#Book #Review: Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen #YALit #Fantasy @torteen @dljensen

Today I am so overjoyed to be sharing my review for Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen that I am breaking my only rule of book blogging: never review books written by people you know, love, or hate. In two years I have never before been tempted to toe this line, and yet here I am. I do hope that you enjoy this beauty as much as I did, because it is an absolute must read!


dark shoresTitle: Dark Shores

Author: Danielle L. Jensen

Publisher: Tor Teen

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Adventure

Themes: Survival, Magic, Conquest, Romance

Features: Glossary, Author’s Note


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

High seas adventure, blackmail, and meddling gods meet in Dark Shores, the first novel in a new YA fantasy series.

In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.

A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON

Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape—a choice with devastating consequences.

A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET

Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world.

A DANGEROUS QUEST

When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely—and unwilling—alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.


My Review

Every now and then you come across the first book in a new series and you just know that it’s going to be something big. Dark Shores is that book. Imagine this – a powerful empire that has conquered all the nations in their known world and is ruled by a corrupt elite that will stop at nothing to take it’s taxes in coin, or children forced into servitude, discovers that there is a whole new world connected to their own through a nation of free and seafaring traders known as the Maarin. They have legions of career soldiers at their disposal, unlimited funds, and an insatiable desire to bring everything and everyone under their control. In light of these circumstances it seems only natural that the Celendor Empire would kidnap, torture, and murder hundreds of the Maarin traders until one of them begrudgingly agrees to lead two legions across the seas and aid them in their conquests. 

Unfortunately for Celendor, the Maarin that they torture in talking is seventeen-year-old Teriana – a sarcastic, quick-witted, spitfire of a girl who is as intent on subterfuge and disruption as she is on saving the lives of her crew and the rest of the Maarin that are being held by the Empire as collateral. What makes matters worse is that this mission is not merely a matter of crossing the Endless Seas into unknown lands populated by warrior nations and setting up a new regime. That would be far too simple. Instead this quest requires a touch of magic and permission from the gods. Gods who just so happen to be at odds as to whether or not the Cels should be permitted to cross the seas, if East should be allowed to meet West, and who may or may not have forsaken Teriana for breaking her most sacred of vows.

Can you say drama?

Written in split narrative between Teriana’s and Marcus’ point of view, the tension between their perspectives can seriously be cut with a knife. Their conversations and introspections provide the perfect avenue for character development and world building without being onerous, while their arguments and escapades deliver the excitement and adventure that make this an epic read.

Marcus is everything that you would expect from a legion commander – heady, calculating, and utterly ruthless. His every move plays into a larger strategy making it impossible to determine what’s genuine and what’s manipulation. And yet, he’s not the monster that the Empire wants him to be. He has a soft heart and a reverence for human life that leaves him constantly at odds with his orders. With Marcus, nothing is ever as it first appears as there are endless layers of motives, planning, and deceit making it impossible to gauge his true intentions. As a result, there is a tactful balance between the construction of a fearsome reputation and the pursuit of softer, much more personal desires. It helps too that he is a fatally flawed character, that he carries the kinds of secrets that could destroy lives and nations, and that he is deeply touched by all of the horrible things that he has done in the name of the Empire. It makes him human, relatable, and incredibly enigmatic.

Teriana on the other hand is brash, impulsive, and completely irreverent. Her stubbornness, the frequency with which she puts her foot in her mouth as the result of her sass, and her unwavering loyalty to the Maarin that makes her the perfect counter to Marcus’ disciplined and calculating nature. She wears her heart on her sleeve, embraces her emotions, and lives life to the fullest no matter the risk. She’s the kind of person that I’d happily loose all of my spare change to gambling with because because she’s the life of the party and instantly likeable, and of course, almost all of the men in the Thirty-Seventh feel the same way.

It’s always a pleasure to read characters with depth and complexity, especially in YA and fantasy, where it seems that so many can fall into stereotypes and tropes. It’s even better when you can watch these characters change and grow as the story progresses, and in this regard Dark Shores does not disappoint. Teriana, Marcus, and even the varied cast of secondary characters are full of revelations and change, and yet it’s clear that there is still so much more to come.

