Book Review: The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

Book Review: The Shadow Queen by Sandra GullandThe Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland
Published by Doubleday on April 8, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
5 Stars
From the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set. From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother's astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she's socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning "Shadow Queen." Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king's bed.

Indeed, Claudette's "reputable" new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King's favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

Book Review:

I could write an extremely long review on why I loved THE SHADOW QUEEN. But no one wants to read a novel about a novel, so here’s what’s really important: I connected with this book. I read it twice, because the first time I flew through it so quickly I couldn’t write a review other than “read this!” The second time, I enjoyed the book even more. It’s one I’m sure to read another couple of times in the future.

I had never heard of Claudette des Œillets before reading THE SHADOW QUEEN, and from what I gather, she doesn’t have the greatest historical reputation. Claudette is known for being involved with the Affair of the Poisons during the reign of Louis XIV. Claudette is also known for being the companion of Athénaïs de Montespan, the “Shadow Queen” of the king, aka the real power behind the throne.

However, Sandra Gulland presents a different side of Claudette. It’s a side that worked very well for me, because I empathized so with Claudette. Claudette’s father dies when she’s young, and he puts the responsibility for her high-strung mother and handicapped brother on her shoulders. The majority of the rest of her life is spent making sure they’re provided for, whether she has to clean chamber pots or find a wet nurse for Athénaïs’s offspring by the king. Whatever it takes to put a roof over their heads and food on the table.

France in the middle to late 1600s was a pretty miserable place for poor people, so I understood why Claudette was so entranced whenever she had a chance meeting with Athénaïs. The encounters start when both girls are children, and even then, Claudette’s easily able to see the difference between their lives. She’s living in a cave, begging to perform for the king while Athénaïs and her pony are dripping in ribbons and silver. So I could see why Claudette would give up one life she loved (theatre) for Athénaïs and the court.

THE SHADOW QUEEN had just the right amount of historical detail to for me to perfectly imagine Claudette’s world, from the theatre to court. I’ve never had an interest in French plays or the history of them, but now I do, thanks to reading this book. Claudette’s parents are both actors, and so the beginning “acts” of the book take place in the theatre world. It was pretty cool to find out how plays were staged back then. Also, when Claudette moves to court, to be Athénaïs’ maid and companion, it was easy to draw allusions between both false worlds.

In between my readings of THE SHADOW QUEEN, I read its companion novel, MISTRESS OF THE SUN. That book is about Louis XIV’s other mistress, Louise de la Vallière. For a complete reading experience, I recommend reading both (the order doesn’t matter in my opinion). I did prefer THE SHADOW QUEEN, mostly because of Claudette.

The only criticism I have for this book is I think “THE SHADOW QUEEN” is a misleading title. The book is about Claudette’s entire life, not just her time at court with Athénaïs. At first I thought the book would be all about the real shadow queen, but it’s not. So if you’re expecting a book entirely about Athénaïs, this is not it. But Claudette’s story is just as good.

I don’t know, guys. I just had a love affair with this book. Both times I read it, I couldn’t put it down. The smooth writing, the historical detail, the interesting story — everything together submerged me so completely into Claudette’s world. My eyes hated me, because I’d just keep flipping page after page.

Socialize with the author:

Sandra Gulland:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes #2) by Christopher Healy

Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes #2) by Christopher HealyThe Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Series: The League of Princes #2
Published by Walden Pond Press on April 30, 2013
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 477
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
5 Stars
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You remember them, don't you? They're the Princes Charming, who finally got some credit after they stepped out of the shadows of their princesses--Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Briar Rose--to defeat an evil witch bent on destroying all their kingdoms.

But alas, such fame and recognition only last so long. And when the princes discover that an object of great power might fall into any number of wrong hands, they are going to have to once again band together to stop it from happening--even if no one will ever know it was they who did it.

Christopher Healy, author of the acclaimed The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, takes us back to the hilariously fractured fairy-tale world he created for another tale of medieval mischief. Magical gemstones, bladejaw eels, a mysterious Gray Phantom, and two maniacal warlords bent on world domination--it's all in a day's work for the League of Princes.

Book Review:

“You’re never too young to start being a hero. Practice dueling one-handed so you never need to drop your blankie.” — The Hero’s Guide to Being a Hero by Duncan

After devouring the first book in the League of Princes series, THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM, I could not wait to dive into the second. Sometimes middle books disappoint me, because they aren’t as good as the first, or are just a bridge to the third book.

Not so with THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE. I think I might have loved it more than the first book!

There’s a big cast of characters in the book, between the princes, their princesses, the bad guys, and everyone else. Yet every character has a distinct personality, and is well drawn in a sentence or two. I never forgot anyone because each person was unique. I have a special fondness for Mr. Troll, though. Can’t beat a troll who wants to be the good guy in a song, even if the bards always get everything wrong.

This book has the same creativity and humor as the first, lots of adventure, and plenty of character growth. Liam’s somewhat of a jerk, having lost what means most to him: his reputation as a hero. His fiancée, Briar Rose, is pretty insistent on their marriage, even chaining Liam to his chair. She also has a big evil plan to overtake every kingdom, and only that brings Liam out of his stupor. Sort of. He eventually shapes up, with plenty of help from his friends.

I was sad when I finished the book, because I didn’t want it to be over! This series is great. If I had a young person in my life, I think it’s a series I’d enjoy reading with them, as both kids and adults can enjoy it. It’s one of my new favorites, and it’s one I’ll enjoy rereading for years.

Socialize with the author:

Christopher Healy:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Half Bad (Half Life #1) by Sally Green

Book Review: Half Bad (Half Life #1) by Sally GreenHalf Bad by Sally Green
Series: Half Life #1
Published by Viking Juvenile on March 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy.

Book Review:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” –Hamlet, William Shakespeare

How do you know if someone is good or bad? Is a white witch good because she’s a white witch, or because she chooses to be good? Is a black witch evil because he’s a black witch, or because he chooses to be evil?

Those are the questions at root of HALF BAD. Born of a white witch and a black witch, Nathan is a Half Code. He won’t have his full powers until seventeen, but if the ruling council of witches has their way, he’ll never receive the three gifts necessary to unlock all of his abilities.

HALF BAD starts off oddly — but in a good way. At first I was like, what the heck am I reading? What’s going on? Second-person narrative (You wake up in a cage, you wait for her to arrive, etc.) is tricky to pull off, and it was confusing at the start of the book. But it was a great way to get me into Nathan’s mind, and to see what he was like. So if you’re lost at first, keep going. HALF BAD is worth it.

I read the first half of the book before I knew it, and I didn’t want to stop reading. And after I finished HALF BAD, I kept thinking about it, and wanting to pick it up again. I cannot wait to see what will happen in book two.

Marcus, Nathan’s father, has killed over 200 witches. Killing is just what black witches do. Almost everyone, except for a few members of his family, is sure that Nathan will turn out just like Marcus. But what makes someone bad or good? Is it in their genes or in the way they’re brought up? It turns out to be a little bit of both for Nathan.

I really enjoyed the experience of reading HALF BAD. It’s a book that’s told slowly, a little too slowly in some places, but I didn’t really mind. I was so caught up in Nathan’s development and journey that I didn’t care there wasn’t always a lot going on. I rather enjoyed Nathan’s time in the cage, and while I’m not sure what that says about me, I do like that the author went there. Nathan goes through a lot, so be prepared for some emotional and physical torment.

I’d recommend HALF BAD if you’re looking for a good witch book, or a book with a realistic male main character. I don’t like a lot of guys in books, but I’m pulling for him.

Socialize with the author:

Sally Green:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (The League of Princes #1) by Christopher Healy

Book Review: The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (The League of Princes #1) by Christopher HealyThe Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
Series: The League of Princes #1
Published by Walden Pond Press on May 1, 2012
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 436
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
5 Stars
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You've never heard of them, have you? These are the princes who saved Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, respectively, and yet, thanks to those lousy bards who wrote the tales, you likely know them only as Prince Charming. But all of this is about to change. Rejected by their princesses and cast out of their castles, Liam, Frederic, Duncan, and Gustav stumble upon an evil plot that could endanger each of their kingdoms. Now it's up to them to triumph over their various shortcomings, take on trolls, bandits, dragons, witches, and other assorted terrors, and become the heroes no one ever thought they could be.

