This has been a read I have been waiting for and I was lucky to get it through trade! I also participated in a chat on Twitter about this book and Julie is such a sweet person!
Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Series: Rise of an Empress
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Publication date: October 10, 2017
Another anticipated read vanquished! I devoured this book, in all honesty, because I had been wanting to read it for so long. This book follows Xifeng, who is a country girl in China destined to become Empress. How, exactly, it is not mentioned but she leaves her village with her one true love and sets course for the Imperial City. Along the way, they meet diplomats who are able to escort them into the city. Through a series of good fortunes, Xifeng enters court at the palace and is thrown into a whirlwind of deceit, drama, and truth.
Xifeng has to be one of my favorite female characters of the year. She comes from poverty and not being very sure of herself because of the oppression she has felt from her aunt. There are some scenes of abuse in this book so I will definitely give a trigger warning for that. But, she overcomes it and grows into her role at court very easily, even gaining the favor of the current Empress. She is torn between liking the Empress and what she does to protect her, to the reality that the Empress will have to die in order for her to take her rightful place on the throne. It has been foretold through cards that she would become Empress and it seems like everything works out just as planned for Xifeng. I would have to say that while she does go through some struggles, she becomes stronger because of these struggles and she is able to develop into the character she is destined to be. By the end of the book, the first chapter Xifeng is unrecognizable, as she has changed so much and gained power. I love the character development of her and it is one of the most pleasingly drastic I have seen. I also have to say that I enjoyed the Chinese traditions that were mentioned in this book and I can’t wait to hear more in book 2!
I will say that the main plot brought the book together with the side plots that were developed. I was surprised when all was revealed towards the end of the book and that kept me guessing for the rest, because I didn’t know what was going to happen! The larger backstory is something that was so interesting and only added to the interest of the story.
I would suggest this book to those who are fans of retellings (as this is one) as well as those who enjoy diverse reads and want to be astounded!
Happy reading! ~ Taylor
Hi! I actually won this book through a contest on Twitter by the author. She is so sweet and I am so happy that I was able to grab a copy of this book. I received it before the release date but I wasn’t able to read & review before release because of vacation!
Title: Everything All At Once
Author: Katrina Leno
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
I loved this book. It is a fantastic contemporary about a girl named Lottie, who’s aunt dies and leaves her letters. The letters give her things to do that test her limits, make her realize her humanity, and give her heartwarming memories. Lottie also has elements of anxiety and so I classify this as a mental health book. Along the way, she meets Sam and discovers truths about him that she never thought were possible.
This story really helped to put into perspective what it means that we only have limited time and we need to cherish every moment. The letters written by her aunt, who died at the early age of 40, help Lottie to think about mortality and how she is so afraid to die. A lot of people are afraid to die but I feel like this made me appreciate the little things in life. Lottie gets to meet many people that influenced her aunt’s life and that leads me to my discussion of Sam. Sam is an interesting character all around. Lottie meets him after the first letter that leads her and her family to a party organized by her aunt before her passing. He is an intriguing character and begins to get very close to Lottie, which both scares her and excites her at the same time. That is until the big twist in the book, which gives it an air of fantasy and wonder that I wasn’t expecting but really loved. It adds an extra layer to the already magical story and pushes it over the edge, in my opinion!
I don’t see anything to fault in the book. It caught my attention from the first page and I was always excited to see what happened next. Also, the book is set in Connecticut, which is where I live. It was cool to read about places that I haven’t been to before (I have been told by Katrina that one of the bookshops is actually real, so I will be paying a visit!) in my own state. The use of seaside towns made the book feel very home-y and down-to-earth, which is weird to say about a book but that is how I feel about it!
I would recommend this book to those who are fans of contemporaries and also don’t mind a little extra mystery mixed in.
Happy reading! ~ Taylor
Another contemporary coming your way! I tend to read fantasy but every so often I choose a contemporary read to balance it out a little bit.
Title: Holding Up The Universe
Author: Jennifer Niven
Rating: 2/5 stars
I didn’t like this book that much. It follows the story of Libby and Jack, who are two kids that attend the same high school. Libby is the resident ‘fat girl’ and returns to school after a few years break because of her excessive weight gain and then weight loss. Jack has a neurological disease that makes him ‘face blind’ and is one of the resident ‘popular’ kids. Their stories intertwine after Jack makes an unfortunate choice in regards to Libby and a love story brews.
