Review: The Impostor Queen

23495112Title: The Impostor Queen

Author: Sarah Fine

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Elli was a small child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic. Since then, Elli has lived in the temple, surrounded by luxury and tutored by magical priests, as she prepares for the day when the Valtia perishes and the magic finds a new home in her. Elli is destined to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, the home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between the love she has for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must align with the right side—before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

Review: The only reason this is receiving four stars rather than five is because in the end this story wound up being a novel-length prequel to the true fight to come. But do not allow that to deter you from reading The Impostor Queen because this is an incredibly engaging fantasy story that did so many things well.

Elli, when the reader first meets her, holds the title of the Saadella, meaning that she is in a way the crown princess who will become queen upon the death of her Valtia. In the land of Kupari, the Valtia is the wielder of fire and ice magic, making her incredibly powerful and the chosen ruler because of the balance she is able to maintain while she uses both mediums. When a Valtia dies, the magic passes on to her Saadella, to make her the new Valtia and to create a new Saadella so the cycle might continue forever and protect the Kupari people.

But when Elli’s Valtia dies, the power does not come to her. With her life now in danger she retreats to the outer rims of society, where she learns about her power, prophecies, the different natures of fire and ice magic, and the responsibility she feels towards her people. The pace in this story could fluctuate between the high and the low, though I always managed to feel invested in the story and the mysteries about the Valtia and the Kupari magic. Elli was a main character that is easily able to align with as she pursues this journey. This story did a lot of set-up on the relationships between her and the people who will go on to become players in the next novel. And the magic – I thought it was so interesting, and to me it felt like it offered a fresh take on fire and ice magic within the fantasy genre realm.

In the end, I would highly recommend this book. The fantasy elements are strong, the dynamics between characters are interesting (and the romance made me feeeeeel!), and I can promise you that you will want to see how the prophecy will play out as the story moves forward.

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Review: Beatrice and Benedick

23848558Title: Beatrice and Benedick

Author: Marina Fiorato

Rating:  ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: When nineteen-year-old Beatrice is brought to live at her uncle’s court in Sicily to be a companion to his daughter, she first meets Benedick, a young soldier who is there with a Spanish lord on a month-long sojourn. As they begin to wage their war of wit, their words mask their deep love for one another. But the pair are cruelly parted by misunderstanding and slander. Heartbroken, Benedick sails to England on the ill-fated Spanish Armada. Beatrice returns to her home in the North and an unwanted betrothal. While Benedick must fight for his life on board ship, Beatrice fights for her freedom from an arranged marriage.

From the point of view of Beatrice and Benedick we hear the lovers tell their own story, taking us from the sunlit southern courts of Sicily, to the crippled Armada on the frozen northern seas, to the gorgeous Renaissance cities of the north.

Review: With no disrespect meant to Claudio and Hero, when most people think of the play Much Ado About Nothing they think about the lovers Beatrice and Benedick. Through their quips to one another it can easily be read that there is a history to these two, and Marina Fiorato uses her imagination to describe just what that story might be. Do not think of this as only a retelling, however, for this incredibly well written book also features significant moments in 16th Century history while simultaneously weaving in the story of the bard, Shakespeare.

Beatrice and Benedick meet for the first time at the Sicilian home of her cousin, Hero, for a month’s celebration of the Ascension. Drawn together and torn apart by each other’s tongues, the two go on to engage in a game ever searching for the truth of feelings while also struggling over who is to be the victor. I had not read the play in a long time, but I was able to easily imagine this as how things could have been between these characters, particularly because I think Fiorato was able to get the characterizations correct. I felt for both of them; and when a misunderstanding forced them apart, I was convinced my interest in the book would wane. After all, I wanted to read about these two — together.

But Fiorato goes on to do an interesting thing: she shifts Benedick to Spain, where he becomes swept up in the Spanish Armada. I have not read much about the Armada, and found myself riveted with the details of the preparations, the hubris, and the destruction. Beatrice, meanwhile, must return home to Verona, where she continues to grow as a woman who sees herself in her own right. Here, another play of Shakespeare comes into play as well, which really goes on to make the reader think of how all of these stories could be connected if the theory used by the author is correct. Like I said before, do not only think of this as a retelling because there is some rich history and theory presented here.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this story, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction, or an admirer of the bard’s plays. I had not read Much Ado in some time, and that did not negatively affect my experience with this if that is a concern to you. The references to the play are, of course, present, though this book works just as well as a story of love.