And we can’t forget to mention the fantastic world that Jensen has created. The contrast between East and West couldn’t be more stark with the Cels being godless, oppressed, and regimented to a tee while the people of the West are deeply spiritual and relish freedom in a way that the Cels can never comprehend. With the Celendor Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, there is just enough history to make this work of fantasy feel deeply rooted and real. Everything from the structure of the political system to the organization of the legions rings true, and yet enough liberties have been taken to keep everything fresh and original. Throw into the mix the Seven gods of the West with their realms, powers, and god-touched individuals and you truly have a war between worlds. The reverence for the Six and the fear of the Seventh creates a dynamic and magical experience that is easy to get swept up in. It’s detailed, magical, and so entrancing that it leaves you wanting more.

I can’t wait to see where this series goes, what the Six and the Corrupter have in mind for the Dark Shores, and the Thirty-Seventh and Forty-First legions will succeed in their mission of establishing a route through which they can conquer the West. There are so many sub-plots to be explored, battles to be fought, and questions to be resolved that  next book can’t help but be even better than the first. I loved every second of Dark Shores and my only regret is that I bought my copy on publication day and that I will now have to wait (impatiently) for the next instalment to be released.


Many thanks to Danielle L. Jensen, Tor Teen, and NetGalley for providing a galley in exchange for an honest review – even if I *may* have bought a hardcopy before finishing my ARC galley!

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#Book #Review: Analiese Rising #YALit #Fantasy

Confession time, I requested this title on NetGalley before I realized that Entangled Teen specializes in YA romance. As a result, I put off reading Analiese Rising a lot longer than I should have, but the cover was so beautiful and the blurb so captivating that I eventually gave in. And guess what? Once again I got my hand slapped for judging a book by it’s genre and ended up really enjoying it. Youthful, spunky, and full of the questionable decision making that marks the transition to adulthood Analiese Rising has as much humour as it does adventure which make for a fun and fanciful read.


analieseTitle: Analiese Rising

Author: Brenda Drake

Publisher: Entangled Publishing

Publication Date: January 8, 2019

Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Mystery

Themes: Survival, Magic, Murder, Adventure, Romance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Half-Blood meets Antigoddess in a thrilling, romantic new series from New York Times bestselling author Brenda Drake.

When a stranger gives Analiese Jordan a list of names before he dies, the last thing she expects to see is her own on it. Not. Cool. Her search for answers leads to the man’s grandson, Marek, who has dangerous secrets of his own. Both are determined to unlock the mystery of the list.

But the truth is deadly. Analiese is a descendant of the God of Death, known as a Riser, with the power to raise the dead and control them. Finding out she has hidden powers? Cool. Finding out she turns corpses into killers? No, thank you.

Now the trail plants her and Marek in the middle of a war between gods who apparently want to raise an army of the Risen, and Analiese must figure out how to save the world—from herself.


My Review

Okay, so the first strong thought that I had about this book was that it’s kind of like the DaVinci Code meets Mortal Instruments. We have a couple of teenagers running around Europe with an obscure set of clues, trying to locate a mysterious and mythical objects with a some demigods, revenants, and magic thrown in the mix. Granted, I like Drake’s writing a lot more than Dan Brown’s, so if you share similar opinions don’t let the DaVinci Code reference scare you away! It’s light on the romance, heavy on the adventure, and has just enough hope and humour to keep the big-bad from feeling overwhelming.

The next thought was ‘what in the hell is Analiese doing, getting on an airplane to Italy with a boy she barely knows? I’d never do that!’ In fact, I was foolish enough to voice this opinion out loud when describing the book to some family, and was promptly reminded ‘no Jessica, you’d just go by yourself’. So, once I was put back in my place and reminded of my own love for adventure in my teen years, Analiese suddenly became a very relatable protagonist. Of course, I didn’t have any magical powers to work my way through when I hit Rome at 18, but I found the geography and atmosphere strikingly nostalgic and incredibly well described. It made me want to go through all my old pictures of the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Roman Forum.

I loved the dynamic between Ana and Marek and genuinely thought that they made a good team. I appreciated Ana’s insecurities and moments of defiance, as well as Marek’s inherent need to protect and insatiable curiosity. Their personalities were well balanced, and actually represented one of the healthier relationships I’ve read in YA recently. Sure, Ana is a bit immature and impulsive, but I have no illusions of people (especially teens) being fully rational in the wake of major traumas. Now add in the fact that Drake has written a relatable character battling with some anxiety issues – which not only brings to light some important discussions surrounding mental health, but also some important lessons in empathy.

