Book Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh
Release Date ~ May 12, 2015
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers ~ Penguin
ISBN13: 9780399171611
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

The Wrath and the Dawn is a mesmerizing retelling of Arabian Nights.Renee Ahdieh's storytelling instantly captivated me with her beautiful writing and rich plot.

  1. Life-like characters:

    We know that humans are flawed, and the characters in The Wrath and the Dawn are no exception to this. But there is a fine line to writing flawed characters, because the reader still needs to be able to tolerate their flaws so as not to be terribly frustrated with the characters. All of the characters in this book have such distinct, strong personalities that this feels like a real story set in a real world, and really helps to develop the plot.
  2. Steady, gradual development:

    The book has a slower pace than other action-packed stories, but this works well because it allows the reader to see the extensive development which takes place. Khalid and Shahrzad have a complicated relationship (to say the least...) and it takes time for their feelings towards each other to change. And that, in turn, also propels the story in a new direction. I think this is also partially because Shahrzad has to practice patience with her plan, but as time goes on, she starts to uncover more secrets and the truth behind them.
  3. Captivating writing:

    Enough cannot be said for Renee Ahdieh's style of writing. I fell in love with it right away. She gives Shahrzad a strong voice and personality, and I loved reading about clever, brave, and risk-taking Shazi. She is deeply loyal, and yet so much of her personality was expressed with Renee's subtle writing. Renee somehow manages to describe both immensely painful scenes and very sexy ones. And most incredibly, the writing creates this mysterious and mystical ambiance which perfectly sets the mood for The Wrath and the Dawn. 

Khalid is particularly interesting to me, because it's rare to see a YA character with so much power. It isn't often that it is shown quite as explicitly nor that as much thought is given to the inner turmoil of such a powerful character. 

And it's interesting to see how the story seems to clash with itself; I spent most of the book changing my mind about who is the true heroine (or hero) and who is the true villain. There is so much to this story, that I can't even begin to touch on every aspect in one review. It truly is the type of book which you need to experience for yourself in its entirety. 


Book Review: Court of Fives

Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1) by Kate Elliott
Release Date ~ August 18, 2015
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers ~ Hachette Book Group
ISBN13: 9780316364195
ARC received from HBG Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

Court of Fives is an exciting fantasy book, inspired in part by some characteristics of the Roman Empire. And not only is it an engaging story, but it tackles some issues which aren't often addressed in mainstream YA books - specifically, I was impressed by the inclusion of a biracial character.

All together, Court of Fives is one of my favourite books this year: a rich fantasy book with complex characters and a story I was drawn into.

  1. The thought-provoking depiction of a class system:

    The class system in Court of Fives is particularly intriguing because it is also clearly based on race. Jessamy's father is a Patron and her mother is a Commoner (terms used to describe the two main classes). These two classes also have different features so it's physically obvious to which class you belong. So in Jessamy's case, it's obvious to both groups that she shares features from both. The problem for her is that she never feels like she fully belongs to either group - this is highlighted by the many incidents in which she's isolated from one or both groups. Few books have written a character like this with struggles like this, and I can say that from experience, it is an accurate portrayal of the struggle to belong. It's an important aspect of diversity in books and I'm glad to see it depicted here.
  2. Complicated characters:

    There are a lot of characters in Court of Fives, but I was pleased to see how developed they were in one sense; they all felt like independent characters, with their own ambitions and fears. And while in some respects this is frustrating, it's nice to read about characters who feel realistic and human. The villains aren't as simple as being pure evil, nor are our heroes all good.
  3. Strong world-building:

    Fantasy done well should include a well-developed world for the story to take place in. Kate Elliott does this successfully in Court of Fives by including a number of areas to assist in developing the world she created; religion and customs are addressed, as is the class system within society. And furthermore, there are expectations and duties, which Jessamy struggles to reconcile. 
As much as I enjoyed the bulk of this book, it also features one of my biggest pet peeves. Too often books that I read force a character to make a choice; the problem is, that I often find that choice to feel too much like a plot device in order to add some angst and drama to the story. It's a fine line, because yes, hard choices must be made at times. But there are many times when I read this and I can think of a handful of other options available to the character, so their choice just feels like unnecessary conflict. It detracts from the story rather than enhancing it as it should.

Court of Fives is one of the richest fantasy worlds I've encountered lately, and it stands out from many others, particularly with its Roman Empire inspiration. It's a charming tale with a wonderful heroine, and engaging story.


