to come from her!
Emmeline Carter, Anders Magnum, and Fiona Brynes all come from different walks of life. Emmeline longs to be a wealthy, admired socialite, and that dream is all but realized when she becomes affianced to one of Chicago’s richest scions. Fiona is her maid and best friend, and she is hiding secrets of her own; she has been secretly in love with their best friend, Anders, a fierce boxer and their childhood friend. But there’s a dangerous catch: So, too, is Emmeline. As the three former friends try to hide their secrets and reconcile their feelings for one another, another sort of fire is beginning to build, literally. As Chicago is swept up in wild, uncontrollable flames, these three friends must do everything to survive and achieve their dreams, or everyone that they love just might go up in smoke…

                I really enjoyed this book! The prose was gorgeous, lush, and captivating; I was entranced from the first line. The pacing was breakneck; I was immediately drawn into the dangerous, glittering world of early Chicago. I also loved the characters and the way the point of view moved between them: Emmeline, desperate for social standing and a romance straight out of a novel, Fiona, the lowly lady’s maid who longs for more in life than her class affords her, yet fiercely loyal to Emmeline, even as a young man comes between the two women, and Anders, the girls’ childhood friend, desperate to do right by them both even as their budding loves tear the three of them apart. But even more than I loved the character dynamics, it was so interesting to see an all-too familiar trope, the love triangle, framed within a survival scenario. I haven’t read much about the Great Fire of Chicago before this point, but to see it within the story, beautiful and deadly, was captivating, even as I wanted to turn away. The pacing really picked up as the fire swept through the city; the whole time, I was freaking out, hoping and praying that the characters I’d come to love would make it out. And that ending! It was so beautiful and bittersweet; by the end of the novel, I was in tears. At times, there were so many different names it was difficult to keep up; my only complaint was that I wish there had been a character list at the front of the novel. Nonetheless, Anna Godbersen makes a fantastic, exciting debut, reminding me of just how much I love historical fiction; I cannot wait until her next book! The bottom line: Bittersweet, gorgeously written, and meticulously researched, I loved When We Caught Fire, even though at times, it was hard to keep up with. Next on deck: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver!

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Deepest Roots by Miranda Abesedo Review

Title: The Deepest Roots
Author: Miranda Asebedo
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Magical Realism
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I found this book through a book recommendation list, and it had been sitting in my library stack for a while. Once I realized that I couldn’t renew it anymore, I put it at the top of my stack, starting it as soon as I finished Soulstealer. I was even more excited when the author began to follow me on Instagram; unfortunately, I couldn’t get a picture, because I had to return both it and Soulstealer back to the library before I could get decent lighting. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this book was a great reminder of how much I love the magical realism subgenre. Quickly paced, beautifully written, suspenseful and more than a little haunting, The Deepest Roots is one of my favorite books of 2018, and I can’t wait for more from this talented debut author!
Cottonwood Hollow, Kansas, is a strange place, some say even cursed. For the past one hundred years, each girl born in its boundaries has been gifted with a special, unique talent. Best friends Rome, Lux, and Mercy all have similar talents, but most of the time, they feel like curses. Rome is a Fixer, but being able to fix the things she touches won’t help her mom out with the climbing bills, and she refuses to confide in Lux and Mercy about what’s going on at home. But it turns out Rome isn’t the only one hiding secrets behind closed doors, for Lux’s home life is crumbling, even as she struggles to stay strong.  But an even more pressing mystery begins to mount: Why are the young women in Cottonwood Hollow cursed? What caused it? Finding the answers she craves just might mean risking everything, even her closest friends.

                This book was such a lovely surprise! It kind of was a mashup, for me, of Practical Magic and The Goonies, though that sounds like a really weird comparison. The writing was sparse but beautiful, and I was immediately entranced by the stark beauty of Cottonwood Hollow. The pacing was breakneck, and Rome’s voice was hypnotic and wry and quick to the point. I really liked the way that the town’s powers were incorporated into the story; it tied really well together. But my favorite part of the book was the close, tender friendship of Rome, Lux, and Mercy; all three girls were different, but I feel like they really complemented each other with their individual character traits. I also enjoyed the other characters, especially Red, Rome’s mother, Jett, and Mercy’s tightknit, loving family. At times, all of the different characters were difficult to follow, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. My favorite part was the mystery of it all, trying to figure out just what was going on in the strange little town of Cottonwood Hollow. I really liked the ending, also; it really tied everything else together. The Deepest Roots is a heartfelt, tender and beautifully written exploration of friendship, family, and being comfortable with yourself, even when it seems the odds are stacked against you. The bottom line: Dark, true, beautifully written, and heartfelt, I loved The Deepest Roots, and I can’t wait for more from this promising, talented debut author! Next on deck: Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer!