Review: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Publisher: Bonnier
Release date: April 26, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 400
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How do you survive a mage’s duel without magic? Kellen’s about to risk everything: His family, his home, even his own life…

When you’re a Jan’Tep initiate approaching your sixteenth birthday, you’d better be ready to prove your worth as a mage. Either that or have a miracle on the way. And Kellen isn’t counting on either. He knows he’ll need a few tricks up his sleeve to avoid disgracing his family and becoming a Sha’Tep servant. So when a sassy, straight-talking traveller arrives in town, Kellen is all ears. Ferius Parfax is jaded but worldly, an exile who lives by her wits and the three decks of cards she carries. She can’t teach him to spark his bands and access the seven magics, but with the hand that Kellen’s been dealt, he knows he needs all the help he can get… A rich, compelling and laugh-out-loud new series for all teen, YA, adult and fantasy readers. Perfect for fans of The Dark Tower, Firefly, Hunger Games and Guardians of the Galaxy.

MY THOUGHTS

Thanks to Allen & Unwin for providing a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Trigger warning: animal cruelty

Spellslinger is the first book in a new YA series by Sebastien de Castell. This novel follows 15 year old, Kellen, who is a boy without magic, living in a world full of magic. Even though Kellen is the son of a powerful Lord Magus, he shows no sign of having any magical abilities and is at risk of becoming a Sha’Tep and serving the powerful and magical Jan’Teps for the rest of his life. When a strange lady, Ferius, arrives in town, Kellen begins to learn that there are alternative ways to be the hero that he’s always wanted to be.

That was kind of a vague synopsis of the novel but I’m having a really hard time recalling what actually happened or what the book was about. The plot was a little bit messy and confusing and seemed to jump around quite a bit. I just wanted a little bit more flow from it. I couldn’t really engage with the story and it took me a really long time to finish what was actually a really fast-paced book. I did like the magic system for the most part but I found bits of it to be confusing and underdeveloped. There were so many different aspects and I couldn’t really grasp the rules of the magic system because it seemed to be kind of limitless. I appreciate that the author wanted to put in a lot of plot and action but for a fantasy series… I wish he’d spent a little bit more time setting up the world and magic system at the start. The world building was kind of lacking and I didn’t really get a good sense of where they were or what the culture of the world was… besides the part where all the female characters were subservient and submissive.

Having said that, I did like Kellen’s character a lot and I think this redeemed the book for me. He was sassy and funny, and I found him to be strangely relatable. I most appreciated that he wasn’t the Chosen One (in fact, he’s kind of the opposite) and it was really easy to connect with him because he was kind of completely ordinary. I really enjoyed his character development throughout the book and the way that he found himself and who he wanted to be by the end of the novel. But I can’t say that I liked the rest of the characters as much. Ferius was an okay character for me. She was extremely enigmatic and I didn’t know what her motivations were by the end of the novel. I loved that she was there for Kellen and supported him but I don’t really know how I feel about her. I also liked Reichis, Kellen’s squirrel cat friend (or business partner, as he calls himself), and I can’t wait to see more of him in the upcoming books. I do have to mention though that there is some animal cruelty in this book and there was one particular scene that had me shuddering in horror.

The rest of the characters, I found extremely unmemorable and bland. And it also didn’t really help that it was difficult to remember their names. Some characters were from the same family and had really similar names that were easily confusable. And on top of that, a lot of the characters actually changed their names during the book, once they’d reached mage status. I also wasn’t a huge fan of any of the other characters and thought that they were either pure evil or just terrible, terrible friends. I didn’t care about any of them and wasn’t really that invested in their stories or what was happening to them.

All in all, I don’t think Spellslinger was for me. I liked the action in the novel and Kellen’s character a lot but I couldn’t latch on to anything else. I wasn’t able to get into the world or the magic system so the book ended up being a little bit of a drag for me.

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Review: My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release date: June 1, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 372
Goodreads || Book Depository || Booktopia

‘You are my sister now,’ Victoria said, quietly and solemnly. ‘Never forget it. I love you like a sister, and you are my only friend in all the world.’

Miss V. Conroy is good at keeping secrets. She likes to sit as quiet as a mouse, neat and discreet. But when her father sends her to Kensington Palace to become the companion to Princess Victoria, Miss V soon finds that she can no longer remain in the shadows.