I just couldn’t get into this book. The chapters are short, to the likes of Nicola Yoon’s, and I didn’t feel like I really got anything from it. Libby’s story is pretty tragic, having suffered her mom’s loss and she has an unfortunate accident where she needs to be rescued from her home in an embarrassing manner. I related to this character in terms of the bullying she experienced, even after she was able to lose the weight. Kids in high school can be really cruel and it’s always hard to read when you have experienced it yourself. I think that is a positive about this book: Niven represents what high school is like for those who don’t fit in pretty well and shows the effects that bullying really has on a person. Jack seems kind of like a douchebag in all honesty throughout a majority of the book. He is kind of a pushover and while he is dealing in private with his face blindness, it can’t be used as an excuse for the things that he does, one of which directly impacts Libby. I thought that entire situation was just kind of disgusting and weird and I didn’t want to keep hearing about it throughout the book. I wish there had been more focus on their mending of their relationship instead.
Additionally, I got into this book maybe 150 pages in, which was halfway through. That is when the substance of the story began to form and it was a little late for me, but I was already half done and I usually DNF within the first 50 pages. I also don’t understand how their relationship really grew out of such a horrible event. If it were me, I would refuse to associate with this kid outside of our counseling sessions together. It just really didn’t make sense to me how their stories intertwined and the beginning of their relationship didn’t seem all that healthy at all, in my opinion. I went into this book expecting something like Dumplin’, and I was sadly mistaken. The other positive I see in this book comes towards the end where Libby takes control of the situation and writes a really beautiful poem/letter that blasted me out of the water: it hit me hard. I think that is the thing I take away from reading this book, not the romance or other elements.
I don’t know if I could really recommend this book. I personally didn’t like it, but gave it a couple of stars for its two redeeming qualities for me.
Happy reading! ~ Taylor
It is no secret that I love books about magic! Harry Potter and A Darker Shade of Magic are just two examples of my favorite books that focus on Magic. But, this was a little bit different than I expected.
Title: The Last Magician
Author: Lisa Maxwell
Series: Unnamed, but apparently will be a duology
Rating: 3/5 stars
I wasn’t IN LOVE with this book. The story follows Esta, who has the power to time travel and is sent by her mentor back to 1920s New York, where she must stop The Magician from stealing a book that could destroy magic forever.
Let’s start with what I did like! The premise of the book is so interesting and it shows a different side to the idea of a fantasy about magic. There are those who actually have affinities (powers) and those who are also able to create illusions. Harry Houdini is mentioned in the book! I also have to add that the setting was absolutely perfect and worked really well with the story. I think using New York was a great choice and the author did a great job of creating a world within a world and employing differenct historical references (as I mentioned before) into the tale. I love historical fiction and while this is fantasy, I definitely felt like I was in 1920s New York with the way the story was told. I loved Esta as a main character: she was so enthralling. She placed all of her trust in her mentor and she was actually fantastic at the job. My favorite relationship was between her and Harte, the so-called Magician that the entire plot line focuses on. Their banter was witty and it kept me involved in their characters throughout the book. I would also note that I did not see the ending coming AT ALL and it was a thrill to get to be surprised by this book!
I have to say that it took me a good 200 pages to get into this book: I almost DNF-ed it. The book is a hefty 500 pages and I feel like it was unfortunate that it took me until almost halfway to start feeling attached to the characters. I did start to feel attached to the characters and story after this, though, that is worth mentioning! I just felt that it dragged a bit in the beginning before the real action began to happen. I also feel like it was similar to The Diviners by Libba Bray: the setting was the same and I feel like there were a few storylines all intersecting that also reminded me of it. That’s not a bad thing: it was a different plot but it was similar in era and amount of characters. Speaking of that, it was a little hard for me to keep all of the characters straight in the beginning but they all had developed personalities which made them enjoyable to read.
I would suggest this book to those who are fans of The Diviners and who want a different take on a book about magic that intersects with the real world.
