Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blog Tour: Review of The Last Namsara by by Kristen Ciccarelli

Hi everyone! Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Last Namsara. The Last Namsara is a debut fantasy novel by Kristen Ciccarelli and it's about - wait for it - dragons. If you know me at all, you know I love dragons, and The Last Namsara did not disappoint. Please see my review below.

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The Last Namsara (Iskari #1) by Kristen Ciccarelli
Publisher: Gollancz
Released: 12th October 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find on Goodreads
In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be dark—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up hearing in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.
(from Goodreads)

I knew I was going to like this book from the very first chapter. The book opened right in the middle of an action scene – I thought I would have to wait a while to see any dragons, but nope, they were there from the very beginning, and I was so grateful there was no faffing around with long introductions. I wanted dragons and I got dragons – but also so much more.

Asha, daughter of the Dragon King, was the Iskari, a title named after a goddess of old, known mostly for her destruction and chaos. As a young girl, Asha was responsible for an incident which caused the death and collapse of an entire town, and has been trying to pay penance ever since. Tasked with killing every dragon until none remained, Asha was a fierce hunter. But no matter how many dragons she killed or how many people she saved, she was still feared and reviled by her people. To start with, Asha was incredibly stubborn and narrow-minded, unwilling to think outside of the teachings she had followed her entire life. She was, however, incredibly focused and determined – once she set her mind upon a task, she would carry it out at all costs. I really enjoyed seeing from Asha’s perspective; her relationships with other characters were very interesting and very telling of what she prioritised in life. I especially liked seeing how she got on with her brother and the way their relationship changed throughout the book. Asha’s connection with the dragons was another one of my favourite parts, and I only wish we could have found out more about the dragons and where they came from.

Torwin was the slave of Asha’s betrothed and he started off quite a mysterious character. He seemed to know Asha somehow, or was at least more familiar with her than he should have been, and he was strangely important to several people with stations far above his own. I liked Torwin; I liked the way he seemed to be able to get people on his side and I’m really interested to find out more about him. To be honest, however, I didn’t fully buy the romance. This was mostly because Asha and Torwin barely spent any time together and it just seemed a bit rushed – some bits were pretty cliché and I couldn’t really believe how fast their feelings developed. I absolutely hated Jarek, Asha’s fiancé, though – he was one of the most awful people I’ve read about in a while. He was just sadistic the worst thing was there was really nothing else to him other than his love of making people suffer – I spent half the book hoping he’d fall off a cliff.

Plot-wise, I loved the dragon mythology in this book, especially the stories which drew dragons out and made them stronger. I do wish we had learnt more about the stories and how it was that they had such an effect on dragons, but I loved reading them and learning more about the histories of the Namsara. I also loved all the scenes where dragons appeared (can you tell that I really like dragons) and the tasks Asha had to carry out. I did find some parts of this book to be a bit predictable and saw some of the twists coming, but overall, it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story. I think some parts could also have been developed more – e.g. Asha’s feelings on dragons after learning more about them and how she now viewed her past actions.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. A promising start to a new fantasy series – highly recommended (especially if you like dragons!).

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Kristen Ciccarelli hails from Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula where she grew up on her grandfather’s grape farm. She spent her childhood running wild with her cousins, adventuring in the woods, building forts in the barn, and obsessing over books, dragons, and girls wielding really cool weapons. She wrote The Last Namsara for the girl she used to be (and sometimes still is).

Website: https://www.kristenciccarelli.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SheLuresDragons
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kristenciccarelli/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorKristenCiccarelli/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15428577.Kristen_Ciccarelli


Many thanks to Stevie and Gollancz for letting me take part in this blog tour! Make sure to visit the next stops at A City of Books and YA Under My Skin tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee
Publisher: Amulet Books
Released: 8th August 2017
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo's every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…
(from Goodreads)

I absolutely loved this book and I’m so happy there are going to be sequels because I seriously need more of these characters.