Miss V’s father has devised a strict set of rules for the young princess, which he calls the Kensington System. It governs her behaviour and keeps her locked away from the world. He says it is for the princess’s safety, but Victoria herself is convinced that it is to keep her lonely, and unhappy.

Torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with the wilful and passionate Victoria, Miss V has a decision to make: to continue in silence, or to speak out.

By turns thrilling, dramatic and touching, this is the story of Queen Victoria’s childhood as you’ve never heard it before.

MY THOUGHTS

Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for providing a review copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

My Name is Victoria is a historical retelling of Queen Victoria’s youth, with a twist. While the novel contains historically correct information, the plot of the book is fictional and set in a “parallel world”, as described by the author herself. I didn’t really have any expectations going into the book, because even though I love historical fiction, I have a very general knowledge of Queen Victoria’s life. And because of my lack of expectations and prior knowledge, I ended up really enjoying the novel because of how accessible and interesting it was.

The story follows a young girl named Miss V, who is given the task of being Princess Victoria’s playmate. Miss V’s father is the comptroller of the Duchess of Kent, who is Victoria’s mother, and he plays a big role in the management of their estate and finances, as well as a crucial role in ‘the Kensington System’. Miss V is extremely proud of her father’s position, until she gradually becomes closer with Victoria and others living at Kensington Palace and discovers that not everything is as it seems. I liked the writing style of the novel. It had a simplistic writing style that was easy to read and suited the story perfectly. What I loved most about the story was that it wasn’t as slow-paced as most historical fiction novels out there. I sped through the book in a few hours and it never felt like a drag. It was definitely still on the slow side because there isn’t a lot that happens and the story spans a period of 7-8 years. But the passage of time was done quite seamlessly and besides the beginning when we were getting to know the characters and their situation, there wasn’t any section in the book that felt long-winded and tiresome. My only real criticism of the plot and story was that the last 50 or so pages felt a little bit rushed. It seemed like everything was happening all at once and the resolution of the book came a bit too easily. I would’ve liked if it had been developed a little bit more.

There wasn’t really a character that I latched on to and absolutely loved, though I did find Miss V to be very relatable and likeable. I admired how much she did for Victoria and how much she was willing to give up for her friend. The friendship that developed between Victoria and Miss V was really great to see. It was nice to see that Miss V never really resented Victoria for any of the things that she had to endure, such as dressing extremely plainly in public so as to not upstage Victoria and giving up her future and any romantic opportunities. I also really liked Prince Albert once he made an appearance in the book. He was really sweet, kind and intelligent, and just my idea of a great book boyfriend.

Overall, I really enjoyed My Name is Victoria and learnt a lot about Queen Victoria’s youth. It made me want to go out and learn more about her life, and it’s a historical fiction novel that I’d recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about her.

My Name is Victoria was published by Bloomsbury Australia on 1st June 2017. It is available at all Australian retailers for $14.99.

Two Year Blogoversary Q&A and Giveaways!

Can you believe it’s been two years since I first started blogging? I’ve met so many great friends (happy 2 year blogoversary to my blogging twin, Aentee @ Read at Midnight) and had so many awesome opportunities along the way. Thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting on my posts, even though my posting schedule has been sporadic at best and I’ve been a complete failure at replying to comments.

But to thank you all, I have some exciting giveaways and I also posted on Twitter a few weeks ago asking for Q&A questions, which I’ll answer today.

Q&A

I don’t know what this girl is talking about because she reads even faster than I do and churns out reviews like a machine! And this is on top of her hectic schedule as a senior in high school and all of the extracurriculars she does. I’ve actually read much fewer books this year than usual because of my reading slump and busy work schedule. But I’m on track to meet my goal of 100 books this year.

I’ve actually written a blog post before on why I read contemporary and why it’s my favourite genre. You can check out the post here. But to summarise, I love that contemporary is usually relatable and realistic and I love that I can usually connect with the characters and their stories more than I can when it comes to fantasy.

