Poison’s Kiss by Breeana Shields

Poison's KissInformation

Goodreads: Poison’s Kiss
Series: Poison’s Kiss #1
Source: For Review
Published: January 10, 2017

Official Summary

Marinda has kissed dozens of boys. They all die afterward. It’s a miserable life, but being a visha kanya, a poison maiden, is what she was created to do. Marinda serves the Raja by dispatching his enemies with only her lips as a weapon.

Until now, the men she was ordered to kiss have been strangers, enemies of the kingdom. Then she receives orders to kiss Deven, a boy she knows too well to be convinced he needs to die. She begins to question who she s really working for. And that is a thread that, once pulled, will unravel more than she can afford to lose.

This rich, surprising, and accessible debut is based in Indian folklore and delivers a story that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Review

I was intrigued by the concept of Poison’s Kiss, the idea that a girl could be an assassin who kills with a single brush of her lips.  Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting a hardcore assassin or an epic story, but rather one that incorporated some minor assassinating with lot of romance, and that’s pretty much what I got.  I think it’s a stretch to compare this to bestselling books like those of Sarah J. Maas (though the publisher goes for the comparison with gusto), but it’s a solid YA fantasy and a fun read.

The plot follows Marinda as she begins to question her role as a royal assassin–only after she’s instructed to kill a boy she likes, of course.  This seems like a pretty cliche YA move, but I think it’s a nice point in that it shows Marinda questions the motives of her employer when she knows the victim and cannot imagine someone so seemingly good is deserving of murder.

Frankly, the love is instalove.  I think both characters have really compelling qualities on their own, but their romance could have a lot more build up.  They go from thinking “Oh, he seems like a nice guy/girl” to head-over-heels in love so quickly that I didn’t feel invested in the romance at all.  The relationships between Marinda and her brother and Marinda and her friend/coworker are much more complex.  In fact, Marinda’s relationship with literally everyone else she knows in the book is more convincing and realistic.

The plot in general is well-paced and exciting. It took a couple of turns I genuinely did not see coming, which I always appreciate in a novel.  I also thought the end sets up the story perfectly for a sequel.  Readers get enough closure from book one to feel as though they’ve read a full story, not the first third of one, but the action leads readers right into expecting epic things from book two.

Poison’s Kiss isn’t necessarily my favorite read of 2017, but it’s entertaining, and I like the Indian-inspired setting.

3 stars Briana

Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

bright-smoke-cold-fireInformation

Goodreads: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
Series: Untitled #1
Source: Library
Published: September 2016

Official Summary

Sabriel meets Romeo and Juliet in this stunning and atmospheric novel—the first in a duology—from the author of Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound.

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .

Review

I loved Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound, but I have mixed feelings about Bright Smoke, Cold Fire.  While I think the novel may have some of the best world building Hodge has done yet, I was not always invested in the characters and felt as if the plot had not really progressed after 430 pages.  I also was somewhat surprised this book has practically no romance, and the focus is really on the action and the world dealing with necromancy and general impending death.

My one complaint about Hodge’s previous two novels was probably that her world building always felt hazy to me; there was always something I couldn’t quite grasp or envision about it, and it frustrated me.  So I was extremely pleased with how concrete the world building in Bright Smoke, Cold Beauty is. Hodge takes a bit of time laying it all out, partially because there are so many many cultures living together in one city, and Hodge has to do the work of explaining all their customs, religious beliefs, feuds with each other, etc.  However, once the information comes through to the reader, it’s clear that the world is gloriously complex, but that Hodge has put thought into the details.  I loved it.

I wish I loved the characters as much.  Things are a little tricky because the book is supposed to be Romeo and Juliet inspired, but mostly I see that in the fact that the two main characters have families who dislike each others, and there are some other somewhat minor allusions. I think the book could have been written without the Shakespeare influence. However, Hodge does go really hard on portraying Romeo as a love-struck fool, which is accurate, but fairly annoying.  The other characters can’t even take him seriously.  On the other hand, Juliet seems uncharacteristically angry all the time, while the girl who fills the Rosaline role is frequently a jerk, if an admirably determined one.  I don’t always need characters to be “likable,” but it was often hard to find someone to root for here.