Book Review:

I love fairy tale retellings, but the majority of them are written from the female perspective. I believe THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM is the first I’ve read that’s from a guy’s. Even better — it’s actually the stories of each Prince Charming. The true stories, mind you. They’re nothing like you’ve heard before.

Frederic, Cinderella’s prince, is scared of just about everything, but he’s a snazzy dresser. Gustav, Rapunzel’s prince, is the youngest in a family of seventeen princes. Duncan, Sleeping Beauty’s prince, is a bit of an oddball and sadly has no friends. Liam, Briar Rose’s prince, is actually a hero, but he’s saddled with a real winner for a princess.

I loved this book. It’s hilarious and creative, and I just couldn’t get enough. I think it’s a great book for both younger and older readers; there’s a little something for everyone here. There’s lots of action and adventure, with the princes battling an evil witch; character growth, because the princes want to be known for who they are, not their princesses; sly humor; and illustrations that are picture perfect.

I’m having a difficult time reviewing it, because all that really comes to mind is that THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM is just FUN! A seriously good time.

Socialize with the author:

Christopher Healy:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy #1) by Danielle L. Jensen

Book Review: Stolen Songbird (The Malediction Trilogy #1) by Danielle L. JensenStolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen
Series: The Malediction Trilogy #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on April 1, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 436
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
5 Stars
For those who have loved Seraphina and Graceling comes another truly fabulous fantasy...

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

stolen songbird tour banner

The second I finished reading STOLEN SONGBIRD, I emailed Strange Chemistry and begged them to let me be on the tour for the book. I might have jumped around when they said yes. :D So today I’m super happy to share my review of the book, and an interview with author Danielle L. Jensen.

I wrote a super long review, so there’s a cookie for you if you make it through!

Book Review:

STOLEN SONGBIRD had me at trolls. Yes, there are TROLLS in this book. I’ve been waiting forever for a troll book, and STOLEN SONGBIRD was more than worth the wait. This is a book I savored, and I didn’t want to turn the last page because I didn’t want it to end!

Based on my years of World of Warcraft and other fantasy games/books/art/etc., I sort of expected the trolls to look like this:

troll for stolen songbird book review

But Danielle L. Jensen’s trolls look a bit more like this:

troll for stolen songbird book review

The trolls of the court, anyway. They’re inbred, creepy, and powerful beyond belief. The magic of the royal family keeps the city and its inhabitants from being crushed to death. Cursed by a witch five hundred years ago, Trollus is a city buried and forgotten beneath the world.

Cécile is a gifted singer, about to start her career when she is kidnapped and taken to Trollus. Before she knows it, she’s bonded to the troll prince Tristan; their bonding is supposed to undo the curse keeping the trolls caged away from the rest of the world. Plunged into a life she doesn’t want, Cécile doesn’t spend a lot of time crying. She doesn’t give up her hope of escape, but she bides her time, learning what she can of the trolls and their lives.

That’s how she becomes invested in the plight of the half-bloods. In Trollus, if you aren’t a full-blooded troll, you’re less than nothing. Half-bloods are property, bought and sold as slaves to the powerful, or sent to short lives in the mines.

And let’s not forget Cécile’s new husband, Tristan. Their relationship gets off to a rather rocky start, as neither want to be married, and trolls hate humans. There’s lot of fighting, but because they are bonded, they can sense each other’s feelings, and Cécile is surprised by a lot of what she senses from Tristan. For example, when their bonding fails to end the curse, Tristan is actually relieved, instead of upset.

Their relationship is one I really liked. I’m critical on relationships in YA books, because all too often they are based on insta-lust. Not so with these two. Tristan is horrible to Cécile in public, keeping up his cover of hating humans, but in private, he does nice things for her, like making a flashlight so she can see in Trollus. Over time, they develop real feelings for each other, aided by their bond.

