Book Review: The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell

The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell was the second novel I had been accepted for on Netgalley. I chose to apply for this one as fantasy is my favourite genre and I was intrigued by the blurb.

Publishing Date: 1 September 2020

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, LGBT

Blurb:

When a country is held in thrall to a vicious, despotic king, it’s up to one woman to take him down.

Long ago, Queen Mirantha vanished. King Karolje claimed it was an assassination by a neighboring king, but everyone knew it was a lie. He had Disappeared her himself.

But after finding the missing queen’s diary, Anza—impassioned by her father’s unjust execution and inspired by Mirantha’s words—joins the resistance group to overthrow the king. When an encounter with Prince Esvar thrusts her into a dangerous game of court politics, one misstep could lead to a fate worse than death.

Esvar is the second son to an evil king. Trapped under his thumb and desperate for a way out, a chance meeting with Anza gives him the opportunity to join the resistance. Together, they might have the leverage to move against the king—but if they fail, their deaths could mean a total loss of freedom for generations to follow.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed the storytelling of this novel as it explores the corruption of kingship and the resistance to its corruption. Resistance as a concept is also explored and is shown to take many additional forms: resistance within the corrupt system as well as resistance against the temptation to embrace the corruption. Throughout the novel, the author is making a commentary on ruling and governance; and how easily a ruler can be swayed by the desire to hold on tightly to power.

While reading the story, I was often reminded of Mao Tse Tung’s purging of the intelligentsia and of knowledge as a way to control the populace. I hoped early on in the novel that the knowledge that had been hidden in the form of library closures and burning of texts would see the light of day.

My favourite character was definitely Anza – a woman who puts herself in danger for her beliefs. She is steadfast and loyal; and does not give up despite her personal losses. There were also other characters in the novel who grew on me; characters who played an important part in the telling of the story.

I enjoyed this novel and will now be on the lookout for other stories written by this author.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 102nd novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: First Sister by Linden A. Lewis

The First Sister by Linden A. Lewis was the third novel I had been accepted for on Netgalley by Simon & Schuster Canada. I chose to apply for this one as the novel is a science fiction one and I was intrigued by the blurb.

Publication Date: 4 August 2020

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction, Young Adult Fantasy, LGBT

Blurb:

First Sister has no name and no voice. As a priestess of the Sisterhood, she travels the stars alongside the soldiers of Earth and Mars—the same ones who own the rights to her body and soul. When her former captain abandons her, First Sister’s hopes for freedom are dashed when she is forced to stay on her ship with no friends, no power, and a new captain—Saito Ren—whom she knows nothing about. She is commanded to spy on Captain Ren by the Sisterhood, but soon discovers that working for the war effort is so much harder to do when you’re falling in love.

Lito val Lucius climbed his way out of the slums to become an elite soldier of Venus, but was defeated in combat by none other than Saito Ren, resulting in the disappearance of his partner, Hiro. When Lito learns that Hiro is both alive and a traitor to the cause, he now has a shot at redemption: track down and kill his former partner. But when he discovers recordings that Hiro secretly made, Lito’s own allegiances are put to the test. Ultimately, he must decide between following orders and following his heart.

My Thoughts:

I loved this diverse read and see it as a prime example not only of the fantasy genre, but also of science fiction. What I enjoy most about this genre is that often the author is expressing a commentary on the society in which we live – and Lewis is no exception. She explores how a group of people are silenced – both a race, and a gender. In the case of women, their voices are literally taken away; in the case of the marginalised group their rights and ability to speak out are taken away from them by poverty and disempowerment. The author makes references to colonisation and hints at the injustices that it brought about.

In The First Sister, Lewis explores the power the use of technology brings to a group of people; as well as how this power is abused. Linked to this exploration is the corruption of power and how those in power use it to further their own ends. I suspect this exploration will continue in the next book of the series and be expanded even further. I look forward to seeing where Lewis will take this theme.

I enjoyed getting to know Lewis’ characters; and seeing the way in which they interact with one another. I see, too, the potential for their growth which will, I am sure, be expressed more in the following novels. I appreciate the fact that the characters embrace a diverse group of people giving the novel an added richness.

The action of the story ends nicely but the reader is left with some unanswered questions – questions which certainly encourage me to be on the lookout for the next novel in the series. I enjoyed the themes explored in The First Sister as well as the characters. The novel is expertly written and I found it difficult to put aside. If you enjoy fantasy and science fiction novels, this is a novel for you. In addition to reading about a futuristic world, you will also be encouraged to think on our social practices and what is done to silence large groups of people.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novels was the 107th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas was totally a cover buy for me – isn’t the artwork on the cover gorgeous? Another reason that I picked up the novel is that I had heard that Maas is an excellent storyteller.

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.

My thoughts:

After reading this book, I am now a fan of Maas. Her story-building is extremely skillful as she creates characters that you grow to love. As Crescent City is an adult fantasy, there is a gritty edge to the characters as well as the author’s representation of them (be warned that there is swearing involved). Maas’ honest representation of her characters, however, make the story more believable and realistic despite it being set in a setting created in the author’s mind.