As much as I would love to say that my one true pairing is me and Draco Malfoy, my #1 OTP is actually Will Herondale and Jem Carstairs. Theirs is just the ultimate bromance and their parabatai bond can never be severed. If you’ve read The Infernal Devices, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things since I’ve started blogging but my favourite is being able to meet my fellow bloggers in person. I’ve been lucky enough to have met both of my Happy Indulgence co-bloggers, Jeann and Aila last year. I also got to see Aentee a couple of times last year and once this year. I met Jesse @ Books at Dawn and Joey @ Thoughts and Afterthoughts when I was in Toronto last year (and will be hanging out with them for 3 months when I move temporarily to Toronto next month). And later this month, I’ll be seeing CW @ Read Think Ponder when she visits Sydney for a few days. There’s nothing better than getting to hang out with like-minded people and going book shopping together.

This question is literally torture. (For those of you who don’t know, Werner is the lead male character from my favourite novel, All the Light We Cannot See). As much as I love Draco Malfoy, I probably wouldn’t marry him because I’ll be marrying Will Herondale, my ultimate book boyfriend ❤ . Will loves to read and is extremely loyal and loving so it’s gotta be him. Argh I dunno. This is too hard. Okay I’ll kiss Draco and cliff Werner. SORRY, I DIDN’T MEAN TO.

Let’s never speak of this again. Haha, in case you don’t know what this is about… when I stayed with Jeann for a weekend last year, she talked me into doing two booktube videos with her. I was so unnatural and I literally was a bobblehead the entire time.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever done anything that I would consider to be super crazy. But I’ve gone to meet up with bloggers in different cities on my own. The first time I met Aentee, she got mad at me that I didn’t tell anyone where I was going in case she was a serial killer HAHA.

I’m going to be working in Toronto for three months so it’s the first place that comes to mind. But if I could choose any other place right now, I’d probably say Sweden… or just Scandinavia in general. One of my friends is currently holidaying in Europe and her pictures from Sweden look AMAZING.

Haha not at this moment. It’d have to be beyond spectacular to knock All the Light We Cannot See from its spot as my favourite book of all time.

I’ve had a really great blogging journey so far and I don’t think there’s anything that I regret. There are definitely things that I wish I could do better, like posting more regularly and commenting back promptly, but those are just my shortcomings and not really regrets.

Well this is the million dollar question. I’m not sure yet. There is a lot that I can do so I’m trying to keep my options open right now. It would be really cool to be able to work abroad but I’m also really happy to just stay here in Sydney and keep doing the things I love.


GIVEAWAYS

Just like last year, I’m running three giveaways to celebrate my 2 year blogoversary. Two of the giveaways are international and one is for Australian residents only.

Giveaway Rules

  • Giveaways 1 and 2 will end at 11:59pm AEST on 3rd July 2017. Giveaway 3 will end at 11:59pm AEST on 1st July 2017. This is because I will be shipping the prize for Giveaway 3 myself and I need to do that before I fly out to Toronto.
  • Giveaways 1 and 2 are open internationally but Giveaway 3 is open to Australian residents only. I will disqualify you if you enter a giveaway that isn’t open to you.
  • There will be ONE winner for each giveaway and the winners will be chosen at random through Rafflecopter.
  • I will contact the winners for Giveaway 3 on July 2nd and Giveaways 1 and 2 on July 4th and if I don’t receive a reply within 48 hours, I will choose another winner. I will be checking all entries so please don’t cheat!
  • I will require a postage address so please make sure that you have parental permission to give me your address if you’re under 18.
  • Book Depository will be sending out the order for Giveaway 1. For Giveaway 2, I will choose an online retailer depending on the postal address of the winner (e.g. Barnes & Noble if you live in the US, Book Depository if you live in the UK). I take no responsibility for lost or damaged parcels as they will be sent by the retailer. I will send you a shipping confirmation and keep you updated on the process though.

Giveaway 1: $35 AUD for Book Depository (INTL)

Click the image above oR this link to go to the Rafflecopter giveaway page.

Giveaway 2: Your Choice of One of My Favourite 2017 Reads in Hardcover (INTL)

Click the image above or this link to go to the Rafflecopter giveaway page.

For this giveaway, you need to choose one of the five books shown above:

Giveaway 3: Paperback set of Passenger and Wayfarer (Aus Only)

Click the image above or this link to go to the Rafflecopter giveaway page.

