REVIEW: Flame in the Mist

Book Review: Flame in the Mist
book cover Book title Flame in the Mist
Series/standalone Flame in the Mist #1
Author Renee Ahdieh
Pages 393
Year published 2017
Category | Genre Young Adult | Fantasy | Romance
Rating 3.5 stars

Official Summary

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Review

In A Nutshell

A tale of political intrigue, betrayal, and romance with the backdrop of feudal Japan.

Highlights

  • The beautiful prose. Ahdieh has a gift for writing gorgeous prose and it’s getting even better here. In ‘The Wrath and the Dawn”, I found her writing to be coming too close from being purple prose at times, although admittedly still beautiful. In Flame in the Mist, Ahdieh has stepped up her writing even more. Her words are gorgeous, but not flowery, vivid without being excessively descriptive.
  • Worldbuilding. The author surely knows how to paint a world with words, filled with imagery that could transport her readers back in time. Although at times, it feels a little too gimmicky, the combination of history and mythology was balanced nicely. Ahdieh’s attention to details when describing a building or a scene contributes well to this book’s great worldbuilding.
  • The moral dilemma. I was absolutely delighted with the way the characters were written so that no one is inherently bad nor good. Nothing and no one was morally black and white.The moral dilemma faced by Mariko was one I could sympathize with and she’s an earnest character capable of making readers invested in her arc.

Things I Wish Were Different

  • The romance. Oh my, I truly want to like the romance. After how TWATD (The Wrath and the Dawn) melted my heart despite me not liking Shazi that much, I was fully prepared to ship the main pairing in this book. After all, I liked Mariko better. Unfortunately, it felt forced and I have no idea where it came from. It was not an insta-love, but I didn’t see the chemistry developing between them so it baffled me. There is, however, less of romantic scenes in this book than in TWATD.
  • Logical fallacy and unconvincing explanation. The first part of the book left me in a state of disbelief. The unconvincing explanation, such as how Mariko – the naive and sheltered girl – could fool all of those people into believing that she is a boy. It was partially explained near the end of the book, but I still cannot buy it 100%. She also made several decisions that were quite out of characters and yet she conveniently escaped the consequences of her poor decisions.
  • More times for secondary characters, please. I know it’s not their story, but Yumi and Amaya were some of the characters I wish to know better.

Final Score

3.5 stars
3.5 stars (out of 5 stars)

Verdict

Ahdieh’s gorgeous writing and lush worldbuilding could capture my attention and enchant me throughout the book despite some issues in the narrative. I will be reading the second book for sure.

REVIEW: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

Book Review: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow
book cover Book title The Evaporation of Sofi Snow
Series/standalone The Evaporation of Sofi Snow #1
Author Mary Weber
Pages 352
Year published 2017
Category | Genre Young Adult | Fantasy | Dystopia | Alien| Sci-Fi
Rating 2.5 stars

Official Summary

Ever since the Delonese ice-planet arrived eleven years ago, Sofi’s dreams have been vivid. Alien. In a system where Earth’s corporations rule in place of governments and the humanoid race orbiting the moon are allies, her only constant has been her younger brother, Shilo. As an online gamer, Sofi battles behind the scenes of Earth’s Fantasy Fighting arena where Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. But when a bomb takes out a quarter of the arena, Sofi’s the only one who believes Shilo survived. She has dreams of him. And she’s convinced he’s been taken to the ice-planet.

Except no one but ambassadors are allowed there.

For Miguel, Earth’s charming young playboy, the games are of a different sort. As Ambassador to the Delonese, his career has been built on trading secrets and seduction. Until the Fantasy Fight’s bomb goes off. Now the tables have turned and he’s a target for blackmail. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than anyone can fathom, or Earth can afford.

Review

I received an electronic galley from the publisher in exchange of an honest review.

In A Nutshell

A political alien dystopian story exploring human relationship and social issues.

Highlights

  • The first part of the book was about the game (aka the part that caught my attention). The protagonist of this series, Sofi Snow, was a gamer/hacker, and her brother, Shilo, acted as her avatar in the arena. You might think that you have read way too many dystopian-influenced competition (The Hunger Games being the most famous example), but Weber – for once – took us to the backstage and not to the bright light of the arena and it was a welcomed change. Sofi’s job, alongside her team, the triplets called the three Ns, and Heller, was to send codes to program her brother’s armor, weapons, and tools. It was a fun take as we were shown the team’s banter and strategy.
  • Diverse cast of characters. The protagonist, Sofi, is Native American, the the other lead, Miguel, is Hispanic. Now, the only time Weber touched on Sofi’s cultural background was when describing her owl necklace and her appearance. As this book is not an ownvoice, I respect Weber’s decision to not getting too deep into the Native American belief and culture. As for Miguel, he did talk in Spanish quite frequently, but his background was not described in details.
  • Political and social issues. There were some social issues explored in ‘Sofi Snow’, the most prominent one were human trafficking and technology advancement at the expense of human right. I won’t get into details here as I’m trying to avoid giving out major spoilers. Politics also played a big part in this book since Miguel, the lead, worked as an ambassador.