The first 200 pages of the novel is slow-going as the reader is introduced to the intricate world of this new series. However, soon the pages of this 803 page tome are quickly turned and enjoyed. Once I became invested in the story, I could not put it down. Luckily I read the major part of this novel over the weekend so I could spend hours curled up on the sofa with the images of the novel.

What I loved about this story is that it wasn’t predictable – there were times when the storyline surprised me. By the end of the novel, I was fond of many of the characters and I look forward to seeing more of them in the next book in the saga. If you enjoy fantasy, Crescent City is a must-read. I enjoyed this novel so much that I know I will reread the book.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 46th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Re-Reading with Audiobooks

In June, Laurie Forest’s next book in The Black Witch Chronicles, The Shadow Wand, will be released. I look forward to its release and, in the meantime, decided to re-read the stories. Looking through my local library’s audiobook section, I noticed that the novels were available in mp3 format. I decided to give the performances a listen.

Listening to The Black Witch in audio format has increased the level of my appreciation for these novels. The book is expertly read and allows me to enjoy the story while working on creative projects, or while I am out walking.

I have listened to the first novel in the series as well as the two prequel novellas. The performances of all of these were excellent and I could not stop listening – the stories are just as good when reading them!

Now I am waiting for the next audiobook in the series – my hold will take a few months to get to me. The wait is tempting me to join Audible!

I give these audiobooks ⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 44th and 46th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Currently Reading: Crescent City

I have read a lot of good things about Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas – all of them good. Recently she has released the first novel in an Adult Fantasy series she has written and when I saw the stunning cover, I knew I had to purchase it and immerse myself in the story.

I am 200 pages into this 800 page novel – and it is starting to get interesting. I suspect I will soon be unable to put this one down.

What are you currently reading?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Currently Listening: Wand Fasted

Currently I am listening to a novel I have previously enjoyed: Wand Fasted by Laurie Forest. My intention is to listen to all of the audiobooks of the series before the next book is available in June.

I am enjoying this revisit of a story and characters that I have previously enjoyed.

What are you currently listening to?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

Book Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

When at the OLA Super Conference earlier on in the year, I picked up Thorn by Intisar Khanani out of curiosity. I am always interested in reading fantasy novels and this one contained a retelling of a little known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings

Blurb:

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

My thoughts:

I loved this novel and am not surprised that this Indie author’s work was picked up by a large publishing house. Thorn is a retelling of The Goose Girl, a fairy tale that had been written by the Brothers Grimm. Khanani does an excellent job at recreating the story and putting her own twist on it.

Thorn is a commentary on the social structures that exist in our society; and the divide that exists between the rich and the poor. in addition, references are made to the abuse and treatment of women – and how often abuse is ignored. Through the depiction of women abuse, Khanani asks what is Law, and who is meant to benefit from it. This story is more than just about a girl and her experience in a foreign city.

Alyrra is a character who is well-developed and experiences growth i the story. Not only does she realise things about herself, but she also becomes more aware of her surroundings and of the way in which the society she lives in operates. She comes to realise, as well, that she has a responsibility to uphold the rights of its citizens; and that she can do her duty to society with the strength of others. I enjoyed reading of Alyrra’s growth and the path she takes to find her inner strength.

Thorn is an excellent example of the Fantasy genre and I would recommend reading it with no reservation.

PS: There is a short story at the end of the novel which shows how so much can be said in a few pages!

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 40th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Beckonng Shadow by Katharyn Blair

For my third audiobook since the stay-at-home mandate, I chose to listen to The Beckoning Shadow by Katharyn Blair. I chose the novel for a number of reasons: it is a fantasy, the cover is striking, and it was immediately available from the library.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Format: Audiobook

Blurb:

The Magicians meets Fight Club in this heart-stopping contemporary fantasy stand-alone about a teen girl with special powers who seeks redemption through a dangerous tournament that guarantees the winner a chance to undo the past. Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare and The Young Elites, and written by debut author Katharyn Blair.

Vesper Montgomery can summon your worst fear and turn it into a reality-but she’s learned the hard way that it’s an addictive and dangerous power. One wrong move and you could hurt someone you love.

But when she earns a spot in the Tournament of the Unraveling, where competitors battle it out for a chance to rewrite the past, Vesper finally has a shot to reverse the mistakes that have changed her forever. She turns to Sam Hardy, a former MMA fighter who’s also carrying a tragedy he desperately wants to undo. However, helping heal Sam’s heart will mean breaking her own, and the competition forces her to master her powers-powers she has been terrified of since they destroyed her life.

My thoughts:

I am slowly being converted to the enjoyment of audiobooks as I can enjoy the stories that have been written by authors while being creative myself (I listened to this one while working on my bullet journal). This audiobook, however, introduced me to the fact that the narrator’s voice does have an impact on my appreciation of the story.

The voice of the narrator for this audiobook I found to be too forceful. Her tone often felt aggressive and I felt myself wondering whether I would have received the impression of aggression if I had read the text of the novel instead of listening to it. There were times, too, when I felt the narrator did not pause at the correct moments in her reading of the text.