First of all, let’s start with Genie herself, because she was such an awesome heroine. As well as fighting demons and juggling forces from both Heaven and Hell, Genie was also dealing with daily high school life – trying to get into college while maintaining her place on the volleyball team. I admired her a lot for how she handled everything! Her reaction to finding out Quentin’s true identity (as well as her own!) cracked me up. It was so funny that she refused to believe it at first and her comments…I was dying, honestly. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the Chinese mythology and folklore – it was so interesting learning about these stories and I loved how seamlessly they were woven into the narrative. The way the characters adapted to modern life and how Genie interacted with them while trying to get her head around the laws of physics going down the drain was brilliant. I loved seeing Genie come to terms with her newfound powers and the responsibilities that came with them; her voice throughout the book was so realistic and I loved the way she dealt with all the new things she was faced with. I’m so excited for the sequels, a) because of the ending, but b) because I can’t wait to learn more about the Monkey King and the folklore surrounding him.

Quentin, [mini spoiler, highlight to read]aka the Monkey King[end of spoiler], was a character I grew to love. He was very odd to begin with (and Genie would agree with me) but as we got to spend more time with him, I couldn’t help but be charmed by him. The whole Chinese Batman talk had me cracking up, as did his various out of place comments and lack of understanding as to what constituted normal conversation/behaviour. I also loved his relationship with Genie – he respected her a lot due to their past connection and it was nice to see the dynamic between them begin to change. The romance was definitely unconventional, but you know what, I’ll take it, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

I loved Genie’s relationship with her parents, but especially her mother. We didn’t get to see too much of her, but what we did see was lovely. I especially loved the scene where Genie’s mum was upset with her and was ranting on about her “double life” – there were just so many laugh out loud moments in this book! Genie’s best friend Yunie was another great character and I’m hoping we get to see more of her in the sequel.

Plot-wise, I really enjoyed learning about Quentin’s past and how he had previously fought all the demons who has now escaped from Hell. There were a lot of parts I didn’t see coming and the ending was somehow funny, surprising and frustrating because it now just means I’m going to have to wait ages to find out what happens next.

Overall, this was an amazing debut by FC Yee and I am on board the hype train, because it’s really that good.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist) by Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Released: 18th May 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.
(from Goodreads)

Flame in the Mist was a strong start to a new series, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Renée Ahdieh has in store for us next.

So this book has been marketed as a retelling of Mulan, but it really isn’t. I’m sure Mulan inspired it in a lot of ways but it’s not a retelling, and once you get over that, it’s much easier to appreciate the story for what it actually is.

Mariko, our main character, was on her way to marry the son of the Emperor (a deal forged by her father) when she and her company were attacked. Her loyal maidservant, Chiyo, was killed, and Mariko barely escaped with her life. Instead of returning home however, to be cleaned up and sent back out again to a loveless marriage, Mariko decided to take matters in her own hands to try and find out who attempted to murder her, and why. Mariko was a fairly likeable character, and I think she was pretty brave to dress up a boy and join a gang of thieves potentially responsible for the attack on her. In Mariko’s world, women had very little power, and for once, she wanted to do what she wanted without worrying about the consequences it would have. However, having lived an extremely privileged life, she was painfully naïve at times, and I was honestly surprised no-one in the Black Clan suspected her much earlier on. She may have been book smart and strategic, but she knew nothing about the lives regular people led, and it showed. However, she did face every challenge she met, and she didn’t back down, despite her lack of experience.

The other two main characters in this book were Ranmaru and Okami, and I really liked them both. Also, just to say, there’s no love triangle in this book! So yay! Anyway, Ranmaru was a ronin, a son of a disgraced samurai, and he and Okami had a deep connection that went back to their childhood. They were extremely loyal to each other, and while Ranmaru was the leader of the Black Clan, he trusted Okami implicitly and always valued his opinion. I really loved the dynamic between these two and enjoyed reading about them and learning about their backstories. Ranmaru was especially intriguing because I always got the feeling he was plotting something, but I never knew what. Okami was different in the sense that he didn’t want to lead, but was happy to follow orders. He also had an interesting power which we didn’t learn much about, but which I hope will be explored in the next book. He was responsible for Mariko once she joined the Black Clan and was one of few who thought there was something strange about her. I really liked reading about his thoughts on Mariko before he found out she was a girl, and while I think his acceptance of the truth was just a bit too quick, I generally liked his relationship with Mariko, and I’m especially curious to see how things will turn out for them, after the way this book ended.

