Book Review: Shadows of Lela

Feeling a presence beside me, I lifted my head saw the white unicorn. My heart softened, my shoulders relaxed. The unicorn was so close, I knew I could touch him. I reached out a tentative hand and placed it on his mud-splattered, white coat. A calm warmth flooded me.”

Sixteen-year-old Princess Cora has a dark past she’d rather forget. She’s found peace living in exile, far from the sorcerer who murdered her family. But her safety is compromised when she discovers a deadly threat. Unicorns are being annihilated. Her kingdom could be next…

To win the affection of his heartless bride-to-be, Prince Teryn must complete a dangerous quest. Instead, he finds himself at the end of Cora’s dagger. But when he learns Cora’s secret, he’s determined to help her, whatever the cost.

Trusting Teryn might be Cora’s only hope. But doing so could risk her heart… and Teryn’s life.

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Last month was Indie April, a month for supporting independent authors and bookstores. About half-way through I made a promise on Twitter that if I reached 500 followers (I was just above 400) by the end of April, I’d buy an indie book and write a review. Well Twitter came through and then I was left with the daunting task of selecting a book from a slew of WONDERFUL suggestions.

What really drew me to Shadows of Lela was the cover art. Shout out to Merilliza Chan for the beautiful artwork. Sometimes I’d just stop reading and gaze lovingly at the cover! Haha! I also really love unicorns.

Disclaimer: I usually try not to get too spoilery in my reviews, and I don’t want to pick apart the novel, but beware there are some spoilers ahead!

Right off the bat, this book gave me Graceling and Red Queen vibes. It’s a high fantasy novel without the pretentiousness that can sometimes come with it. The book also deals with royal families and the complicated relations between them. Tessonja Odette has created a vast fantastical land full of ancient magic, lost lore, and many kingdoms.

The world building has been done really well. I found the part describing the Ancient Ones quite interesting and I would’ve loved to delve into the lore even more. I also would’ve loved more scenery descriptions. As a reader, I’ve been given this wide new world, and sometimes I felt like I couldn’t see where I was. Cora and Teryn are journeying across the land, but I wanted more descriptions of how the landscape changed as they moved into the different kingdoms. I wanted to be fully immersed.

Also, a map at the beginning of the book would’ve been a huge bonus! They’re always helpful when reading a fantasy with many different locations.

The book is written in first person POV and switches mainly between Cora and Teryn, with the occasional appearance of Teryn’s brother, Larylis, and the princess Mareleau. The characters are well-written and the separations between their points of view are distinct. So no confusion, which is great!

Reading Larylis’ and Mareleau’s POV, at least in the first half of the novel, seemed a little unnecessary, as it didn’t add much to the story. In the second half, I liked Larylis a lot more as a character and seeing his POV was much more important. Mareleau’s probably could’ve been left out completely.

Character motivations also seemed to shift very quickly, especially with Cora and Teryn. We get a first person look into their thoughts, but there isn’t much introspection when the characters are making decisions. Cora suddenly decides to leave her adoptive family of the Forest People to help the unicorns quite suddenly it seems. As well with Teryn, he leaves his quest to win Mareleau’s heart almost instantly to help Cora. These decisions make sense for the characters, but we don’t see the change of motivation in an organic way. A little more inner monologue would’ve been the key in these big moments of motivational change.

In the first half of the novel, the pacing seems a little off. We are rushed through the introduction of Cora as a princess and the introduction of the main villain. For example, we don’t get to see much of what Cora is like before she’s exiled or who the villain is before she’s exiled. And again, just as we start to see Cora’s life with the Forest People, she’s off on her quest to save the unicorns. The plot did need to keep moving, but I would’ve loved more establishment of Cora before and after her exile.

The same happened with the beginning of Teryn’s quest. It felt a little rushed, as we were trying to get to the point where Teryn and Cora meet.

The second half of the novel was better for me, pacing wise. I quite liked when we finally got down to the big conflict between Morkai, the sorcerer, and the royal families. The characters lived up to their potential, though I wanted to see Cora do a little more with her powers, especially against Morkai. But, all in all, the climax was satisfying.

