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)

Book Review: Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin

When I first heard of Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin at a Frenzy Presents event, I knew that I would have to read it. A group of bookstagrammers planned on reading it during November so I thought it would be a good opportunity to read the novel with others who enjoy Young Adult Fantasy fiction.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Blurb:

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

My thoughts:

I absolutely loved this novel! From the beginning, I could see the subtle undertones of Mahurin’s critique on marriage as well as the Church’s historical view of women. I always enjoy a story that is more than just a story and I enjoy novels that encourage my mind to think of my own experiences as well as what I have read in other books. This novel resonates with the patriarchal view of women – a view which the women (portrayed as witches) fight against. It subtly critiques the expected role of women in a marriage. And it encourages the reader to think of the Church’s role in the subjugation of women in a relationship.

Not only did I enjoy the critique on marriage and the Church, I also enjoyed the characters in the story. I love the sassy Lou who ran away from home and who has survived on the streets. And I just can’t help but enjoy Reid’s character – a man who has been brought up within the strict confines of Church doctrines. His world is turned upside down with the advent of Lou becoming a part of his life. The slow-burn romance between the two is fun to read – and caused a smile or two during my enjoyment of the novel. I also enjoyed reading the antics of Coco (Lou’s friend) and of Ansel, a chasseur-in-training who unexpectedly shows compassion for Lou.

Shelby Mahurin’s novel has all that I love in the Fantasy genre: magic, complicated relationships, a subtle critique of social issues, and interesting characters. Serpent and Dove was a perfect read for me and I cannot wait to read the sequel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 107th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Infinity Son by Adam Silvera

When I was notified by the team at Harper Collins Canada that I had been chosen to receive an ARC of Adam Silvera’s first Fantasy novel, Infinity One, I was so excited I danced a little jig while smiling widely. Fantasy is my favourite genre and I had been looking forward to reading this one.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publication date: January 14, 2020

Blurb:

Balancing epic and intensely personal stakes, bestselling author Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son is a gritty, fast-paced adventure about two brothers caught up in a magical war generations in the making.

Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

Brotherhood, love, and loyalty will be put to the test, and no one will escape the fight unscathed.

My thoughts:

This story is epic and I loved it! This is Silvera’s calling – to write Fantasy novels. I have enjoyed his contemporary novels but not as much as Infinity Son. The story has everything in it that I would want: magic, diversity, complicated characters, action, humanity. I savoured the words as I read them and did not want the story to end.

Infinity Son encourages us to think about sibling relationships – the dynamic of it as well as the support that is given and received. Brighton and Emil are as close as brothers can be and, even though there are moments when they want alone time, they are there for one another in a crisis. Not only does Silvera highlight the closeness of these two family members, he also notes the importance of family as a whole.

What I loved in the novel is the representation of all types of people – not matter what their sexuality or race – and that many of the characters represent people who are comfortable in their own skin. It is definitely only in an ideal that all people are accepted and raised to be accepting of who they are. We do not live in an ideal world – and neither do the characters in Infinity Son as is seen as the story progresses.

Prejudice and lack of acceptance is definitely a theme that runs through the story. The war described in Silvera’s novel mirrors the ones that humanity has experienced throughout history. Prejudice against one group of people is the root cause – a causes that is flamed by a leader who gets the masses to believe what he says as the truth.

At no time when reading this novel did I experience boredom. Infinity Son is perfectly paced and certainly believable (even though it is set in an imagined New York featuring magic). In fact as I turned the last page, I wanted more! A follow-up to Infinity Son is in the making and I am going to wait impatiently for it to be published.

The first novel in Adam Silvera’s Fantasy series is a must-read if you are a fan of the genre. And as it is Young Adult, it is perfect for the young people in your life who enjoy reading books about magic. The bonus? The story is a diverse one that seamlessly includes all types of people. This novel is definitely one to pre-order.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 101st in my book pledge for 2019)

Phoenix Lines

On Friday last week when I arrived home, I was so excited to see that I had received an ARC of Adam Silvera’s upcoming Fantasy release Infinity One from the team at Harper Collins Canada. Fantasy fiction is my favourite genre and when I heard about this series, I knew that I wanted to read it. On Friday, I admired the cover and loved the lines of the Phoenix. The ARC looks beautiful and I expect the cover of the finished hardcover will look absolutely stunning.

I have started reading the novel – I set aside my October TBR piled with no compunction. I am loving it so far! The story explores sibling relationships, being comfortable in your own skin no matter what your sexual orientation, and (I suspect) finding your inner strength. I look forward to seeing what the magical battle in New York will bring.