The majority of STOLEN SONGBIRD is from Cécile’s POV, although there are a couple of chapters from Tristan’s perspective. I really loved both of their characters. Cécile and Tristan are complex, well-developed, and real. They both make mistakes, but learn from those mistakes. They both grow over the book, especially Cécile, as she learns more about Trollus and its politics. The few chapters from Tristan’s POV expanded his character and motivations; I liked his voice just as much as Cécile’s.

Aside from Cécile and Tristan, the other characters in the book are also awesome. Everyone, from villains to servants, has their own motivation and desire for wanting Cécile to fail or succeed at breaking the curse. The villains in STOLEN SONGBIRD are delightfully evil, and will stop at nothing to keep Tristan’s plans from succeeding. I love when villains have no apologies for being bad guys. I also want to mention Victor and Victoria, twin trolls who become Cécile’s friends. They constantly compete with each other to see who is the best, in everything from fishing to spear throwing. They provided some much needed humor, and also showed Cécile that not all trolls are bad.

The worldbuilding in STOLEN SONGBIRD is also super interesting. Trollus seems somewhat inspired by the French court, as the royalty and nobles reminded me of the decadence of Marie-Antoinette’s reign. So did their attitudes of being better than everyone, especially half-bloods. The politics of Trollus are extremely complex — nothing is what it seems at first glance, and that was great for me. It’s never fun when it’s easy to predict how a book will play out within the first couple of chapters. STOLEN SONGBIRD continually surprised me. I had NO idea what was going to happen, and that ending! Oh stones and sky, that ending. It’s going to be a long wait for the next book in the trilogy, because I have absolutely got to know what happens next to Cécile and Tristan and everyone else.

It’s really hard to pick what I liked most about the book, since I loved practically every single part of it! STOLEN SONGBIRD is one of those rare books where I was happy with every element as it was. Usually I critique something, or want something done differently… but I can’t think of anything I’d want changed in this book. So I’m going to take the easy route and say I liked EVERYTHING.

STOLEN SONGBIRD is a book that will stay with me for a long time. It’s a wonderful mix of smooth writing, nasty and nice trolls, complicated politics, intrigue, and even some well-done romance. It’s categorized as young adult, but I think it’d be a good crossover book for adults looking for a new fantasy series.

About the author:

author danielle l. jensenDanielle was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At the insistence of the left side of her brain, she graduated in 2003 from the University of Calgary with a bachelor’s degree in finance. But the right side of her brain has ever been mutinous; and in 2010, it sent her back to school to complete an entirely impractical English literature degree at Mount Royal University and to pursue publication. Much to her satisfaction, the right side shows no sign of relinquishing its domination.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

Book Review: Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa MeyerScarlet by Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles #2
Published by Feiwel and Friends on February 5, 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Romance, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 454
Format: eBook
Source: Own
Goodreads
5 Stars
The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

Book Review:

The second book in the Lunar Chronicles, SCARLET picks up where CINDER left off, continuing Cinder’s story while bringing in a new character, Scarlet. The fairy tale influence for SCARLET is Little Red Riding Hood, but I promise you’ve never seen it done this way.

Marissa Meyer is a superb storyteller. I’ve read CINDER and SCARLET multiple times since each book’s release, and I often mention the Lunar Chronicles as one of my favorite series. The books are such a great combination of fantasy, adventure, creative worldbuilding, brilliant characters, and fairy tale retelling.

At first I was worried to start SCARLET, because I loved Cinder so much and I wanted every book to be all about her, and no one else. But I fell in love with Scarlet too, with her impulsiveness and how she was so determined to rescue her grandmother. Wolf was like a whipped puppy, and while I’m normally meh on male characters, I couldn’t help but like him. I like pretty much every character in this series, because they all have personalities. They’re all real. I’m a character-driven reader, so I couldn’t get enough.