It was touching how close Analiese was with her family, especially her cousin Dalton and her maternal grandparents. I didn’t really relate to the dynamic experienced between Ana and her aunt, but it made for a good story and a character that you can love to hate. I was completely shocked by some of the twists and turns in the plot, especially when it came to digging up the family past, and I would have loved to know a little more about Ana’s parents.

And let’s not forget the artful inclusion of multiple mythologies as a basis for the fantastical elements. Heavy on the Greek mythology, I was pleased to see that Drake included mythologies from around the world including some of the Norse, Malaysian, Chinese, and Hindu gods. Throw in the Risers, the Risen, and an a secret society and you’re in for a mighty fun read.

Would I recommend this book? Heck yes! It might not be for everyone, with all the mention of Marek being sooooo hot, but it’s fun, playful, and incredibly well written. If you’re ready to get your flirt on with a touch of myth and magic in the mix, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

 

#Book #Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton #YALit #Fantasy

I’m thrilled to be starting off my blogging year with a cracking review for my most anticipated read of 2018, The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton. And because I am a turd that bites off more than she can chew, this baby has languished on the TBR for far too long! Beautifully written, intensely imaginative, and chalk full of action I adored every moment I spent transported to the world of Orleans and simply can’t wait for the sequel!


belles.jpgTitle: The Belles

Author: Dhonielle Clayton

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Mystery

Themes: Survival, Magic, Murder, Adventure, Romance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.


My Review

Okay, let’s get the bad bits out of the way first. This was an absolutely incredible story with tons of action, intrigues, and a hella twisty plot, but for some reason I felt that the romantic threads came across as completely forced. I get it, when you have a character that has been told her entire life that she can never love, that when she’s presented with charming men that swoon all over her, she’s going to want the things she can’t have. But Camellia’s chemistry with both her suave young sailor and her stoic guard simply wasn’t there.

Yet, despite my belief that The Belles would have been better without the romantic interest, it was still an absolutely amazing read. The idea of a world without colour and only a select few being able to bring beauty into it was rather intriguing. What a great way o challenge societal norms, beauty practices, and the ways in which we see ourselves and others. If this makes even one person think about the painful sacrifices we make, both physically and emotionally, in the name of beauty and unattainable ideals it’s totally worth it.

I think one of the most painful passage to read had to be Camellia’s first client in the tea house, a young girl whose mother sought to alter every natural aspect of her daughter’s features, despite her obvious pain. Even though the world of Orleans is sumptuous, vibrant, and highly superficial Clayton spreads some serious messages about self love – and I am a firm believer that we can never get enough of that!

But that princess though… what a steaming piece of nasty! Kudos to Camellia, and all those who came before her, for trying to alter her demeanour even if it never worked. Her unpredictable moods, outrageous demands, and the practice of treating her courtiers like playing pieces made her a perfectly hateable villain. The result was that the tension in the palace was incredibly intense, and more than once I found myself having to stretch out my neck and shoulders because the drama had me on tenterhooks.

I absolutely adored the uniqueness of Orleans magic and the amount of time that was dedicated to detailed world building. My favourite elements by far were the ballon systems for everything from mail to spying to news, and the sumptuousness of the fashion described. While the land, people and history of Orleans were carefully crafted and presented as a complete picture, it was done in such as way as to never feel cumbersome. Admittedly, there were a few elements that I would have liked to see more flushed out – such as the unofficial Belles and why the Belle population has been steadily dropping – but I can’t hold it against the author for keeping a few goodies for the other books in the series.

I should say though, while The Belles is magical and enthralling, it is not for the very young nor the faint of heart. There are many moments that could easily be considered triggering – such as an attempted sexual assault, a moment where a trans character has to battle with their self-identification in contrast to societal expectation, and some pretty horrific scenes which depict intense bullying, mental manipulation, and flat out torture. They will undoubtedly make many uncomfortable, and may even make some angry, but I appreciated the way in which these behaviours were always questioned and never condoned. Clayton forces introspection on some pretty serious issues, and I for one, and happy that she never shies away from the important stuff as it made The Belles that much better.

Edgy, imaginative, and packed full of paradox The Belles is a smashing start in what is sure to be an epic series. I can’t wait to see where Camellia and her gang go next, and am seriously thirsting for the sequel to be out, like, yesterday….

If you ever crave a touch of magic and adventure in your reads, I can’t recommend The Belles highly enough!