While listening to the story, I felt the main character came off as whiny – and the storytelling to be a bit repetitive. Again I wonder if I would have felt this way if I had read the novel myself. I felt I could not connect with the main character as, on some level, I had the sense that she was immature and did not grow at all during the story.

The Beckoning Shadow was an ordinary story for me and did not capture my imagination. It is not a story I will listen to again and am not that interested in reading/listening to the sequel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 38th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

At the OLA Super Conference, I was drawn to the cover of The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight. After reading the blurb at the back of the lilac-tinged novel, I placed it in my cart thinking it would be a great read for a pre-teen.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

Blurb:

A funny, unpredictable, and heartfelt new novel from Wendy McLeod MacKnight, the author of The Frame-Up. Ali has always acted like a copycat to make friends, but when she unexpectedly inherits the ability to change her appearance at will, fitting in seems impossible! Luckily, with the help of her family, new friends, and a touch of magic, Ali might just survive middle school after all. A great pick for fans of Dan Gemeinhart, Erin Entrada Kelly, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Ali and her parents have moved at least once a year for as long as Ali can remember. She’s attended six different schools, lived in dozens of apartments, and never really felt at home anywhere. But Ali’s parents say living in Saint John, New Brunswick, will be different. They’ve moved in with Ali’s great-grandmother—a spunky 99-year-old with a quirky old house that has room for all of them. Ali wants to believe this will be their last move, but everything seems too perfect to be true.

To Ali’s surprise, things are different this time, but not in the way she hoped. She’s finally inherited the Sloane family powers—the ability to change her appearance into any living thing. Ali is a Copycat. Literally. And being the new kid at school is hard enough without worrying about losing control of your powers and turning into your teacher. Luckily, Ali’s new friends are eager to help her use her newfound power. But as Ali soon learns, being a Copycat is no substitute for being yourself.

My thoughts:

The Copycat is a well-written story about a young girl who tries to fit in by behaving the way she thinks others expect her to. It is a story about friendship, family, and self-confidence. It is a story that will resonate with pre-teens as they can relate to the difficulties experienced by Ali, the main character, when she tries to fit into her new school.

Ali learns that in order to make true friends, she needs to be herself. This is a lesson that she learns through trial and error – and by making mistakes that many of the readers may have experienced themselves. She learns that in order to form an authentic bond with others, she needs to trust those that she wants to make friends with. She also learns the importance of forgiveness – whether it is forgiveness of family members or of children her age.

The author has written a story that will resonate with her audience in an accessible way. The pace will keep the reader interested, and the characters will be enjoyed by the pre-teen who opens this book.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2020

(This novel was the 36th novel in my book pledge for 2020)

Book Review: Unblemished by Sara Ella

I was browsing the discounted stacks at my local bookstore when I came upon Unblemished by Sara Ella. I read the blurb with interest when I saw that it was a fantasy fiction read. The story piqued my interest so I decided to take it home with me.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Blurb:

Eliyana has always recoiled from her own reflection in the mirror. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world existed where her blemish could become her strength?

Eliyana is used to the shadows. With a hideous birthmark covering half her face, she just hopes to graduate high school unscathed. That is, until Joshua hops a fence and changes her perspective. No one, aside from her mother, has ever treated her as normal. Maybe even beautiful. Because of Joshua, Eliyana finally begins to believe she could be loved.

But one night her mother doesn’t come home, and that’s when everything gets weird.

Now Joshua is her new, and rather reluctant, legal Guardian. Add a hooded stalker and a Central Park battle to the mix and you’ve gone from weird to otherworldly.

Eliyana soon finds herself in a world much larger and more complicated than she’s ever known. A world enslaved by a powerful and vile man. And Eliyana holds the answer to defeating him. How can an ordinary girl, a blemished girl, become a savior when she can’t even save herself? 

My thoughts:

I enjoyed Ella’s story in another Reflection of our world – especially her description of the environment (for which some original vocabulary is used). Her description of what she calls a “trome” reminds me a little of a book by Enid Blyton that I reread many times as a young child – The Folk of the Faraway Tree. As expected, the connection resonated with me and I wished to read even more of them.

The romance in the story is set within the format of a love triangle. Eliyana has come to love Joshua and, in the beginning of the story, I was hoping that the two of them would get together. However once Ky comes into the story, I realise that another type of person may be better for her. He seems to bring out the inner strength in her. Does she come to that realisation herself? You would have to read the story to find out! 😀

Unblemished is a romance story; but it is also an adventure story. Eliyana is forced to move out of her comfort zone and, once she does, she learns more about her past as well as about herself. Throughout the novel, our heroine slowly finds an inner confidence that she never thought she possessed. With her confidence, she becomes braver and more willing to stand up for what she believes is right. The gradual unfurling of her confidence is perfectly paced.

The pace of the story kept me interested throughout – though it was not so intense that I was too eager to turn the pages. Unblemished is a fantasy read that incorporates romance and adventure as well as the magical qualities of this genre. I enjoyed this novel and have ordered the rest of the series to read.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 108th in my book pledge for 2019)