Review: Wolf By Wolf

Title: Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1) 24807186

Author: Ryan Graudin

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world. To commemorate their Great Victory over Britain and Russia, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s ball.

Yael, who escaped from a death camp, has one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move. But as Yael begins to get closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

Review: Premise, premise, premise: say it with me now, because this one was golden. In Wolf By Wolf, Ryan Graudin asks her readers to imagine a world in which Hitler and the Axis Powers win the war. All of the atrocities of his tyranny continue on, leading a Jewish child into a concentration camp where she becomes the subject of experimental trials to purify genetics. After all that had been done to her, this girl grows up and goes on to join with resistance fighters who give her the mission to kill Adolf Hitler.

Now, this is the point where my knowledge of the book stopped and my assumptions began; if you want to go into this story blind like I did then I suggest you stop reading immediately.

Otherwise, I want to talk about my assumptions, which based upon the book’s title had me thinking that the experiments performed on Yael had given her the ability to turn into a wolf. Imagine it, if you will: girl gets the mission to kill Hitler, and she attacks him: as a wolf! This is not what came to pass, but how wonderful could that have been?

I digress, however, that Yael’s experimentation gives her the ability to skinshift, and she uses this talent (for lack of a better word) to masquerade as an Aryan girl who has been within close proximity to Hilter before. In order for Yael to be close enough to complete her mission, she will have to take Adele Wolfe’s place on the Axis Tour, which is a motorcycle race from Germany to Japan taken by the strongest teenagers in both superpowers. The book becomes a high-action-paced story with betrayals, and lies, and strength, and the will to do whatever it takes to survive. Even more interesting is the underlying struggle of Yael as she must pretend to be another while coming to terms with the loss of her own identity so many years ago because of what was done to her people and so many others.

I would recommend this book for the premise alone; it really is unlike anything I have come across in YA fiction before, and it did deliver in terms of interest. All the other factors that come with the premise are also strong, particularly the ending with the way it concludes this chapter of the story (yes, this is a series) while setting-up another interesting story to come.

Review: Winter

Title: Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4) 13206900

Author: Marissa Meyer

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

Review: Don’t get me wrong –- I really liked this, and that last chapter filled me with some serious happiness, but if I am to be completely honest, then I have to say the biggest problem with Winter is … Winter.

Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress were each given their own books, in which the fairytales they correspond with can thrive with Marissa Meyer’s imagination while still playing a part in the overall plot of the series. Due to this, I feel as if I know them better, and can relate to them better since having their own book gave them the time to be the star and become fleshed out characters that I love.

Winter, unfortunately, is not given that treatment. She is introduced briefly in Cress, but it was nothing thorough. Her book is the final in the series; everything needed to come to a climax and be concluded within its pages. Yes, the fairy tale of Snow White is still there, but it never really felt as if it were needed in the overall plot, nor did it feel like it did anything to make Winter stand in the spotlight. I wanted to love Winter, but I still come away feeling as if I do not know her very well at all, aside from the obvious things such as the symptoms of her lunar sickness, her beauty, and her kindness.

That being said, this series conclusion was filled with plenty of action and romance that is sure to keep fans happy. The pacing can be a bit up and down, but I think that is due to the issues I mentioned above, and it can be forgiven once those action scenes do come around to move things along. The Lunar Chronicles has been sparking my imagination and happiness for a few years, and it is sad to think that I now have to let these characters go.

Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Title: The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium Trilogy #4) 25074850

Author: David Lagercrantz

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: In this adrenaline-charged thriller, genius-hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist face a dangerous new threat and must again join forces.

Late one night, Blomkvist receives a phone call from a trusted source claiming to have information vital to the United States. The source has been in contact with a young female super hacker—a hacker resembling someone Blomkvist knows all too well. The implications are staggering.

Blomkvist, in desperate need of a scoop for Millennium, turns to Lisbeth for help. She, as usual, has her own agenda. In The Girl in the Spider’s Web, the duo who thrilled 80 million readers in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest meet again in an extraordinary and uniquely of-the-moment thriller.