#Review: The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans #HistoricalFiction #Romance @bookouture

Happy Holidays book lovers! Today I’m delighted to share my final review of 2018, The Secret Vow by Natalie Meg Evans. Firmly in the realm of chic lit and romance, I have most definitely strayed from my regular selections. But the cover and description were both too pretty to resist – and it turned out to be a damned good decision because The Secret Vow turned out to be an amazing read chalk full of history, fashion, and family drama to boot.


vowTitle: The Secret Vow

Author: Natalie Meg Evans

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: December 11, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romance

Themes: Family, Survival, Coming of Age, First Love

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Katya – young, beautiful and impoverished – arrives in Paris, hoping to begin a new life. She leaves behind a terrible secret, and her survival in this strange and beautiful new city depends on nobody ever discovering who – and what – she is.

Immediately, Katya is swept up in the city’s glamour – particularly the boutiques on the main boulevard, where glittering gowns are hand-sewn for an exclusive clientele. Dare Katya dream that she may someday wear – or even design – one of these dazzling creations? It feels like an impossible wish, until she meets businessman Harry Morten.

Tall, handsome and well-connected, Harry could give Katya everything she wants and more… but at what price? And should she break the vow she’s made and trust him with her secret when her very survival could be at stake?


My Review

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for a few weeks now, mostly because I didn’t want my deeply ingrained resistance to romance to bias my words. But, as much as I hate a healthy dose of mush, the dynamic between Katya and Harry was so reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it. A poor and striving young lady in want of an income, a rich and haughty young heir with a good heart, and both too proud and petulant to allow for their emotions to win out sooner. Now throw in a distant but overbearing mother, a brash and disrespectful younger sister, and a minor miscommunication regarding a betrothal and you know you’ve got a winning recipe.

Of course, that’s about as far as the Austen parallels go. The Secret Vow is set at the close of WWI and during the height of the Russian Revolution which adds a dash of fear, desperation and rationing that really heightens the drama. Add to that the immeasurable loss that the Vytenis family suffered as they fled, the impossible choices that haunt Katya as she strives to make a new life for her family in Paris, and the fact that the Vytenis’s have former friends looking to bring them down further at every turn.

While I appreciated the difficulties Katya encountered with her mother, the dynamic between Tatya and her older sister was perhaps the most fraught – with the elder taking on the weight of the family and the younger thinking of no one but herself. I went through the entire book wanting to smack Tatya for her impertinence, but I suppose that’s the mark of a well written character, as they get so far under your skin as to actually aggravate you! And really, what’s a good family drama without a character that you love to hate?

Katy too had moments where I wanted to bring her back down to reality, but I suppose when you’re a former princess adapting to relative poverty there’s sure to be some growing pains. And while I found her arrogant and insufferable at times, I appreciated the conviction with which she worked to protect and provide for her family. I appreciated how no job was too small for her to take, and how even when her upbringing predicated that she looked down on certain types of work, that Katya always saw needs and reason and quickly came to grips with reality.

What I loved the most though, was the shifting landscape of Paris fashion between the wars. I enjoyed the stark contrast between the highly structured Russian aristocratic culture, and the influence of Coco Chanel with looser shapes and the shedding of the corset. The descriptions of cuts, colours, and fabrics were truly sumptuous and honestly made me want to pull out my Gran’s photo albums. The fashion aspect worked too, with the romantic arc in the story, as Harry’s embedded status in the textiles world provided organic avenues through which his and Katya’s paths could frequently cross.

I adored the descriptions of atelier life, the process and the shows, and especially the life of a mannequin before these women were replaced with plastic objects. The behind the scenes glimpses into the cut-throat world of fashion houses bring a tread of reliability as both girls and fashion have proven in their steadfastness to remain nasty. Perhaps my only complaint about this setting is that the good Harry Morten is always there to save day, which means that Katya’s success is not truly self made, but rather indebted to his generosity. I can’t really complain though, as it is Harry’s role as the reluctant hero that makes the romantic elements of this story so appealing.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was, without question, one of my favourite reads of 2018. Full of fashion, hardship, and a coming of age The Secret Vow is a step back into worlds long forgotten and a truly enjoyable read.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#ARC #Review: The Light Over London by Julia Kelly #HistoricalFiction #WWIIFiction

Today I’m delighted to return to my love of WWII fiction with a glowing review for The Light Over London by Julia Kelly. I don’t normally go for books with a strong romance theme, but this baby had enough other, amazing stuff going on that I was happy to set general dislike of mush aside and dive right in. Pull up your stockings ladies, this one will leave you empowered, angry, and ready to take on the world.


lightTitle: The Light Over London

Author: Julia Kelly

Publisher: Gallery Books

Publication Date: January 9, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: Family, Friendship, Survival, WWII, Romance

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4.5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Reminiscent of Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls and Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, this sweeping, entrancing story is a must-read for fans of remarkable women rising to challenges they could never have predicted.