After escaping prison, Cinder and a fellow convict go to France in search of information about her past. At the same time, Scarlet is trying to find her kidnapped grandmother. I’m making this sound so much more boring than it really is — SCARLET is full of action and adventure, near misses and escapes. What I really want to say about the different plots is that Cinder and Scarlet’s stories mesh seamlessly. Although I had originally wanted the series to be all Cinder, now I can’t imagine it without Scarlet, and Wolf, and Captain Thorne… and I’m sure I’ll keep saying that with every new book and new characters.

Socialize with the author:

Marissa Meyer:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown

Book Review: Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce BrownRed Rising by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising #1
Published by Del Rey on January 28, 2014
Genres: Adult, Dystopian, Science Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
5 Stars
The war begins...

Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.

Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable - and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.

But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn't the only student with an agenda...

Book Review:

I bloodydamn loved RED RISING. It was a “stay up until my eyes bleed and keep reading anyway” book. I just couldn’t get enough of Darrow and his dark, violent world, and as soon as I turned the last page, I wanted to read it over.

I hate making comparisons, but if you took The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, Game of Thrones, and maybe even Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, threw them all together and put them hundreds of years in the future, you have RED RISING. However, this book isn’t a copy of any of those, but you can definitely see elements or inspiration from all of those (and probably more that I missed). Also, mentioning all those is the easiest way I can think of to describe it, since I don’t want to spoil a second of this book.

So, that said, RED RISING is original and super creative. I cannot remember the last time an author has surprised me so much. It’s so packed with action, betrayals, and plot twists that I was never sure who to trust, or even who was good and who was bad. At its deepest, RED RISING is about power. Who has it, who doesn’t, and what to do with it.

RED RISING is the story of Darrow, a 16 year-old miner who lives beneath Mars’s surface. He is a Red, and his job, along with all other Reds, is to prepare Mars for the other Colors. In Pierce Brown’s world, there are castes of colors, with the most powerful, Golds, on top, and the least, Reds, on the bottom. And when I say Darrow’s Red, I mean it — his hair, eyes, and skin are red. Same with the other colors. Browns (servants) are Brown. Grays (police) are Gray. The colors lock everyone into their slot in society, into their specific role and job.

Although Darrow is 16, he reads much older, and so I think RED RISING is a great crossover book, with wide appeal for both teens and adults. Reds mature quickly; at 16, Darrow is already married. He loves his wife Eo more than anything else, and when she is killed for an act of rebellion, her death thrusts Darrow into a search for vengeance and power. The beginning of the book is a bit slow, but it really establishes Darrow’s world and the difficult lives he and the other Reds have, as the “pioneers” of Mars.

Recruited by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group, Darrow undergoes a painful and lengthy transformation into a Gold. I loved that the whole transformation was detailed, since too often that sort of thing is swept over in books. The process was also a good bridge between the “Red world” and the “Gold world,” showing the differences between both. Gold society is influenced by Ancient Greek culture, something else I really liked.

Once Darrow passes the tests for the Institute, that’s when the real story begins. From that point on, I kept trying to flip ahead, because I was so eager to know what would happen next.

RED RISING easily makes my list of favorites, and I cannot wait to read the rest of this trilogy. With such a powerful debut, I know it’s going to be fantastic.

Socialize with the author:

Pierce Brown:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Godborn (The Sundering #2) by Paul S. Kemp

Book Review: The Godborn (The Sundering #2) by Paul S. KempThe Godborn by Paul S. Kemp
Series: Forgotten Realms, The Sundering
Published by Wizards of the Coast on October 1, 2013
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
In the 2nd book of the multi-author Sundering series launched by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, the shadow legacy of Erevis Cale lives on even as his old foe Mephistopheles seeks to stamp it out at any cost. Cale’s son Vasen—unmoored in time by the god Mask—has thus far been shielded from the archdevil’s dark schemes, alone among the servants of the Lord of Light who have raised him since birth.

Living in a remote abbey nestled among the Thunder Peaks of Sembia, Vasen is haunted by dreams of his father, trapped in the frozen hell of Cania. He knows the day will come when he must assume his role in the divine drama unfolding across Faerûn. But Vasen knows not what that role should be . . . or whether he is ready to take it on. He only knows what his father tells him in dreams—that he must not fail.