The plot is interesting, and I enjoyed the book while I was reading it. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I am mostly frustrated that the overall plot didn’t seem to head anywhere.  After 400 pages, I felt as if things had progressed very little.  There was a moment I might have labelled a climax, but it was completely glossed over, and then the story kind of just stopped. I understand there’s supposed to be a sequel, but I personally like to feel as if I’ve read a full book, not half of one.  After going through so much effort of reading to get so little, I’m not sure I want to read the sequel.

I like Hodge’s work, and I love the touches of medieval (or, in this case, early modern) literature that goes into her writing. But I struggled with this one a bit.  I’m interested in what she does much; I’m not really interested in what Romeo and Juliet do next.

3 stars Briana

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkest part of the forestINFORMATION

Goodreads: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Series:  None
Source: Gift
Published: 2015

SUMMARY

Hazel Evans and her brother Ben live in the town of Fairfold, where the locals know that Fae inhabit the forest and that if you are smart you leave out milk to appease them and go indoors after dark.  Tourists come each year to view the prince in the glass coffin, the boy with horns on his head.  And Hazel and Ben dream that he is their prince and they can set him free.  But when he finally awakes, he is  not the prince they were expecting.

Review

The Darkest Part of the Forest achieves that rare feat of making the girl who kisses all the boys not the snotty “popular” girl but the protagonist.  Even when she admits she breaks hearts by making some of the guys think they have a chance, she doesn’t seem like the type of character you want to hate, but the type of character you want to save from herself.  But perhaps it helps that we see very little of her high school life and much more of secret woodland life–the one where she hunts the magical creatures who harm others.

Without making a big deal out of it, Holly Black casts Hazel as the sword-wielding hunter/champion and Hazel’s brother Ben as the cautious one, and the one who possesses a magical gift for music.  We don’t have to read any justifications for this or read any “girl power” manifestos.  This is just the way it is.  A teenage girl can pick up a weapon and her brother can prefer not to fight.  Now let’s jump into the action.

The story itself is perhaps not novel or groundbreaking.  Indeed, as I sit here writing a review, I struggle to remember just what I thought of it.  It was interesting.  It kept me reading through the night.  I liked it.  I just don’t have much to say about it.  If you like fantasy or fairies or paranormal romance, you will probably like this.  It’s not particularly mysterious or romantic or thrilling, but it tells a story and it does it without feeling like it’s using all the YA cliches.  Sometimes that’s enough.

3 starsKrysta 64

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods

Information

Goodreads: Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods
Series: Warren the 13th #2
Source: Quirk Books for Review
Published: March 21, 2017

Official Summary

This sequel to Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye begins soon after the first book’s conclusion.Twelve-year-old Warren has learned that his beloved hotel can walk, and now it’s ferrying guests around the countryside, transporting tourists to strange and foreign destinations. But when an unexpected detour brings everyone into the dark and sinister Malwoods, Warren finds himself separated from his hotel and his friends and racing after them on foot through a forest teeming with witches, snakes, talking trees, and mind-boggling riddles. Once again, you can expect stunning illustrations and gorgeous design from Will Staehle on every page along with plenty of nonstop action and adventure!

Review

I immensely enjoyed the first book in this series, Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, and I was excited to join back up with the characters for another adventure in this sequel.

I am not among the alarmists who believe that print books will cease to be produced, but in an age where e-books and digital materials continue to grow in popularity, I’ve been thinking a lot about what would persuade people to buy a print book rather an e-version.  The Warren the 13th series is one answer to that question for me.  The books are not only about the story, but about the design, from the feel of the book in your hands (square! with a great heft to it) to the way the pages are laid out.  These book are ones you’ll want to take off the shelf and flip through, if not to reread, at least to look at.  They’re beautiful, and the design adds to the experience.

In this installment, Warren and company get stuck in the formidable Malwoods–home of some the world’s most powerful and frightening witches.  I really liked that the witch theme continued in this book, even as some new magical elements and creatures were introduced.  The book has the right balance of continuity and novelty.  Similarly, readers get to see all their old favorite characters, and a couple new ones are added to the mix, which I think may be a theme as the series continues.

The plot is fun and has a delightful number of surprises.  I was kept guessing about what was going to happen next.  While I generally expect the protagonists of middle grade novels to win, I like when I can’t quite figure out how they will achieve it.  As with the first book, I think this one does have space to be a bit more interactive for the readers than it is, but there are a couple riddles and one quick code that Warren has to figure out  as he journeys to save his beloved hotel.

This series is fun, unique, and beautifully illustrated.  I look forward to reading the next adventure Warren takes on.