Plot-wise, there was some parts of this book that I saw coming, but I was really surprised by the ending and overall, found Flame in the Mist to be a really exciting and compelling read. I loved the way the story flowed, and how Mariko’s loyalty began to be torn after spending time with the Black Clan. I also really enjoyed the parts about the Emperor and learning more about his previous actions and the consequences they had. Mariko changed a lot in this book and I am really looking forward to what she does in book two. She used to be so close to her brother Kenshin, who spent the whole of this book trying to find her, but now…I wonder what will happen between them. And after the ending, I really just can’t wait to read book two!

To conclude, Flame in the Mist was an excellent read, and I loved the world-building and getting to know all of the characters. Recommended.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Review: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz

Never Say Die (Alex Rider #11) by Anthony Horowitz
Publisher: Walker Books
Released: 1st June 2017
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
The world's greatest teen spy is back in action in a thrilling new mission: destroy once and for all the terrorist organization SCORPIA.

Following the events of
Scorpia Rising, Alex relocates to San Francisco as he slowly recovers from the tragic death of his best friend and caregiver, Jack Starbright, at the hands of terrorists working for SCORPIA. With Jack gone, Alex feels lost and alone, but then, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic email--just three words long, but enough to make Alex believe that Jack may be alive. Armed with this shred of hope, Alex boards a flight bound for Egypt and embarks on a dubious quest to track Jack down.

Yet SCORPIA knows Alex's weakness. And the question of whether Jack is alive soon takes a backseat to a chilling new terrorist plot-one that will determine the lives of many.

From Egypt to France to Wales, from luxury yachts to abandoned coal mines, Alex traverses a minefield of dangers and cryptic clues as he fights to discover the truth.
(from Goodreads)

As a huge fan of the Alex Rider series when I was younger, I was a both very excited and very concerned when I heard there was going to be a new book. While I did think Scorpia Rising had quite an open ending, I was also so afraid that one of my favourite childhood series would be ruined! Luckily, this was not the case and I ended up really enjoying Never Say Die.

The book started four weeks after the end of Scorpia Rising. Alex was living with the Pleasures and adjusting to life without Jack, but anyone could see he wasn’t doing well. He was withdrawn and quiet, his grades were slipping and didn’t feel like there was any place he fit in. I felt for him because it was obvious he missed Jack and was going through a really hard time without her. The Alex of the previous books was always witty and clever; despite spending so much time out of school, he was always a good student. Seeing him stop caring about his education and friends was sad as a result. Then, something happened to give Alex reason to believe Jack wasn’t dead. And just like that, he was back to his old antics trying to find her, against the advice of everyone he knew, including Mrs Jones who didn’t believe Jack was alive.

I have to admit, going into this book as an older reader, rather than the intended audience, meant having to have a little more suspension of disbelief than I used to when reading this series. I also think things with the Pleasure could have been wrapped up a bit more, but overall, I was impressed. Alex really felt like Alex; his character didn’t undergo any strange personality changes or turnarounds like can sometimes happen when authors return to series they haven’t written for a while. I have always been fascinated by the way Alex thinks and gets himself out of difficult situations, and I think that was just as present as it has ever been in this book.

In terms of the actual story, I did guess some parts but I thought it was interesting where it ended up, especially the ending (sneaky old Mrs Jones, I knew she had something she was hiding). While I missed characters like Smithers (the gadgets!) and wished Sabina had been in a bit more, I really really enjoyed this book as a whole and I’m honestly ready for the next one (there will be a next one, right?).

If you’re a fan of the series, read this book. If you’re new, well you’re going to have a lot of fun catching up.