Things I Wish Were Different

  • Is there such thing as too many plots? Because this book sure has a lot of it. One minute, it was about curing diseases, the next it tried to be all political, and then it went all alien sci-fi on me. Considering how short it was, there were just not enough space to explore each in sufficient depth. The results is a jumbled mess of plots, none of which got adequately explored.
  • The character arc. It shouldn’t be difficult to sell me on Sofi. Seriously. A gamer? Check. Hacker? Check. Sassy? Check. She loved her brother and knew what she want. All of these should make me like her a lot. The problem is I don’t find anything in her personality to make me want to root for her. She is okay, but she didn’t make me fully invested in her cause. On top of that, I don’t see a lot of character growth throughout the book. There were some revelations, yes, but not a lot of growth.
  • Speaking of Sofi, is there anything she cannot do? I understand the need to give your lead at least a sprinkle of special snowflake syndrome. However, in the evaporation of Sofi Snow, everything came to easy for Sofi and Miguel. *MINOR SPOILER WARNING* “Oh, you need a top-secret chip that is nearly impossible to get? Here you go!” “Need a living and talking alien to help you crack a code? What a coincidence, we have one just in tow.” *END OF SPOILER* Furthermore, I like to see my protagonists fight their way instead of being handed solutions in silver platter.
  • The ending. There’s cliff-hanger, then there’s the ending of ‘Sofi Snow’. That may be too harsh, but when I read a book I expected some sort of resolutions of at least a couple of major plots. After that, feel free to drop a plot twist on me and throw me a cliffhanger. I don’t mind (okay, maybe a bit). Everything about the ‘ending’ of Sofi Snow screams sequel and it definitely cannot be read as a stand-alone. I was reading this book on my Kindle when the pages just suddenly ended. I even had to double check whether my e-ARC has missing pages or did they just send me 90% of the book.

Final Score

2.5star
2.5 stars (out of 5 stars)

Verdict

I have mixed feelings about this book. At one end, it certainly has the potential with its concept, political and social themes, and cast of characters. On the other end, it tried to be so many things that it ultimately failed to deliver a single coherent story. There is also the factor that it’s set as a duology and cannot be read as a stand-alone, which means if you read the evaporation of Sofi Snow, you’d need to be ready to invest your resources on two books, instead of just one.

REVIEW: The Love Interest

the love interest header
Book Review: The Love Interest
book cover Book title The Love Interest
Series/standalone standalone
Author Cale Dietrich
Pages 384
Year published 2017
Category | Genre Young Adult | Sci-fi | Contemporary
Rating 2.5star

Official Summary

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Review

In A Nutshell

A book aiming to subvert tropes in YA fiction, but eventually suffers from lack of worldbuilding and poor execution.

Highlights

  • Let’s start with the positives. This book aimed to subvert YA tropes, specifically the love triangle trope. In that regards, I’d say that Dietrich largely succeeded. Even though I never felt the potential of a love triangle brewing at any point in the book, it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who didn’t ultimately fall in love with their chosen one.
  • The blurb. The premise. The concept. The marketing of the book. The Love Interest has this great concept, that behind every great person, there is a spy reporting their every move to a secret organization. I really liked the concept and it’s actually could be made believable. It was, I believe, what made most people read The Love Interest. Well, that and the promise of gay romance.

Things I Wish Were Different

  • Plot holes and poor worldbuilding. The Love Interest was supposed to be a blend between contemporary and SFF. Unfortunately, as science fiction, it failed to deliver due to inconsistency, unexplained plot holes, and convenient timings of things to cover those holes. I could go on and on listing things, but I’d just give some examples to avoid giving out major spoilers.
    One, there was a teenager building dangerous weapons (I’m talking about Avengers-grade weapons, here) in her shed at home, and no one – authority or bad guys – was getting concerned?! At no point in the book, Juliet’s inventions were shown to be kept top secret – she talked freely to Caden about them – yet no one attempted to recruit or kidnap or end her? I found that hard to believe.
    Two. Kaylee was supposedly monitoring Caden’s every move. However, she was conveniently ‘not listening’ at crucial moments. Also, the implant, there were problems with that too.
    Those were just a few things I noticed. Overall, the tech was also not explained very well in term of how they work, which is a let down for me.
  • Awkward dialogues and lack of chemistry. When it comes to romance in SFF books, I have mixed feelings. I am okay with them most of the time, as long as they’re not taking over the story and turned the protagonist into a blabbering mess around their love interest. The dialogue in The Love Interest, though, brings awkward to another level. And it’s not just the interaction between Caden-Dylan or Caden-Juliet either, it’s the whole thing, the whole book. This book is Dietrich’s debut and it certainly feels like one. I do think his writing has potential so here’s hoping for better written dialogue in the future.
    Speaking of chemistry, there was just nothing between Caden-Juliet or Dylan-Juliet that showed us that they have something special so it’s truly surprising to me that Juliet bought it. But then again, this book is a satire, so maybe that is intentional?