Happy reading! ~ Taylor
*Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster (Simon Pulse) for allowing me to read and review this book before release*
Rating: 4/5 stars
Starfish is a beautiful story about a girl named Kiko, who struggles with social anxiety and a self-centered mother. The diverse representation in this book is lovely and shows the grittiness of Kiko’s relationships. Her passion is for art and she follows this passion by going to California with her best friend Jamie, where she is able to explore herself and her artwork more deeply. This book focuses on issues of sexual abuse (trigger warning here!), mental health and how important it is to look after yourself aka self-care.
I had heard about this book online and I was excited when I was approved! Kiko’s character is extremely ‘real’ and I felt for her throughout the entire book. One of my favorite elements of this book are the author’s portrayal of mental health as well as the progress Kiko makes throughout the book, as evidenced by what she draws/paints. Addressing the first part, Kiko struggles with social anxiety and speaking up for herself, and what she really thinks, in order to save others from harm. She doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even those of her truly horrible mother. The author utilizes her inner thoughts by writing what Kiko wants to say and what she actually says. To me, this shows the reality of mental illness in that many try to hide it and pretend that they are okay, instead of speaking what they truly think. This doesn’t just speak to her anxiety, though: it speaks to her personality and how she was brought up to be a quiet, complacent girl. At the end of each chapter, there is a sentence or two in italics that describes what Kiko creates artistically after that chapter. I found this to be interesting because it showed her character development through another medium rather than simply words and I was able to visually picture these creations. Kiko was a fantastic character and I truly could feel my heart breaking at points for her. I related a lot to the thoughts she had about herself and her self-confidence level, which brought the character close-to-home for me. I think Jamie, her best friend in the story, complemented her so well. He was the exact opposite of what she had been taught her entire life and he truly liked her for who she was, much to the surprise of Kiko. This book does not focus on romance, though, and I liked that about it because there were much larger issues that were being tackled in this story.
I really couldn’t stand Kiko’s mother. That’s not knocking this book at all: I have known people in my own life who acted just like her and thought that this element was important to include. It related completely to Kiko’s character arc and taught a strong moral lesson as well. Kiko’s mentor at art school mentions something about her mother being a ‘starfish’, which means that she is someone who always needs to be the center of attention, with the starfish’s legs pointing to the middle of that center. This helped me to understand the title of the book and also relate it to my recent experiences. It hurt a little to think about that because, like Kiko, it was hard for me to admit that someone I was close to didn’t care about me and only about themselves. I think this metaphor is something that is honestly going to stick with me for a long time and the dynamic between Kiko and her mother was heartbreaking. I think, though, it is worth pointing out that the rawness of this book is what appealed to me once I finished it and it quickly became one of my favorites.
I would recommend this book to those who struggle with social anxiety because it has a very realistic depiction and shows what can be said by family/friend support, and also what shouldn’t be said. This book shows what happens when you say the wrong thing but also when you say the right thing.
Happy reading! ~ Taylor
I fell in love with Invictus, as those who read my review would know, and I decided I should try more books by that author! When I read the summary I was certainly intrigued and it was available in eBook format from my library, so I thought why not try it.
Title: Wolf by Wolf
Author: Ryan Graudin
Series: Wolf by Wolf
Rating: 3/5 stars
This book follows the story of Yael, who is living in an alternate history where Hitler won the war and is now governing over his empire. Her goal is to assassinate Hitler at the Victor’s Ball for a motorcycle race called the Axis Tour. In order to do this, she must use her ability to transform her face into someone else’s (the result of being experimented on in a death camp), Adele, so she can get close to the Furher.
This was not what I expected at all, I have to admit! I was intrigued by the cover and by the summary, as well as the length of the book (about 250 pages). Yael was a strong female character, there is no denying that. I think her suffering in the death camp was a strong cause of that and it is a balance between actual history and fictional history that gives this story its power. I think we have all heard about what happened in Nazi death camps with mass execution but what might be lesser known was the experiments that were done on some from the camps. There was a strong fascination with twins and other ‘strong’ candidates were used for testing many different gruesome techniques by German doctors. Yael is the unfortunate recipient of one of these techniques but she acquires the ability to transform her face, which is something I thought was an interesting turn in an otherwise horrid situation. She is able to escape the camp by impersonating an important official’s daughter. The wolf reference in the title comes to us through the form of 5 wolf tattoos, which cover her camp numbers as well as represent 5 vital people in her life who died. I enjoyed the mix of real and imagined history in this book and that would have to be my favorite part! Graudin does a fantastic job of making the story unique but interesting with the elements she weaves in. The idea of a motorcycle race was something intriguing to me and Yael’s attempt to win the race as well as remain undetected is a struggle throughout the book. She keeps her goal set in mind, though, and I think that determination is very strong.