Book Review: Spelled

Spelled by Betsy Schow
Release Date ~ June 2, 2015
Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN13: 9781492608714
ARC received from Raincoast Books for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Fairy Tale Survival Rule #32: If you find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch, sing a romantic ballad and wait for your Prince Charming to save the day.

Yeah, no thanks. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the brooding prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Talk about unhappily ever after. 

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving the kingdom in chaos and her parents stuck in some place called "Kansas." Now it's up to Dorthea and her pixed off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse...before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

Spelled is certainly one of the more innovative fairytale retellings I've read, and it's a quirky read that I think would be particularly enjoyable for younger readers who like fun, fantasy books.

As for me, this was one of my less enjoyable reads lately because of what I personally look for in a story; a more complex plot, and a different sense of humour.

  1. A creative retelling:

    While Spelled has a number of obvious nods to The Wizard of Oz, it doesn't closely follow the story and Betsy Schow relies on her own imagination to create a whole new story. It's a rather loosely inspired retelling, but I think that's something that clearly works in the book's favour since it felt like a completely new story. And interestingly, Spelled also includes references to many other familiar fairytales. The basic setting is a fairytale world where all of our favourite stories co-exist. 
And while in some ways this was a fun addition, I wasn't much of a fan of the ways it was incorporated with campy allusions to pop culture; mentions of brands like Hans Christian Louboutin shoes, for example.  It's a consistent theme throughout the book, and for those that like these types of jokes, you'll love it. But if you're like me, it detracted from the story since that just isn't my sense of humour and I rolled my eyes at it more often than not. 

The main character, Dorthea, definitely felt like a younger character to me as she was rather naive and immature. And that's fine - not all characters need to be grown up and mature! There's a clear sense of strong development as she learns important life lessons in the story. But the risk is that a character like this can also grate on the reader, as Dorthea did for me. 

All in all, Spelled was not the right book for me. I think I've just read too many other retellings and tend to prefer the darker, grittier types. And I can see how this would work for many other readers who appreciate this type of storytelling.


Book Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Release Date ~ June 9, 2015
Dial ~ Penguin
ISBN13:  9780803740709
ARC received from Penguin Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
With a harrowing poetic voice, this contemporary page-turner is perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Julie Berry's All The Truth That's in Me, and the works of Ellen Hopkins.

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust.

And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in oneself.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is one of the most intriguing books I've read in 2015. It's eerily similar to real life stories that we've heard, and yet explores the story of a girl who has left the cult she's grown up in from her own perspective.

  1. Minnow is a unique character:

    For a couple of reasons, Minnow is unlike many of the characters I've read about. First, she has spent her life in a cult. She's had a drastically different upbringing from most of us, and that shows. Additionally, at the beginning of the book we soon learn that Minnow has had both of her hands cut off. So the fact that Minnow's life is so different from my own, makes it even more of a eye-opening experience to see the events of this book unfold from her perspective.
  2. A thoughtful narrative:

    Minnow is an intelligent girl, who thoughtfully questions much of her world and what she is told. And I appreciate seeing this type of character who is critical of what she knows and believes, and one who searches for truth. There are other characters in the story who act in the same manner; Angel is a perfect example, as she loves to learn and read about science. 
Sacred Lies is really a story of how Minnow comes to terms with her past and what has happened to her and those she loves; for that reason, there's a large emphasis on her inner turmoil as she struggles with herself. This necessarily results in a book that is slower paced, and very focused on its main character. 

There were a number of times when this book felt just too slow for me. It is shocking and surprising, yes - and some of the more action-oriented scenes are uncomfortably gruesome, but without sensationalizing the events. The gore truly highlights the horrific actions. But these were few and far between, and the remainder of the book was set at a pace that detracted from the story for me.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is going to be a harder book for readers to love because of its difficult content, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be read. It tackles hard issues and exposes them for what they are, never shying away from the ugly truth. 


Blog Tour: For the Love

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards by Jen Hatmaker
Release Date ~ August 18, 2015
Thomas Nelson ~ HarperCollins
ISBN13: 9780718031824
ARC received from publisher to participate in launch team

Goodreads Synopsis:
The popular writer, blogger, and television personality reveals with humor and style how Jesus' extravagant grace is the key to dealing with life's biggest challenge: people.