Have you read any of Adam Silvera’s books?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to Becky’s Square Challenge for which we will be posting square photos featuring lines during the month of October)

Book Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

At the Frenzy Presents event in late August, I learned about Rena Barron’s novel Kingdom of Souls. The fantasy aspect of the novel interested me; and the African theme running through the story intrigued me. Soon after the event, I pre-ordered the novel online.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb:

Explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend, where one girl must sacrifice her life, year by year, to gain the power necessary to fight the mother she has never been good enough for.

Arrah is a young woman from a long line of the most powerful witch doctors in the land. But she fails at magic, fails to call upon the ancestors and can’t even cast the simplest curse.

Shame and disappointment dog her.

When strange premonitions befall her family and children in the kingdom begin to disappear, Arrah undergoes the dangerous and scorned process of selling years of her life for magic. This borrowed power reveals a nightmarish betrayal and a danger beyond what she could have imagined. Now Arrah must find a way to master magic, or at least buy it, in order to save herself and everything she holds dear.

An explosive fantasy set in a world of magic and legend with a twist you will never see coming.

My thoughts:

The beginning of Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron was not easy to read as I had to familiarise myself with the unusual names as well as the references to African culture. Often I found myself wishing for a name chart at the beginning of the novel so that I could refer to it and set it clear in my mind who was related to whom, and in what way they were connected.

Once I got used to the unusual names and had a clear picture in my mind where everyone fit in, it was easier to focus on the story. And what a story it was! Details were intricately woven in between the actions of the characters; characters that reflect the range of personalities that are found in the world. Within the Kingdom, there are kind and gentle people as well as people who are cruel and who adversely affect the lives of others.

The heroine, Arrah, is a young woman who tries to rectify the actions of someone she loves. As she goes on her journey, she grows as a person. She is one who perseveres and, as such, is a good role model to any young person reading this novel. Arrah is a character who discovers who she is and who discovers the magic she has within herself. Her journey is difficult but, with the help of her friends, she is able to realise her potential.

Kingdom of Souls is not an easy read and is more suitable for a young person who enjoys a more literary type of novel. Magic is a thread that runs through the story and is perfect for fans of fantasy novels. The ethos of African culture is a bonus and will appeal to those who are looking to connect with or explore the beauty of this culture. As an adult, I enjoyed the symbolism and imagery I read in Barron’s words. This is a novel I would highly recommend.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 92nd in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

On Instagram, I kept seeing good reviews of Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. As well as being a Fantasy novel, the story featured a library. I could not resist and decided to immerse myself in the story.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb:

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined. 

My thoughts:

From the first pages of the novel, I was swept away by the story and the beautiful imagery. The language definitely drew me in and I often paused in my reading of the story to appreciate it. Rogerson used words to create beautiful pictures in my mind; images that are a perfect fit for a fantasy novel.

Sorcery of Thorns is set within the walls of Great Libraries and features a heroine who works within one such library. Her name is Elizabeth Scrivener. Such a clever last name, don’t you think, especially as she works in a library filled with scribed books. I enjoyed, too, that all books within the library are magical (precisely the way I see books) and are thus labelled grimoires.

The heroine, Elisabeth, sets out on a mission to save the Libraries and, while doing so, sets out on an adventure of self-discovery. The unexpected ups and downs of the story were thoroughly enjoyable for me and I flipped the pages quickly. This was one of those books that I couldn’t wait to continue reading when I got home from work. And it was definitely one that encouraged me to ignore the TV remote!

I enjoyed Robertson’s unusual heroine, as well as her counterpart, Nathaniel. Reading about Nathaniel and his demon was interesting and, even though one should Not enjoy a demon character, I did. Silas is definitely not what one would expect of such a creature.

Sorcery of Thorns is a beautifully written fantasy story that will enfold you in its magic. The bonus is that the novel is set in a bookish environment. I loved this story – as shown by the amount of post-its I placed throughout the novel. This beautiful book is a novel that I recommend to those who enjoy stories about magic and a young woman who grows to know herself better.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 91st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Last year I had the opportunity to hear Miriam Toews speak. I had never read any of her books but the one she was to speak about sounded interesting so I bought a copy for her recent novel, Women Talking, to sign for me. I kept shifting the book down my TBR pile as the subject matter promised to be heavy but I have finally read it as I believed myself to be in the correct head space.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Feminism

Blurb:

Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events.

The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak.

By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

My thoughts:

I was right to have saved this book for a time when I could fully appreciate the content – it has so many talking points and issues for the reader to think about. The issues are raised through ordinary conversation between a group of women. At no time did I feel that Toews was pushing her beliefs onto me. Instead, the points she wanted to raise were subtly woven within a discussion on how the women would react to the rapes that had occured within their community.