I felt like the book ended a little abruptly, though. I think I was expecting more to happen and that it why I was so surprised that it ended quickly. The ending was not horrible, by any means, and definitely sets it up for the next book. I just feel that I wanted to explore Yael’s world just a bit more before the climax of the book came to a head. I also didn’t feel too emotionally attached to any characters except Yael in this book. There were others–Adele’s brother and a fellow opponent–that were large parts of the book but I didn’t feel connected to them like I did Yael. I also think that I wanted to know more about the ring for renegades that was planning to assassinate Hitler and how Yael was mixed up with them in the first place. I am sure this is examined more in book 2 and I will definitely continue the series so I can find out the fate of Yael and her mission.
I would recommend this book to those who are fans of historical fiction and also the era of Hitler. It has always fascinated me, as I have family who were right in the middle of this war in Poland, and I felt that it showed many aspects of real history mixed with wonderful fantasy.
Happy reading! ~ Taylor
Hi! I am back to reading & reviewing after a 3-week vacation across Europe! It was an amazing experience to be able to have at this point in my life, but it’s slowly back to reality. This book appeared on my Overdrive the day I was flying home, so I was able to download it to my phone and begin it on the plane!
Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Rating: 4/5 stars
There was a ton of buzz about this book on Twitter: I recommended the eBook almost immediately after hearing about it to my library-and they bought it! But I was third on the waiting list so I didn’t get to read it until recently. Let me tell you, though: it was well worth the wait. The story follows Dimple, a girl getting ready to head to college, and whose parents are deeply rooted in traditional Indian culture: which translates to them trying to find her a husband! Enter Rishi: their pick to be Dimple’s husband one day and who also attends the summer college program that Dimple does in order to woo her. Let’s just say things don’t get off to a great start: *spoiler* she throws an iced coffee in his face!
This book was heartwarming. I feel like that is the best way to describe it. I had heard all about it on my Twitter timeline and I felt like I was really hyping myself up for this book! I enjoyed the read, though: it was short (about 250 pages) and sweet, which made it a quick read for me as well. I found myself actually laughing out loud in the airport, much to the dismay of other passengers who were sitting next to me. It was funny at times and I think the lighthearted nature of both of the characters truly brought that out. Let’s start with Dimple: she is feisty and knows what she wants, and what she doesn’t want, mainly that being a husband. She cares about her future and her career and doesn’t think that she has time to invest in dating at the moment. I personally can say I relate to her in this aspect: I have been focused on my career rather than my dating life and while it does suck at times, I feel accomplished that I am investing so much in my future. But, we can’t short Rishi on this one: he is such a charming character, even after his unfortunate first run-in with Dimple. He is respectful of Dimple’s feelings (surprising in this day and age, right?) and shows he truly cares in the deepest of ways. I respect Rishi himself for this and I was finding myself falling in love with him even in Dimple didn’t want to! I also think their chemistry throughout the book is a strong element that makes it the most adorable of reads. Their friendship bond is what makes the book, in my opinion, and I love that about it.
I can’t fault this book for much because I think it also does an amazing job of giving the Indian-American community representation. *Spoiler ahead* Dimple is teased by a groups of teens at the summer program and has serious micro aggressions directed towards her. The group assumes that she was born in India, and she certainly wasn’t, but that was an assumption made by the American teens. I feel Iike this happens far too much in our society and we don’t respect the fact that while someone might have a heritage, it doesn’t mean that they adopt all of the elements of the culture, either. It is wrong to assume such things and the author does a fantastic job of addressing this and showing that it can be overcome. Why didn’t I give this book 5 stars? I just wasn’t totally engrossed and in love with the book: I think I expected too much because of the hype. But I definitely would tell others to read this book and certainly promote it
I would recommend this book to those looking for more diverse representation and for someone who is looking for a cute and sweet read. It is one of the better contemporaries that I have read in recent months!
Happy reading! ~ Taylor