I wanted the ending to be left a little more open for a little more incentive to get into the second book. It felt a little rushed as well into the conclusion that wasn’t as surprising as I was hoping.

But, it was a solid first book, with plenty to offer readers, especially those who liked Graceling and Red Queen. When I get through a few more of the books on my TBR list, I’ll probably pick up the next one.

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches

Disclaimer: I don’t write these fancy long book reviews for books that I didn’t love or had a big impact on me, but this book did have an impact on me. This book was the pinnacle of untapped potential. It had a great premise, but so much was left untouched. Anyway, I’ll get to that in a moment.

Before we get started, I wanted to pose a question. Does Deborah Harkness even drink tea?

Pushing one of the mugs toward him, I fixed my eyes on the sugar. He handed it to me. I put precisely half a teaspoon of sugar and half a cup of milk into my tea. This is just how I liked it–black as tar, a hint of sugar to cut the edge off the bitterness, then enough milk to make it look less like stew.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

I want to be honest up front and admit that I’m writing this review after not finishing the book. I made it just over halfway and finally decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

Now take a moment, dear reader, and reread the synopsis. I’ll wait…

Done?

Doesn’t that book sound interesting? Too bad that’s not the book I read.

The opening of the book starts with great promise. Diana is in the library and stumbles on a mysterious enchanted book. In general, I love books about books and libraries and witches. But the potentially great plot got thrown out the window and was replaced by repetitive descriptions of Diana’s clothing, Diana’s weird obsession with rowing and running, Diana’s weird way of drinking tea.

When we aren’t being told about Diana’s exercise routine, we are overwhelmed with scientific, alchemical, and historical information of questionable importance.

Part of me wonders if Deborah Harkness put so much effort into researching that she had to include every little bit of information she could.

When Matthew shows up as the brooding vampire love interest, the plot is still not the focus. We get more promises of plot: the possible extinction of witches, vampires, and daemons; the mystery surrounding Diana’s DNA; the looming threat of the Congregation. Instead, we get more descriptions of clothing, food, and now the addition of wine. We don’t even get any steamy love scenes! (At least not in the first half of the novel)

The book started to feel very much like Twilight, in a sense that we have a somewhat helpless female and a strong, overprotective and angry vampire. But what is worse, is that Diana doesn’t have to be helpless.

We are told in the beginning that Diana is the daughter of two very powerful witches and thus has a great amount of power. (Spoiler)  It is shown in her DNA for godsakes! She has every power known to man, but she refuses to use her magic. In the beginning, it seems like an interesting twist to the traditional “witch” novel, but as the “plot” thickens and Diana’s safety becomes more threatened, she still refuses to use her magic.

She’s the ultimate Mary-Sue! The audience is told that Diana holds all this power and she’s the only one who can break the spell on the mysterious enchanted manuscript, but god forbid she do anything other than allow her vampire love interest to sweep in and do everything for her. I kept waiting for her to decide to use her power to protect herself, or pretty much do anything, but no. Diana continues to be a stubborn helpless shell of a person.

Matthew the vampire is no different. He’s basically a better educated Edward Cullen. He acts as both knight-in-shining-armor and borderline abusive boyfriend. Everything he does is to protect her–he gives up on whatever he was doing with his life before he met Diana–and constantly reminds her how helpless and in need of his help she is. He’s at one point doing yoga and talking about New-Age DNA mumbo-jumbo, then he turns around and bares his teeth to show Diana how “scary” he is. I don’t buy it.

I could forgive this novel if the characters actually did anything than hang out, go to yoga class, and drink wine. The book could be half the length if Harkness took out all the superfluous stuff. Reading it, I felt like I’d been watching Diana from a security camera, seeing her every move. What would’ve been more effective, would’ve been to get to the goddamn plot!

Even the fact that a good chunk of what I read took place in a library at Oxford couldn’t save this for me. I had such high hopes for this novel, as I do enjoy witchy books, but this was just a dud.

If you like Twilight, but the protagonist doesn’t have the excuse of being a human in order to be helpless, then you’ll probably like this book. I’m sorry this became more of a rant than a review.