4 stars Briana

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

Long May She ReignInformation

Goodreads: Long May She Reign
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: February 21, 2017

Official Summary

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown.

Review

Long May She Reign is standalone fantasy nearly at its finest.*  Thomas creates a captivating world with high stakes, where a girl who never wanted to be queen must find a way to hold her country together in a time of uncertainty and danger.  A fine mix of romance, adventure, intrigue, and science make the fresh enough to stand out in a crowd of fantasy novels.

“Strong female character” has been a buzz phrase probably since readers were introduced to Katniss Everdeen, but the term fits Freya like a glove–all the more because Freya herself probably would not think so.  As twenty-third in line to inherit the throne, Freya never considered herself important.  She never paid attention to the rules of etiquette and the gossip of the course; she focused on her friendship and pursuing her passion of scientific research.  So when she’s thrust upon the throne without warning, she’s uncertain.  But watching her rise to the occasion and figure out how to use her personal strengths to succeed, instead of trying to emulate other people, is a great pleasure.

The plot is well-placed, and it wonderfully combines mystery with intrigue and looming war.  There is also a dash of romance, though it’s not the focus of the story, and Freya’s personal growth arc.  Something is always happening, but not too much, and I felt events were only rushed with one of the scenes near the end.  And while I had some guesses who was responsible for the massacre that opens the novel, I was pleased that Thomas kept me unsure and altering my hunch.

Additionally, the book is smart, and not just because Freya is an accomplished scientist.  Thomas delves into the intricacies of managing a kingdom, from taxes to people management to battle strategies.  It felt as though a lot of research went into the book but it all came out naturally on the page.  I like books where I feel like I have learned new things or where I can tell that the author knows a lot about their own genre and topic; this is one them.

At some point while reading, I considered giving the novel five stars but decided not to because there are a couple well-worn YA cliches thrown in that I could have done without.  Yet for the most part, the plot kept me on my toes and a much of it was unique.  This may end up being one of my favorite reads of the year.

*I know some readers have been disappointed because it’s not necessarily flashy high fantasy with hand waving powers and magical creatures.  The fantasy element is that it happens in an invented world that, like much fantasy, is set in some time that’s somewhere between medieval and Regency in inspiration.  Personally, I don’t think “fantasy” necessitates magic, so as long as you’re not expecting any, you should be fine on that count.

4 stars Briana

My Tolkien Collection (Guest Post by Emily @ Rose Read)

Tolkien Reading Event 2017

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Poetry and Songs in Tolkien’s Fiction. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.


Greetings, weblings! My name is Emily, and I blog over at Rose Read. Here’s a little about me: I am a grad student studying Library and Information Science, though I started out as a high school English teacher. I also work on MuggleNet.com, the #1 Harry Potter fan site, and I co-manage the Apparating Library Book Club for the Harry Potter Alliance. Other than books and blogging, I love musical theater, hiking, dark chocolate, Mumford & Sons, owls, and unicorns. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @enchntdrose or my blog at www.rosereadblog.wordpress.com! Thanks to Briana and Krysta for letting me do a guest post – let’s get started!

Today I’m going to share with you some of my most prized books in my entire personal library: my Lord of the Rings trilogy box set, which is a second edition from 1965. This set has sentimental value as well as being just really pretty. It was given to me after my childhood best friend’s grandmother passed away. My best friend and I would often spend time playing at her grandmother’s house, which was always great because she had the BEST cookies and a really cool old house to explore. One of our favorite places in the house was the basement. I remember it as a very dark, plush lounge, complete with a fancy old bar, fancy plush chairs, and a fancy, giant, old bookshelf. My friend wasn’t much of a reader, but I was always enamoured at the old bookshelf and would spend time just staring at it, afraid to touch any of the old volumes. After her grandmother died, my friend’s mom gave me this set of books from that very collection. The set still has its box and dust covers pretty much pristine. The top edges are tinted and there are pull-out maps in the back of each book. I love them more than a person probably should love inanimate objects. Behold:

Tolkien Books

Fellowship of the Ring

Lord of the Rings

Tolkien Map

Beautiful, no?

I’ve tried my best to find other Tolkien books to match these for the rest of my collection. I managed to find a Silmarillion copy that is from the same publisher, and it’s an American first edition, so it matches pretty well. Unfortunately, I do not have the dust cover, but it’s still pretty:

Tolkien Books

Then I have a first American edition copy of the Book of Lost Tales, which matches the others, too! This one does have the dust cover!