Thanks for visiting as always and good luck!

Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: May 16, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 384
Goodreads || Book Depository

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.

MY THOUGHTS

I love supporting Aussie authors and I was so excited to check out The Love Interest because it had an intriguing synopsis and a really stunning cover. But I was left feeling really disappointed because I don’t think the book lived up to its full potential.

The book is told from the perspective of Caden, who is a Love Interest. He grew up in this secret organisation where he was groomed to become a Love Interest to someone important or powerful enough to have an impact on the world. Love Interests are spies who are expected to report back to the organisation with secrets about their partners. However, in order to be in the lives of their partners, they need to first have a fight to the death with another Love Interest who is also vying for the attention and love of that partner. When the partner makes their choice, the Love Interest who has lost is killed. Caden and Dylan are Love Interests fighting for the love of Juliet, who is a genius scientist and inventor. But a friendship between them forms when they realise that nobody else in the world understands them better than each other.

I actually really liked the first 70 or so pages of the novel. I was captivated by the concept and the world of the Love Interest organisation and I found it to be addictive in a reality TV show/The Bachelor kind of way. But as I progressed through the book, I became a little bit bored with the lack of plot and the lack of development in the story. There wasn’t very much that happened and it just came across as a boy trying to get a girl to fall in love with him using very dramatic and unrealistic methods. I couldn’t connect with the story because of how unrealistic and cheesy it was. I struggled a lot of how little of a learning curve Caden needed to fit into the real world when he’s never actually been in the real world. He seemed to know exactly where to go at school and he seemed to have zero problems starting a job at Starbucks. I know Caden fitting into society wasn’t the focus of the book, but I was just extremely disconnected with everything that happened because there was so little realism.

My biggest problem was with the characterisation. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters in the book, though I did really like Dylan. They just weren’t developed very much and they all kind of just came off as the same person to me. I felt no emotional connection to the characters and this was probably due to the fact that the novel didn’t really explore any of the characters’ emotions. We got to briefly see Caden’s doubts about what he was doing and the guilt he felt at being responsible for Dylan’s death if he won. But none of this was explored in very much detail, which again made me feel like there was a wall between myself and the novel and its characters. The character that I felt the most frustrated with was probably Juliet. She was described as a genius who had been inventing things from a young age. But that never really came across to me throughout the book. She came off as a regular girl, sometimes whiny, and there didn’t seem to be anything special about her. The only time her inventions and her ability came into play was in a very deus ex machina kind of way towards the end of the book, and by that time, it was too late for me to change my opinion of her.

Overall, there wasn’t very much that I could latch onto. I did like the first 70 pages and maybe the last 30 or so pages but aside from that, I was kind of bored and disappointed with the novel.

Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Publisher: Simon & Schuster’s Books for Young Readers
Release date: May 2, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 336
Goodreads || Book Depository

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

MY THOUGHTS

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the third and final book in the series so this review may contain spoilers for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

I think my rating for this book is probably closer to a 4.5 stars but it’s inflated just because of sentimental reasons. I’ve been waiting for this book since the first book came out. I really liked P.S. I Still Love You but this was the book that I wished that one was. If you love Lara Jean and Peter together, this is a must-read for you. There are no love triangles, I promise!

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is about the final few months of Lara Jean and Peter’s senior year of high school. Peter’s been accepted to the University of Virginia already and Lara Jean is convinced that she’s going to be accepted too. She’s already planned out her college experience with Peter and is extremely excited about being able to be with Peter, as well as close enough to home to visit regularly. However, things don’t always go to plan and suddenly Lara Jean and Peter find themselves having to alter their plans and learn who they are as individuals away from each other.

I really loved the plot of this book. It’s been a long time since I graduated from high school, but I felt really connected with this story because my co-blogger, Aila just graduated and was going through some similar experiences recently. I really connected with Lara Jean’s struggles when it came to figuring out what she wanted to do after high school, especially after her plans fell through. I enjoyed watching her character development throughout the book as she learned to become more independent and put her own needs and wants before others.

But of course, my favourite aspect of the book was the adorable romance between Lara Jean and Peter. This is the first book in the series where we get to see the two of them together for the entire book and it was so worth the wait. The two of them are so perfect together and I loved how Peter just indulges Lara Jean’s quirks. I enjoyed how they worked through their problems together and I just thought their relationship was sugary sweet and everything I needed.