Book Review: The Changeling

To believe in only the practical, the rational, the realistic was a kind of glamour as well. But he couldn’t enjoy the illusion of order anymore. Monsters aren’t real until you meet one.

When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, he left his son a box of books and strange recurring dreams. Now Apollo is a father himself–and as he and his wife, Emma, settle into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s hold dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. At first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of post-partum depression. But before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act and vanishes. Thus Apollo’s quest to find a wish and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His odyssey takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.

Goodreads | Amazon | Chapters

I never would’ve known this book existed if not for Maggie Stiefvater posting on social media about this book. When I saw there was a section of the book titled: “shit, damn, motherfucker” I knew this was a book I’d want to read.

I was gifted the book by my parents for Jolabokaflod (aka the Christmas book flood) on December 24th. If you weren’t aware, Jolabokaflod is an Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve to read that day. My family started doing this last year and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

ANYWAY, onto The Changeling…

Victor LaValle’s novel opens much like a fairy tale, even going so far as saying, “This Fairy Tale begins in 1968…” as the opening line. That sets the tone for the rest of the novel as this winding adventure through magic and mystery.

I was lulled into a false sense of security in the first part of the book when Apollo works as an independent bookseller and falls in love with Emma. But, in a fairy tale, nothing stays happy for long. Slowly the creepiness often found in fairy tales starts seeping into the story, in the form of nightmares.

I find often with books that relate to fairy tales, the magic it sometimes front and centre. But LaValle keeps the magical elements on the fringes of our vision until we’re in too deep to escape. And I LOVE it! The mystery and anticipation created wonderful tension as we marched toward the finale.

I won’t say anything more, because I wholeheartedly believe that everyone should read this book.

The characters were likeable and unlikeable in the most wonderful ways. Everyone feels amazingly real and flawed in relatable ways. *Vague Spoilers* The cast is full of mothers who’ve had to fight for themselves and for their children and I’m here for it!

This was a book full of secrets. Each character holds a secret that needs to be revealed and realized, and the world itself holds deep secrets for the privileged few to know. I feel like even the book itself is a wonderful secret.

The real-life horrors are just as scary (if not scarier than) as the mythological horrors. But everything is woven into a wonderful tapestry of creepy fairy tale goodness. As the layers of the story and its characters are revealed, I felt like there was so much left to explore even when the book ended. It’s definitely worth a reread.

I highly recommend this novel, especially if you like books based on/inspired by fairy tales.

Book Review: The Saturday Night Ghost Club

Reality never changes.  Only our recollections of it do.  Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory.  And in that realm, geometries change.  Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve.  Memory becomes what we need it to be.

SNGC

When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he’s handling more than a patient’s delicate brain tissue–he’s altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City–a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place–one of Jake’s closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the “Saturday Night Ghost Club”–a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City’s more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle’s preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.

It’s that time of year! As soon as the weather starts to cool down all I want to read is Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, The Raven Cycle, Harry Potter, and other spooky magical things. This book definitely falls into that category.

I wanted to read The Saturday Night Ghost Club simply because the cover is so awesome. It was made to look like a vintage library book, how cool is that?

What also intrigued me was the mention of urban myths, which I enjoy learning about. Though I thought it would be interesting to include a cute whimsical anecdote about my hometown’s own urban legends, I can’t recall any off the top of my head. Of course.

One I can think of is from Hamilton (specifically Ancaster), the Hermitage Ruins and the legend of Lover’s Lane. The ruins are the site of an old mansion built by Mr. George Gordon Browne Leith in 1855. But there was an older house, a ways away from the ruins, where an English man named Otto Ives lived with his wife and niece in 1833. The Coachman of the family, William Black, fell in love with Ives’ niece and asked Otto for her hand in marriage. When Otto refused, Black — seeing no other options — took his own life. Since suicide was considered a sin, he could not be buried in a cemetery and was thus laid to rest at the corner of Lover’s Lane and Sulpher Springs Road. It is said Black’s ghost haunts that corner and the grounds of the ruins.