It’s always been easier for Cara Hargraves to bury herself in the past than confront the present, which is why working with a gruff but brilliant antiques dealer is perfect. While clearing out an estate, she pries open an old tin that holds the relics of a lost relationship: among the treasures, a World War II-era diary and a photograph of a young woman in uniform. Eager to find the author of the hauntingly beautiful, unfinished diary, Cara digs into this soldier’s life, but soon realizes she may not have been ready for the stark reality of wartime London she finds within the pages.

In 1941, nineteen-year-old Louise Keene’s life had been decided for her—she’ll wait at home in her Cornish village until her wealthy suitor returns from war to ask for her hand. But when Louise unexpectedly meets Flight Lieutenant Paul Bolton, a dashing RAF pilot stationed at a local base, everything changes. And changes again when Paul’s unit is deployed without warning.

Desperate for a larger life, Louise joins the women’s branch of the British Army in the anti-aircraft gun unit as a Gunner Girl. As bombs fall on London, she and the other Gunner Girls relish in their duties to be exact in their calculations, and quick in their identification of enemy planes during air raids. The only thing that gets Louise through those dark, bullet-filled nights is knowing she and Paul will be together when the war is over. But when a bundle of her letters to him are returned unanswered, she learns that wartime romance can have a much darker side.

Illuminating the story of these two women separated by generations and experience, Julia Kelly transports us to World War II London in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel through forgotten antique treasures, remembered triumphs, and fierce family ties.


My Review

While I enjoyed Louise’s story, with her war-time dance hall romance not so dissimilar from how my grandparents met, it took me a touch longer than normal to connect with her character. At first I found her mousy and almost dull (as I’m sure was intended!), and it took Louise and Kate running away to enlist before I really started to care about her character. And I really started to root for her when she took her position in the Ack-ack command and then refused to be controlled by her paramour because she finally her own personal value and the value of the work that she was doing.

Cara on the other hand, I connected with almost instantly. Perhaps it was the conviction with which she removed herself from a toxic relationship (seriously, we need more pop-culture characters that reject rather than glorify such dangerous pairings!) or the fact that she worked for an antiques dealer and discussed in-depth the same bits of cultural ephemera with which I have always been obsessed, we simply clicked.

I enjoyed too how the men in this book were polar opposites from one another. The shy, almost absent minded professor set against the cocky, play-boy pilot. And Yet, it was entirely believable how each woman for her lover. They were both charismatic and endearing, yet simultaneously flawed and complex in ways that create depth and relatability.

I loved the split narrative between present day and WWII. the stories of these two women had enough contrast to create interest, but were complementary enough to create an entirely harmonious narrative. Both women were deceptively strong yet awash with self-doubt, and most definitely on the road to discovering their strength and purpose as individuals rather than in relation to their romantic partners.

The diary served as the perfect bridge between their stories. At times it was impossible to tell if the diary passages were being written by Louise or read by Cara which worked to help bend the timelines and aid in the willing suspension of disbelief. And the way in which the diary was presented really worked to highlight the universality of Louise and Cara’s experiences, with each representing the beginnings and endings of the same type of relationship – always in juxtaposition – which created a feeling of cycles and balance.

But what I loved the most about the diary is how it addresses head on is the flaws of biography and life writing. Especially when Cara finally locates the family of our diary owner, and Louise’s perception of herself and how others viewed her is thrown into question. It forces us, as readers, to question the authority of the narrator(s) and immediately triggers a demand for reflection and the reconsideration of key moments through a different lens. These moments of revelation were perfectly timed for maximum effect, sneak up when you are least expecting them, and change everything.

Would I recommend this book? Sure thing! It might be on the light side, even firmly in the realm of women’s fiction, but it’s carefully crafted and demands reflexive introspection. Kelly stitches a believable balance of between historical fact, imaginative fiction, and heartwarming romance. For lovers of WWII fiction and women’s fiction alike, The Light Over London is sure to hit the spot.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.