The majority of our joys, struggles, thrills, and heartbreaks relate to people, beginning first with ourselves and then the people we came from, married, birthed, live by, live for, go to church with, don't like, don't understand, fear, struggle with, compare ourselves to, and judge. People are the best and worst thing about the human life.

Jen Hatmaker knows this all too well, and so she reveals how to practice kindness, grace, truthfulness, vision, and love to ourselves and those around us. By doing this, For the Love leads our generation to reimagine Jesus' grace as a way of life, and it does it in a funny yet profound manner that Christian readers will love. Along the way, Hatmaker shows readers how to reclaim their prophetic voices and become Good News again to a hurting, polarized world.

Full disclosure: I've long appreciated Jen Hatmaker's writing, and I eagerly applied to be a member of the launch team for her latest book, For the Love. Happily, I joined 499 others to come together to celebrate this book as it releases!

Because this is a special book to me, and a little bit different from the types of books I normally review, I'm going to structure my review a little differently and skip my formal list of reasons why you should read this book and tell you a little bit about my experience reading it.

The first thing you need to know about Jen Hatmaker is that she's hilarious, and it comes across so well in her writing. I giggled my way through many chapters in this book! The second thing you need to know is that Jen is a Christian and loves Jesus. So yes, this could be classified as a Christian book but it doesn't feel like many that I've read. It is so much more than that!

But it's also so much more than that. For the Love is a book about life and living well; and her primary concern is about loving others well. I've loved Jen's focus because for her, it's all about people and how we need to be kind and respectful towards others. I love seeing her passion for helping others, and she's critical about areas that need to change (see the chapter on poverty tourism as a great example of this).

And she explores this idea in For the Love by talking about everyday things we encounter in life, with her own heavily sarcastic perspective on them. Whether she's talking about fashion, marriage, children, or just sharing some of her favourite recipes - it's all something we can relate to.

Most importantly, I love that For the Love is not a book that simply talks at you. Jen wants to see people change, she wants to see the world change for the better. I mean, what good is a book like this if it doesn't impact my life?

Something truly special happened with this book and this launch team. While 500 of us bonded together over reading this book early and sharing our favourite quotes from it, we started to share more of ourselves with one another. And it has come to a point where it's like we're one big, happy family of good friends. We started living together in a community where all we wanted to do was care for each other and encourage everyone else. And this? This is exactly what I hope to see happen when others read this book. That they will have others to share it with and that it will bring them closer together so that we can live life in community with others.

Also - make sure to check out the For the Love website!


Book Review: Mad Miss Mimic

Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra
Release Date ~ May 5, 2015
Penguin Canada
ISBN13:  9780143192367
ARC received from publisher for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
London, 1872. Seventeen-year-old heiress Leonora Somerville is preparing to be presented to society -- again. She's strikingly beautiful and going to be very rich, but Leo has a problem money can't solve. A curious speech disorder causes her to stutter but also allows her to imitate other people's voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her "Mad Miss Mimic" behind her back...and watch as Leo unintentionally scares off one potential husband after another.

London in 1872 is also a city gripped by opium fever. Leo's brother-in-law Dr. Dewhurst and his new business partner Francis Thornfax are frontrunners in the race to patent an injectable formula of the drug. Friendly, forthright, and as a bonus devastatingly handsome, Thornfax seems immune to the gossip about Leo's "madness." But their courtship is endangered from the start. The mysterious Black Glove opium gang is setting off explosions across the city. The street urchins Dr. Dewhurst treats are dying of overdose. And then there is Tom Rampling, the working-class boy Leo can't seem to get off her mind.

As the violence closes in around her Leo must find the links between the Black Glove's attacks, Tom's criminal past, the doctor's dangerous cure, and Thornfax's political ambitions. But first she must find her voice.

Mad Miss Mimic is a really fun, engaging story which blends a few different elements together to create its own unique feel. It's a little bit of historical fiction, with a thrilling mystery, and a heroine who stands out because of her speech disorder. This is a great book for readers who like thoughtful stories and remarkable heroines!

Also this book cover? So pretty and one of my favourites! It suits the book really well.