Anyway, back to the book…

The third thing that made me want to read this book is that it’s Canadian! Yay! I find I don’t read as many Canadian books as I should. I’d like to, but it doesn’t seem to happen often. Luckily, I’ve been to Niagara Falls enough that I could imagine most of the geographical locations… maybe just Cliffton Hill.

The book itself is not that long, and I quickly devoured it in a few days. If you’ve been following along on my other book reviews, that’s quite quick for me. I just really enjoyed the atmosphere, writing style, and vaguely spooky content. I felt like I could fully immerse myself in the world of Jake.

While the plot itself was interesting enough, the book explores a number of interesting concepts such as memory, family, friendship, regret, and growing up. I tend to refer to these types of books as thinking AND feeling books… okay, this is the first time. It’s also full of childish fantasies and the (sometimes) dark origins of those fancies. Think “ring around the rosy.”

I can’t say too much more about it without getting too spoiler-y. Please read it and get ready for some spooky adventures and a semi-unexpected twist. Just read it.

I’ll leave you with one last quote:

That magic gets kicked out of you, churched out, shamed out – or worse, you steal it from yourself. It gets embarrassed out of you by the kids who run the same stretch of streets and grown-ups who say it’s time to put away childish things. By degrees, you kill your own magic. Before long your fears become adult ones: crushing debts and responsibilities, sick parents and sick kids, the possibility of dying unremembered or unloved. Fears of not being the person you were so certain you’d grow up to be.

Book Review: The Little French Bistro

The sea offered her a song of bravery and love. It came from a long way away, as if someone somewhere in the world had sung it many years ago, for those on the shore who didn’t dare to take the plunge.

LFB

Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage. After forty-one years, she had reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action. Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast of Brittany, also known as “the end of the world.” Here, she meets a cast of colorful and unforgettable locals and learns it’s never too late to begin the search for what life should have been all along.

Earlier this month I turned 25 years old. To most, I’m still a little sapling of a person, but to me, I’m as old as I’ve ever been and as young as I’ll ever be. I’m old enough to be reflective of my youth, but young enough to realize I still have my whole life still ahead of me. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s never too late for new beginnings.

I’m not a stranger to Nina George’s work. A couple of months ago I listened to the audiobook of The Little Paris Bookshop and fell in love with the south of France and all the wonderful characters George created. When I discovered there was another book, The Little French Bistro, I was excited to return to France for another adventure.

George’s work is imbued with her love of France. It radiates off the page and pierces your heart. In The Little French Bistro, we are transported to Brittany, where George lives, and her passion for her home is clear on the page.

Besides a love of France, this books made me feel. Though Marianne and I are separated by age and distance (not to mention that she’s fictional), I felt deeply connected to her and was on the same emotional journey. When I turned the last page, I felt as if the journey had come to a satisfying conclusion and that we could part ways as better people.

My favourite thing about this book was the other-worldliness that permeated the story. Nothing paranormal happens, but there is a real-world magic in the ocean, the wind, and the people.

I’ve finished this book believing that it’s never too late to run away to the coast and become a white witch playing the accordion to the sea.

 

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

bravingthewilderness

This book came to me at exactly the right time. It was the Saturday before Easter and I was feeling kind of “wrong.” I was particularly upset about anything, but there was a bad feeling gnawing in my head. Suddenly I had the urge to write in my journal.

I wrote about my feelings of inadequacy in my relationships (friendships, romantic) and my inescapable desire to be liked by all, even at the expense of my identity.

When I was done writing, I was feeling extremely vulnerable; I reached for this book and began reading.

Early in the book, Brené Brown talks about a quote from Maya Angelou, which permeates through the whole book:

You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

I feel like this quote in and of itself is what I need(ed) to realize about myself. The rest of the book often came back to this quote and the idea of belonging nowhere and everywhere, and especially, to oneself. Brown provides advice on how to achieve this with generosity and kindness.

She explains very clearly how and why people have separated from each other, but human connection is something we all need. If I had read this book at any other time, I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did. But, I quite enjoyed it because it was exactly the right time for me.

Brown’s work is well-researched and filled with relatable stories from her own life and from others. The stories make the research understandable. This book was thoughtful, heartfelt, and she inspired bravery in me when I needed it the most.