Enter Drasek Riven, a former compatriot of Erevis Cale, now near divine and haunted by dreams of his own—he too knows the time to act is near. Shar, the great goddess of darkness, looks to cast her shadow on the world forever. Riven has glimpsed the cycle of night she hopes to complete, and he knows she must be stopped.

At the crossroads of divine intrigue and mortal destiny, unlikely heroes unite to thwart the powers of shadow and hell, and the sundering of worlds is set on its course.

Book Review:

I should start this review by saying I’m a huge Paul S. Kemp fangirl. His books are insta-buys for me, regardless of if they are Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, or original fantasy. So my review of THE GODBORN might be a wee bit biased. But I think it’s safe to say this book is fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of dark, gritty fantasy.

THE GODBORN is the second book in the six book Sundering series. This is a series where you don’t have to read all the books in order, or even all of the books, as each is a standalone. Each book is by a different author, and takes some of that author’s Realms’ characters to explore the effects of the Sundering event. In short, the Sundering is the separation of Abeir and Toril, and the gods and other powerful people are jockeying for position and trying to use it to their advantage.

THE GODBORN features Vasen, the son of Erevis Cale. Raised in the Abbey of the Rose, a hidden stronghold of Amaunator in the dark, destroyed lands of Sembia, he’s a servant of the light, devoted to doing the right thing. But Vasen has a more important role than just shepherding pilgrims to and from the Abbey — he needs to save his father, who is trapped in a level of hell. Vasen is also key in stopping the Cycle of Night.

THE GODBORN does build off Kemp’s previous novels in the Realms, but if you haven’t read any of them, don’t worry. There’s enough background so that you won’t be lost. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read The Twilight War trilogy, and I had no trouble getting into or following this book.

So! All that said, THE GODBORN is freaking fantastic. I’m writing this review about 2 weeks after finishing it, and I’m still remembering some of the characters and plot twists. The author has both a gruesome imagination and a way of making me care for and remember his characters. Take Gerak and Elle, farmers from Sembia. Essentially two nobodies. Yet they go through some very horrible things, and I really felt for both of them, and I’m still thinking about them. They were just as important to me as the “big name” characters.

The only quibble I have with the book is I would have liked the events of the last few chapters to be spread out more. There was a lot of necessary buildup to get to the climax, but once I got there, I felt like it was over almost too quickly.

Otherwise, as I’ve probably said a dozen times, I enjoyed every second of THE GODBORN. The fantasy is dark, the characters are all interesting (good and bad), and the action is top-notch.

Socialize with the author:

Paul S. Kemp:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Diamonds & Deceit (At Somerton #2) by Leila Rasheed

Book Review: Diamonds & Deceit (At Somerton #2) by Leila RasheedDiamonds & Deceit by Leila Rasheed
Series: At Somerton #2
Published by Disney Hyperion on January 7, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 420
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
One house, two worlds...book two in our sumptuous and enticing YA series about the servants and gentry at Somerton Court.

A house divided...

London is a whirl of balls and teas, alliances and rivalries. Rose has never felt more out of place. With the Season in full swing, she can't help but still feel a servant dressed up in diamonds and silk. Then Rose meets Alexander Ross, a young Scottish duke. Rose has heard the rumors about Ross's sordid past just like everyone else has. Yet he alone treats her as a friend. Rose knows better than to give her heart to an aristocrat with such a reputation, but it may be too late.

Ada should be happy. She is engaged to a handsome man who shares her political passions and has promised to support her education. So why does she feel hollow inside? Even if she hated Lord Fintan, she would have no choice but to go through with the marriage. Every day a new credit collector knocks on the door of their London flat, demanding payment for her cousin William's expenditures. Her father's heir seems determined to bring her family to ruin, and only a brilliant marriage can save Somerton Court and the Averleys' reputation.

Meanwhile, at Somerton, Sebastian is out of his mind with worry for his former valet Oliver, who refuses to plead innocent to the murder charges against him--for a death caused by Sebastian himself. Sebastian will do whatever he can to help the boy he loves, but his indiscretion is dangerous fodder for a reporter with sharp eyes and dishonorable intentions.