  1. Leonora's brave and fascinating character:

    Leo stands out among other book characters for a few different reasons. The most obvious is her speech disorder; this isn't addressed in very many books, but I love that Sarah Henstra included this in Mad Miss Mimic and made it an integral part of the story. You can see how Leo struggles with it, yet she refuses to allow it to become her entire life and learns how to work with her mimicry. The development of her character is remarkable given the shorter length of the book, and it's inspiring to see how she doesn't let anyone else define her or box her in.
  2. Leo's speech disorder:

    Leo's speech disorder is a fairly obvious trait of hers. It's hard to ignore and no one fails to notice it unless she simply doesn't speak. Which brings up another interesting part of the story - she's regularly encouraged by some characters to sit and look pretty, which wasn't at all an uncommon attitude in Victorian times but it's so poignant with Leo. Importantly, there are other characters who don't see or treat her as lesser because of it (some are better than others, however). And I think it is realistic to see the varying reactions of other characters to Leo's manner of speaking, yet all the while it is balanced by Leo's own feelings towards it.
  3. The cast of secondary characters:

    I like characters who aren't reduced to being two-dimensional and Sarah wrote her other characters in Mad Miss Mimic really well. No one is truly good nor evil, and you can see that there is a sense of a gray area when it comes to their actions and decisions. There are many people who mean well, but fall short, or who are simply looking out for their own interests, yet at the expense of others. I appreciate this complexity in books and their characters, and it really impressed me to find it here.
The biggest issue for me is that this is a well-developed plot and one that is very complex with so many details to be uncovered, yet the book itself is on the shorter side. There were some parts of the story which I felt could have been fleshed out more had the book been longer. On the other hand, this book moves at a slower pace compared to others so that may be a good thing to keep readers more accustomed to action-packed books engaged with the storyline here. 


Book Review: Charmed

Charmed (The Witch Hunter #2) by Michelle Krys
Release Date ~ May 26, 2015
Delacorte Press ~ Random House
ISBN13: 9780385743396
Review copy received from Random House Canada for review

Goodreads Synopsis:
Indie has spent the last few weeks frantically searching for Paige. She's tried every spell imaginable, but witchcraft has gotten her nowhere, and she's going crazy with guilt. Despite what her warlock boyfriend, Bishop, tells her, Indie knows it's her fault her best friend was kidnapped by the Priory. And with the Priory destroyed, finding Paige feels more hopeless than ever-especially when Indie discovers that Paige isn't even on Earth. She's trapped in Los Demonios, an alternate dimension of Los Angeles filled with evil paranormals. No one who has gone there has ever come out.

Fueled by terror and loyalty, Indie is desperate to find a way into the underworld prison. She'll worry about getting out later. But facing the dark world's most dangerous witches and warlocks on her own means keeping her plan hush-hush-and forging alliances with some sketchy people, including a seriously sexy sorcerer.

Sometimes a witch must keep secrets from the people she cares about most. And sometimes she isn't the only one with secrets…

I had a lot of fun reading Michelle Krys' debut, Hexed, which came out last year, so needless to say I was looking forward to reading the sequel!

Indie is a great character, and one who stands out to me from most other YA heroines. She's a little bit sassier, and it's also interesting to me to see a character who (at one point) was considered one of the cool, popular girls rather than the more common, bookish type. And it's precisely that attitude and spunk that leads Indie to continue on her journey in Charmed.

  1. Indie's loyalty:

    One of Indie's remarkable character qualities is the loyalty she exhibits towards those she cares about. And the events in Charmed show just how far Indie is willing to go to help others... and it's pretty darn far! She isn't the type of person to back away from a challenge or anything difficult. Instead, she tackles those problems head on and tries her hardest to find a solution. It's an admirable quality and one that will endear her to readers.
  2. A closer look at this world of witches and warlocks:

    Hexed was our introduction to the world of magic that Michelle had created, and while it was mysterious and interesting, we didn't get to learn that much about it in the first book. Charmed is a much closer look at what's going on here, and we also get to visit Los Demonios with Indie, which is a whole new experience and very eye-opening for her. And with this new world comes new secrets, of course...

The beginning of Charmed moved along at a slower pace than I like and particularly so given the immediate problems. The stakes are incredibly high, yet Indie is forced to run through the motions to appease her aunt and act more like a normal teenager. And I get it - I can understand why Penny would insist that Indie obey the rules, but it didn't seem to fit the story and it didn't really seem to fit Penny's character either. And overall, that made this a slower read for me.

As well, as much as I loved learning more about Los Demonios and the people who are trapped there, I also felt like there wasn't too much attention paid to them. There's a lot going on in this world, and not much of it is dealt with nor solved by the end.

But Indie's story is told and it's told well. Michelle has a talent for writing, as evidenced by Indie's clever thinking and feisty attitude. And the action in the story is very well-told.

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