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.

Goodreads | Amazon | Website


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.

2018: A Year.

2018 has been a year. January feels as if it was 5 years ago, and I swear it was October yesterday. But here we are, in the last days of 2018 and I have feelings.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the things one wanted to do in the space of 12 months, but it’s important to instead focus on one’s accomplishments (big or small). This year, instead of looking back and seeing all the things I didn’t do (*cough* meditate, eat better, finish novel *cough*), I’m going to focus on the positives.

This blog post is in three parts: accomplishments, favourite things, and goals.

Accomplishments

While I may not have FINISHED my manuscript, I did get it to its final draft. 11/29 chapters are fully edited and I’m happy with them. I’ve still got a little ways to go before it’s completely done, but I think I can safely say that I can/will start querying agents in 2019!

In 2018, I wanted to get more involved in the online writing community. I was more active in my online writing groups and I was better at maintaining my social media presence (aka actually posting on a regular basis). I also learned about twitter’s writing community and I’m more active in the weekly hashtag thingies.

One thing I feel especially proud of is investing in myself by starting a real, professional-looking blog. This one! I’ve been posting semi-regularly with content I’m passionate about, like the book reviews and blog posts about my writing journey. It feels more coherent and better put-together than my old blog.

Something that’s not quite so writing related, but I’m still proud of is that I read 36 books in 2018. That’s the most I’ve read in one year I think maybe ever. If you want to see what books I’ve read, you can find them here.

Favourite Things

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post of my favourite books that I’d read up to that point. It’s time to look back and actually pick a favourite… I’m so bad at picking just one favourite anything…

Book:

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I read Practical Magic before this one because I LOVE the movie version, but I found that I enjoyed reading The Rules of Magic a lot. A LOT.

A very close second (because I can’t resist including more than one) is The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.

Movie:

Annihilation

There were a lot of really good movies out this year and with amazing diversity, which I am HERE FOR! But, according to the horrible rule I gave myself, I had to pick one. And I’m a sucker for Natalie Portman. Annihilation also happens to be based on a book, which I read after watching the movie. All I can say is… wow.

Honourable mention goes to Black Panther (obviously), Ocean’s 8, and Christopher Robin… and A Wrinkle in Time.

I’m very bad at picking one.

Food:

SOUP!

Photo by Ceyhun Özden on Pexels.com

This year I discovered the amazing power of eating soup. As a child, I didn’t really like soup, but this year my love for soup has gone up exponentially.

My favourite soup is a potato, bacon, and cheese soup. It’s basically a baked potato in soup form. A close second is the butternut squash soup from the Magnolia Table cookbook.

Honourable mention for “food” goes to the Lobster Tacos from Made in Mexico in Newmarket… SO GOOD!

Can you tell I’m not good at this?

Show:

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

This show technically isn’t from 2018, but I discovered it this year. I’m sad I didn’t check it out sooner! This show just tickles me in the best possible way. The first two seasons are on Netflix, so definitely check it out if you like Dr. Who but on Earth with Elijah Wood.

Honourable mention goes to The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Schitt’s Creek, Queer Eye, and Outlander.

These were a few of my favourite things!

Goals

Despite New Year’s resolutions being a bit over-rated, I can’t help but think about the things I would like to do in 2019.

  1. I’d like to finish my manuscript FINALLY and start querying it (does that count as two goals?)
  2. Write more book reviews. I only did three this year, so it won’t be hard to beat.
  3. Read more books! Maybe aim for 37?
  4. Continue research for viking novel! (At least it won’t be hard since I’m already doing it)
  5. Start research for fun blog project (it’ll be a surprise so look forward to it)!
  6. Focus on the positive!

If you have any goals, I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment and spread the love! Best wishes for 2019!