Final Score

2.5star
2.5 stars (out of 5 stars)

Verdict

The Love Interest was an attempt to subvert tropes, and as such Dietrich’s effort is appreciated. Ultimately, however, it was a disappointment due to plot inconsistency, plot holes, thin worldbuilding, and awkward dialogues.

REVIEW: The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane

Book Review: The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane (Drea Damara)
 book cover Book title The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane
Series/standalone Blinney Lane #1
Author Drea Damara
Pages 448
Year published 2015
Category | Genre New Adult | Fantasy | Romance
Rating

Official Summary

Sarah Allister just wants a normal life running her book shop and enjoying the smiles of handsome delivery man, Henry. She almost has one in spite of the three hundred-year-old curse that rules her life and the rest of the shop owners on Blinney Lane, a niche shopping district in historical Salem. Just when Sarah thinks she is content with the unusual phenomenon that occur in her shop everything goes awry when her brother sends his troublesome teenage son Ricky to stay with her for the summer. Now Sarah must work to keep Ricky from discovering the curse of Blinney Lane and worse yet, awakening its full power.

Will Ricky listen to Sarah without question? Will he unknowingly awaken the Weeping Books of Blinney Lane forcing Sarah to lead them on a journey to a land she swore never to return to and to people she has long tried to forget? Hold on as the characters must balance family, love, and duty in a suspenseful tale of two worlds and passionately flawed characters. The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane will make you never look at a book the same way again.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review

In A Nutshell

A Narnia-esque fantasy for new adults/older spectrum of YA.

Highlights

  • The writing was good. For a debut novel, Damara’s words flow smoothly between pages.
  • The world building was a reminiscent of Narnia, blended with romance and politics.
  • The curse incorporated in the story was a nice touch and it helped in building the background behind the existence of the weeping books.

Things I Wish Were Different

  • There were some scenes that show how a character view other characters that made me feel uncomfortable. One such scene was the way Sarah’s nephew described her in rather sexual way. Of course, Blinney Lane is a new adult/adult novel so romance and steamy scenes are to be expected, still there were scenes that I felt was out of place.
  • I really don’t get the appeal of the Lords and Ladies in the story. They were rather bland, and somewhat infuriating. Maybe that was on purpose, though?
  • This being a fantasy, I wish there was more explanation on how the bodies could survive for days or weeks without liquids and nutrients. Also, aren’t those people worried that something’s going to happen to their bodies when they’re taking those family trips? In short, I think the “magic system” still needs work, but the concept was alright.
  • More diversity please. (You’ll probably hear this a lot from me from now on). Both the real world and the world inside the weeping book would benefit with inclusion of people of colors and other marginalized groups. It should be workable too, since the protagonist’s ancestor basically wrote the weeping book – and wouldn’t they want their family to meet all kinds of people they wouldn’t be able to see in real life because of the curse?
  • Unexplained plot holes. How could one learn the instinct of sword fighting in one day is one example where I found the explanation was not believable enough. Sure, there was magic, but even then how could the character read the opponent’s movement and has the instinct of veteran fencer was beyond me.

Final Score

3star
3 stars (out of 5 stars)

Verdict

The Weeping Books of Blinney Lane was an enjoyable read and quite a solid debut. It still needs work in regards to world building and characters, but overall if you’re looking for a new adult fantasy novel that’ll take you to a magic land, you might want to give it a try.

REVIEW: The Hawkweed Prophecy

Book Review: The Hawkweed Prophecy (Irena Brignull)
book cover Book title The Hawkeed Prophecy
Series/standalone The Hawkweed Prophecy #1
Author Irena Brignull
Pages 304
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Young Adult | Urban Fantasy
Rating 15star

Official Summary

The babies were born as the clock struck twelve. A bat fell from the air mid-flight. A silver salmon floated dead to the surface of the river. Snails withered in their shells, moths turned to dust on the night breeze and an owl ate its young. The spell had been cast.

Poppy Hooper has managed to deceive her father into believing that there is nothing mysterious or unnatural about her. He ignores the cats that find her wherever she goes, the spiders that weave beautiful lacy patterns for her, even her eyes – one blue, one green with an extra black dot orbiting the pupil.