I’m so glad that Jenny Han decided to come out with this third book in this series. I wasn’t super happy with how P.S. I Still Love You ended because I wanted more of Lara Jean and Peter’s story. I’m extremely happy with what we got in this third novel and I’m going to be binge rereading this on sad and rainy days for a long time to come.

Review: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: May 23, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Pages: 699
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Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

MY THOUGHTS

Lord of Shadows is the second book in The Dark Artifices series, which means that this review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read Lady Midnight… or the other 8 books that came before this series.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Cassie Clare book but I was surprised by how quickly I got back into the world. I didn’t really need to be reminded of any details from the other books, which I think is a huge testament to how great of a writer Cassie is. But this book absolutely broke me. The last 50 pages or so of the book were so intense and devastating and I don’t really know how I’m going to recover from it. Couple that with the fact that the third book of the series isn’t going to be out until 2019… I honestly don’t know how I’m going to survive. Having said that, I’m really excited to read about James Herondale’s story (and to maybe see more of Will and Jem) so I’m not that mad that the first book of The Last Hours is coming out next year instead.

It’s a little bit hard to describe the plot of this book because there’s so much that happens in this massive tome! The story picks up a little bit after the events in Lady Midnight. There is suddenly a large presence of sea demons in Los Angeles and it seems like it might be connected with the fact that Malcolm Fade’s body and the Black Volume are still somewhere in the sea. An army of Centurions from the Scholomance are sent to the Los Angeles Institute to recover Malcolm’s body and the Black Volume and the Blackthorns are not happy with the appearance of these strangers that could disrupt their lives and uncover their secrets. As it turns out, they had a right to be antsy because some of the Centurions have ulterior motives that threaten the alliance between the nephilim and the Downworlders. On top of that, it seems like everyone is after the Black Volume and the Blackthorns are determined to be the ones that get to it first.

I love, love, loved the plot of this book… besides the cliffhanger at the end that left me literally breathless and crying. It was so action-packed and intense, and I feel like I need to go back and reread the whole thing in order to catch every single last detail. This is a second book in a series done right. It never felt like a filler book but instead had so much information and development that you just know that the third book is going to be EPIC. I have to admit that I finished the book with a ton of questions but it’s exciting to know that they’re all going to be addressed in the final book of the series. I have a bunch of crackpot theories and I’m so, so excited to see how the story ends.

But it wasn’t just the plot that drew me into the book. It was really the characters and the relationships between them that made me fall in love with the novel. We got to see so much more of the younger Blackthorn siblings in this book, particularly Livvy and Ty, who I both loved. I really liked what they brought to the story and that the series was no longer just about Emma and Julian, as much as I love them. I enjoyed the friendship that is beginning to form between Ty and Kit and I absolutely loved how well Kit understood Ty and was there for him when he needed support. I’m interested to see how this relationship develops further in the next book. I also really loved seeing the developing relationships between Mark and Cristina, Kieran and Cristina and I’m super curious about how that weird potential threesome is going to turn out. And of course, I loved seeing more of Emma and Julian’s story.

We got to see a glimpse of Julian’s dark side in Lady Midnight but it was so much more pronounced in Lord of Shadows. I like that his character is a little bit morally grey and that he prioritises his family over everything else. It’s a nice change from Cassie Clare’s other male lead characters who are extremely heroic and pure-hearted for the most part. Emma was also great in this book but I didn’t feel particularly connected with her in this novel because there were so many other fantastic characters who I wanted to get to know. I loved so many of the side characters, including Diana Wrayburn and Gwyn from the Wild Hunt. They were absolutely fantastic and I enjoyed the part that they played in the story. And finally, for fans of the previous Shadowhunter books, Magnus and Alec are in a significant chunk of this book and I really, really enjoyed getting to see them again. As always, I enjoyed the diversity in these books and I was really happy to see the inclusion of a transgender character in this novel too.

This is becoming a long review so I’m going to cut myself off here but I have so many more thoughts about the book. I enjoyed it just as much as I did Lady Midnight, though The Infernal Devices still remains my favourite of Cassie’s series. I cannot wait to see how The Dark Artifices ends!