The colorful cast of the At Somerton series returns in this enthralling sequel about class and fortune, trust and betrayal, love and revenge.

Book Review:

CINDERS & SAPPHIRES, the first book in the At Somerton series, was one of my favorite reads of 2013. I think DIAMONDS & DECEIT will be one of my favorite books of 2014. If you like Downton Abbey, or historical fiction, there’s a good chance you’ll like this series.

DIAMONDS & DECEIT is just fun. Even though I’ve read it, I keep returning to it and rereading. The author has a way of sucking me into the lives of the Averleys and their servants, including all the drama, shocks, and romances they experience during the London season. Usually I don’t eat up that sort of thing so easily, but Leila Rasheed just sucks me in. I’m addicted!

I feel like a lot more happens in this book than in CINDERS & SAPPHIRES. I might actually like DIAMONDS & DECEIT better, which is unusual for me because usually the first of a trilogy is my favorite. As for what happens? Ada and Laurence’s engagement moves forward, Oliver has his trial, Georgiana tries to run Somerton, Rose tries to fit into society, Charlotte has more of a personality … and so on.

Rose is still my favorite character. She’s in a hard position, neither fully upstairs or downstairs. If you remember, at the end of book one, it was revealed that she’s Lord Westlake’s illegitimate daughter. Now recognized as one of the family, she struggles to fit into society, but is reminded constantly of where she came from. I like how she questions the new life she has, wondering if it’s really worth it. Rose falls hard for the Duke of Huntleigh, who has quite the reputation for scandalous behavior. But in contrast to Laurence, Ada’s fiancé, is he really that bad? Yet another opportunity to think about society and how it was changing in the 1900s.

And oh man, that ending! I have GOT to get my hands on the last book in the trilogy, but until then, I’ll be content to reread DIAMONDS & DECEIT because I enjoyed it that much.

Socialize with the author:

Leila Rasheed:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

Book Review: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Published by Disney Hyperion on September 10, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

Book Review:

I’ve been trying to write my review of ROSE UNDER FIRE for a while. Sometimes I find it really hard to write a review of a book that I really loved, and that’s what happened here. How in the heck do I express all the FEELS I have for this book?

The easy thing to say would be: Read. This. Book. Now. Start it as soon as you have it in front of you, and maybe have a box of tissues handy.

I read ROSE UNDER FIRE twice in a short time, and it’s one of those books that I could read over and over again, and find something new every time. Rose is one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s just so … real. Even when a prisoner in Ravensbrück, she doesn’t lose who she is (pilot, Girl Scout, American, etc.), but her definition of herself expands. Rose does and endures some truly horrible things to survive the concentration camp, but I think that shows what humans can and will endure to survive.

The book is written in epistolary format, with three parts: Rose’s work as an ATA pilot, her time in Ravensbrück, and then after, when she’s approached about the Ravensbrück tribunal. Rose’s voice changes so much during those parts as she matures, influenced but not hardened by her experiences. During each part, I felt like I was actually there, watching everything unfold, not just reading a letter or diary entry or essay.

There’s also a fair amount of poetry in this book, both poems written by Rose and a few by other famous poets. Normally, I skim right over poetry because I have a hard time reading/understanding it, but here, I actually read them. I surprised myself by liking Rose’s poems. Rose uses poetry as a mental escape and exercise, and the other prisoners in her camp family need it just as much as she does. It just goes to show that anything can be used to rise above physical and emotional suffering, from a poem to a paper airplane.

ROSE UNDER FIRE is a book that has stuck with me, and will continue to stick with me. It’s haunting and captivating, and has stolen my heart. I want to push it into everyone’s hands and make them read it.

By the way, ROSE UNDER FIRE is a companion novel to CODE NAME VERITY, but you don’t have to have read CODE NAME VERITY for ROSE UNDER FIRE to make sense.

Socialize with the author:

Elizabeth Wein:
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– leeanna