Book of Lost Tales

I sadly do not have an old Hobbit copy, but I do like the edition I have. Also pictured is A Tolkien Miscellany with short stories (that has AWESOME cover art of Smaug) and 3-Minute J.R.R. Tolkien because I am a sucker for pretty illustrated “quick guides” like these.

Tolkien Quick Guides

Tolkien Quick Guides 2

And that’s the extent of my Tolkien book collection. I know it’s probably not as large as the collections of Tolkien fans reading this post, but it is very special to me. I tried to build it around my prized trilogy set, which will forever remind me of the giant old bookshelf and the kindness of my friend’s grandmother. I tried reading different editions once, and it just felt wrong. I love the mustiness of these books and the memories they hold of the dark, plush basement – somehow the smell turns to Gandalf’s pipe-weed, and the dark basement into a candle-lit Hobbit hole, and it’s all part of the magic.

Do you have special copies of any Tolkien books? I know I can’t read any other copies than these!

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the NightInformation

Goodreads: Vassa in the Night
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: September 20, 2016

Summary

Everyone knows not to go to the BY’s convenience store. Shoplifters are beheaded there, and it seems that everyone who enters leaves a shoplifter.  But BY’s is the only store in Brooklyn open throughout the night, which has been getting longer and longer.  Just one minute feels like an eternity.  So when all the light bulbs in Vassa’s home go out one night, her sister asks her to pick up a pack at BY’s; waiting for the morning and another store to open will take too long.  Against her better judgement, Vassa goes, but she finds herself caught up in a much bigger plot than she expected–and sentenced to work three nights at BY’s before she can go home.

Review

Vassa in the Night is…an interesting book. It’s something like magical realism set in an alternative Brooklyn, so readers should expect some things to be taken for granted and never explained. That seems to be the way of magical realism in general. However, my personal struggles with the book weren’t really because I couldn’t follow it–but because I was following it, and basically nothing the characters said or did make sense.  Magical realism should mean that magic just is in the universe, that there’s no explanation of magical rules and such, not that the characters are also completely baffling in terms of actions and motivations.

So, sure, the book is confusing at times, as many readers have pointed out.  For instance, there are several characters who speak in Alice in Wonderland-esque dialogue, which sometimes Vassa can decipher into something reasonable and sometimes she cannot.  When Vassa doesn’t get the message, she ignores it, so I decided to do so, as well.  There’s also the confusion of the world-building.  Vassa implies that there’s a decent amount of magic in the world (and that Manhattan has cool, good magic and Brooklyn has annoying magic?), but all readers really see is the magic convenience store that’s the focus of the novel.  It’s actually not clear what other magic exists in Brooklyn that humans are aware of.

Mostly, however, I was irritated by the fact that practically every character in the story makes big, life-changing decisions apparently on a whim.  Sure, explanations are given for a lot of the characters’ actions, but the motivations never seem solid or believable.  The most obvious example of this is that Vassa herself goes to a convenience store known for beheading its customers simply because her sister suggests she go–and Vassa delights in the idea that if she dies, her sister will have to live with the guilt of it all. That’s right, she’s willing to die in order to stick it to her bratty sister.  This is a passing fancy, a gut reaction, something someone would think in the heat of a moment but not actually go through with! Yet Vassa does.  And several other characters takes similarly large risks based on thoughts that should have just been passing, not acted upon. (I won’t name them to avoid spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, you probably know whom I’m talking about.)

I did like some of the characters, sometimes.  Vassa is undeniably brave.  She basically has the same moment of revelation as Moana–that sometimes there’s no big hero coming to save you, so if you want something done, you have to pick yourself up and do it yourself.  That’s pretty admirable.  However, her wooden doll sidekick has a bit of an attitude I found obnoxious rather than quirky or charming, and a lot of scenes are colored by her snide remarks.  The nicest person in the book is perhaps Vassa’s older stepsister, but she’s mostly absent.  I wish I had more people to root for and connect with.  Instead, I just felt as though I were watching people I only mildly cared about.

The book is original. I give it points for not really being like any other YA book I’ve read. Ultimately it just wasn’t my taste.  Porter has suggested there might be a sequel, and I think that’s great for her, but I have no desire to read a series in this world, which is one of my primary tests of how much I enjoyed a book.

2 stars Briana