Ember Hawkweed is a pitiful excuse for a witch. When the other girls in her coven brew vile potions, Ember makes soap and perfume. Fair and pretty, Ember is more like a chaff than a witch. One of the Hawkweeds will be queen of the witches – but everyone knows it won’t be Ember.

When the two girls meet, Poppy discovers her powers, and finds out the truth. Bound by their unlikely friendship and the boy they both love, the girls try and find their place in the world. But the time of the prophecy draws nearer – and the witches won’t give up the throne without a fight.

Review

Disclaimer: I received an e-galley from the publisher via netgalley.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. A surprise, for once. A fresh take on tropes so common like “switched at birth” and “prophecy”. Whatever it was, it wasn’t this.

The Hawkweed Prophecy opened with two witch sisters. One of them was having a baby and the other one… well, she wasn’t happy with the fact because she envisioned her own daughter to be the one prophesied to bring glory to their people. The prologue, I’m sorry to say, was the most interesting part of the book. Raven and Charlock are at least interesting and had a complicated relationship, they loved each other and Raven couldn’t bear the thought of her sister got hurt, but she didn’t want her niece to become the child of prophecy.
Unfortunately, the story then jumped into years later and switched to Poppy and Ember, now in their teenage years. These two were pretty much two-dimensional characters. Essentially, however, they are still okay and even had a few interesting encounters and scenes together. Just when I thought this book would deliver a nice take on female friendships or well, any kind of relationship really, Hawkweed Prophecy dropped a brick on my hope. Enter Leo, the least interesting, cannot make up his mind, most annoying love interest ever. Oh and everyone seems to fall in love head over heels with this guy. What really annoys me was not the insta-love (there’s plenty of it here), but I’m talking about how this book treated him as the only eligible bachelor in the entire planet and that all the girls are hopeless once they laid their eyes on him. The story tried to explain this with how the ladies are quite isolated and never saw a male before, but to be honest that sort of a weak excuse to explain the insta-love. Curiosity maybe, but not love. Okay, back to the love interest. He was not only unnecessary for the protagonists’ character development, he made them seem childish and unlikeable. The only thing he adds was another conflict to the already bloated storylines.
Another character, or should I say characters, that suffered from two dimensionality were the enemies. They were so cliché and had no layer of complexity on their evilness. I wish for more historical background of the enemies here, perhaps of the century-long conflict between the two clans. Lacking context, the big battle turned into just another part of a formulaic story.
Alright, let’s talk a bit about the writing. There is no doubt that the writing was competent. There was, however, something about it that I couldn’t quite put my fingers on that made the narrative felt jumpy and the dialogue awkward. The multiple narrators were also not very well executed. The author tried to tell the story from different perspective, instead it turn into an overexplanation with no surprise left for the reader.

Final Score

15star
1.5 stars (out of 5 stars)

Verdict

The Hawkweed Prophecy tried to give fresh take on common tropes, but it felt flat due to poor execution, unnecessary love triangle, and the blandness of characters.

Review: White Sand

Graphic Novel Review: White Sand (Sanderson, Hoskin, Gopez)
wht_sand Book title White Sand
Series/standalone White Sand #1
Author Brandon Sanderson, Rik Hoskin, Julius M. Gopez
Pages 160
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Graphic Novel | Fantasy
Rating 3.5 star

Official Summary

A brand new saga of magic and adventure by #1 New York Times best-selling author Brandon Sanderson. On the planet of Taldain, the legendary Sand Masters harness arcane powers to manipulate sand in spectacular ways. But when they are slaughtered in a sinister conspiracy, the weakest of their number, Kenton, believes himself to be the only survivor. With enemies closing in on all sides, Kenton forges an unlikely partnership with Khriss — a mysterious Darksider who hides secrets of her own. White Sand brings to life a crucial, unpublished part of Brandon Sanderson’s sprawling Cosmere universe. The story has been adapted by Rik Hoskin (Mercy Thompson), with art by Julius Gopez and colors by Ross Campbell. Employing powerful imagery and Sanderson’s celebrated approach to magical systems, White Sand is a spectacular new saga for lovers of fantasy and adventure.

Review

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy from the publisher via netgalley.

Any long-time visitor of this blog would know that Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors. Some of the things I admired the most from his writing is his solid worldbuilding and innovative magic system. Naturally, when I heard that one of his older work – part of Cosmere world nonetheless – was going to be adapted into graphic novel, I jumped at the chance to download an e-galley.
It’s always interesting to look back to an author’s earlier work after reading one of their more recent, polished works. Astonishingly, Elantris, Sanderson’s first published novel, is still a good piece of fantasy even when compared to Mistborn or the Stormlight Archive. White Sand was written around the same time as Elantris, and so I held it to the same standard as the latter. So how did it fare?

Continue reading “Review: White Sand”