Review: After having fallen in love with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and its protagonist Lisbeth Salander, I was very wary of the idea of the story being continued on by another writer in defiance of what is said to be Larsson’s wishes. I did not see how another author could do the story or the characters justice. But curiosity won out, and I am glad that it did because I enjoyed this book a lot.

To be truthful, it must be noted that I have not read the original trilogy in a very long time, so I am in no way able to determine if Lagercrantz aligned his characterizations of Lisbeth and company truthfully to Larsson. All I can say is that I felt as if I was able to fall right back into the fast lane with ease, once my mind began to connect all of the characters together with one another in accordance with all that had happened in the past. If you are a hard-core fan of the series, with enough of a connection to the characters in the sense that you live and breathe them to the extent that you truly know them, then you might feel differently. But if you are like me then I think you will be pleased to return to a crime novel filled with journalism, revenge, hackers, etc. I never felt bored by this story; it was easy reading all the way through and it held my interest.

My main complaint is that there is not enough Lisbeth! She is there, of course, but so are so many other returning and new characters that the reader must follow. With the way things have been set-up I am anticipating this reincarnation of the series to also form a trilogy, and I can see her perspective taking much more of a prominent role as things go further to unravel the mysteries of what has become of the legacy Zalachenko left behind.

Review: Uprooted

Title: Uprooted 22544764

Author: Naomi Novik

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: “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.

Review: Laced within Uprooted is something akin to a nostalgic blanket I was able to wrap around myself. By this I mean the story felt warm, and familiar, and like something I could easily envision being passed down from generation to generation: in essence, it captured the magic of a fairy tale.

From the very first page this book had my attention, as it introduced the world and the circumstances surrounding the sacrifice to the Dragon, and the threat of the Wood. Despite years of believing it will be her best friend who is chosen by the Dragon, it is Agnieszka who is taken to his tower and who becomes involved in the fight against corruption and the Wood. I believe the synopsis leaves things vague on purpose so you can go on the journey with these characters, so I will do the same.

Where this book failed me, however, and why I have given it four stars rather than five, is the middle section when the setting moves from the valley and the shadow of the Wood to the capital kingdom and the court. It was here that things felt as if they began to drag, and I began to rush through the words rather than savor the tale as I had done before. The ending, thankfully, led the story back to the same tone as the beginning, as I began to ease back into the tale and the struggle along with these characters. I feel immensely satisfied with the ending, and even left wishing there was a little more. If you are in the search of a read that feels like a story that has been passed down and is filled with the type of fantasy and magical elements, and in the end: a lesson, that could be told to you as a young child, in a village in the shadow of the woods, then I would recommend this wholeheartedly.

Review: Only A Promise

Title: Only A Promise (The Survivor’s Club #5) 23274098

Author: Mary Balogh

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Ralph Stockwood prides himself on being a leader, but when he convinced his friends to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, he never envisioned being the sole survivor. Racked with guilt over their deaths, Ralph must move on . . . and find a wife to secure an heir to his family’s title and fortune.

Since her Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead is resigned to spinsterhood. Driven by the need to escape her family, she takes refuge at the home of her mother’s godmother, where she meets Ralph. He needs a wife. She wants a husband. So Chloe makes the outrageous suggestion to strike a bargain and get married. One condition: Ralph has to promise that he will never take her back to London. But circumstances change. And to Ralph, it was only a promise.

Review: One of my favorite Mary Balogh books in recent memory. And if I could impart any wisdom on those interested in reading this book, then it would be to not pay attention to the synopsis. I did not read the back of this book to learn what it would be about; all I needed to know is that it was the latest in the Survivor’s Club series. Due to this decision, I did not know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by the paths the story took. The changes the characters must face are swift, and in this way the development was constantly pushed forward. The twists seemed to defy the usual conventions of the genre. I will say nothing about what happened in this book because I want you to experience it the way I did.

As for the romance? I think it is one of the best I have encountered in a long time. Ralph and Chloe must come to gradual terms with one another. It was done over time, in a way that made it feel authentic and that came across to me, the reader, so that I could feel with them. Another noteworthy aspect of the story is how the repercussions of war are dealt with. There is much talk about war and the effect it has on those on the battlefield, those who choose to remain home, those left at home, and those who return home. To read each of the characters’ thoughts on this subject was a surprise to me, for I was actually moved by some of the things that were said. All in all, this was just an incredibly well done book, and I recommend it.