Even though Women Talking is a relatively short novel at 216 pages, it is a novel filled with women’s issues. Yes, it is a book on feminism. And no, it is not one of those ‘shouty’ books that aggressively denounces men. Instead, it centres around ordinary women who come to realise that they have the power to make their own decisions and be the navigators of their own lives. The Mennonite women described in the novel live in a staunch patriarchal society in which the men have absolute power over them. It is a norm which, up until then, had been accepted by the women with no question.

I love how the women talk through their decision – each one making a valid argument. The narrator and recorder of the discussion, August Epp, is seen as being different from the other Mennonite men. Unlike them, he has lived in the outside world; and has not the strength to till the fields as the other men do. He shows respect towards the women and, as such, is trusted by them.

Reading this novel brought home to me that, even though we have progressed so far as a society with women’s rights, there are still women out there who do not have the freedom to do what I take for granted. It saddens me to think that there are still groups of people who see women as being the lesser gender and who have taken away their right to bloom. Not that the society I live in is perfect – but at least I have the opportunity to make my choices; and the freedom to read and learn.

Women Talking by Mirian Toews is a book that digs into the experience of the Mennonite women. It is an eye-opening account of a group of women living in a patriarchal society that, unfortunately, still exists in the modern world. This skillfully written discussion is one that will leave you in a thoughtful mood and reflecting on your own personal experience.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 51st in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Beholder by Anna Bright

It was time for some Fantasy so I picked up the ARC I received at the Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada. I love the cover of Anna Bright’s novel, The Beholder, and settled in for what promised to be an interesting read.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Selah has waited her whole life for a happily ever after. As the only daughter of the leader of Potomac, she knows her duty is to find the perfect match, a partner who will help secure the future of her people. Now that day has finally come.

But after an excruciatingly public rejection from her closest childhood friend, Selah’s stepmother suggests an unthinkable solution: Selah must set sail across the Atlantic, where a series of potential suitors awaits—and if she doesn’t come home engaged, she shouldn’t come home at all.

From English castle gardens to the fjords of Norge, and under the eye of the dreaded Imperiya Yotne, Selah’s quest will be the journey of a lifetime. But her stepmother’s schemes aren’t the only secrets hiding belowdecks…and the stakes of her voyage may be higher than any happy ending.

My thoughts:

I enjoy reading Fantasy novels and this one promised to be a coming of age story. And it delivered on its promise. As Selah continues on her journey and meets a variety of people, the experiences she goes through help her come to certain realisations about herself and of others. The journey helps her to grow up as she is no longer sheltered from certain experiences by her upbringing.

I love that the main character in The Beholder is one that is learning and growing. The experiences she has are what one would expect of a young woman venturing out into the world. She learns to be strong, and to find the answers to her questions within herself. She slowly breaks down her fears – fears which make her a relatable character to the reader. In the novel, Selah is learning to find her own voice; and to discover what it is exactly that her journey needs to entail.

Even though I enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequel (yes, it is a duology), I did find the story hard to get into in the beginning. The Beholder is written as an alternate history to our world – and has many references to mythology. I personally found these references to be overdone at the beginning of the novel. In addition, some of the references may not be understood by many readers thus rendering the imagery less powerful than intended. As the book progresses, the mythological references become less frequent and more subtle – and I definitely preferred this.

Bright has written a story that does not contain some of the expectations of a fantasy novel: there are no dragons, magic, and mystical creatures. The novel includes a budding romance as well as disappointments that are experienced in a young life. This story is an enjoyable read for those who enjoy reading books with a sense of adventure and a protagonist who is growing into herself.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 50th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Nocturna by Maya Motayne

I love reading Fantasy novels and was extremely pleased when I received Nocturna by Maya Motayne in my swag bag at the last Frenzy Presents event that I attended. I opened the ARC that I received in anticipation of a good story.

Publication Date: May 2, 2019

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.

To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts. 

My thoughts:

As you know, I enjoy reading Fantasy fiction – and this tale did not disappoint. The magic described in the novel was not over the top, and the characters were realistic. The social strata described in the novel are as one sees in our modern world today: the wealthy and the ones in charge, the ones with enough money, the ones who wield power through force, and the poor. The two main characters come from the opposite end of society: the Prince born into wealth and power, and the Thief born into poverty and hardship.

What I enjoyed most about Nocturna were the two main characters: Alfie and Finn. Their banter made me smile, and I could not help but like the way they slowly lowered their guard with one another. Both characters grow during the novel and come to know more about themselves. Not only are they on an adventure to save the world as they know it, but they are also on a journey to learn about how they can defeat a strong magical power in but they are also on a journey to discover the strength they have within themselves.

Motayne wrote this book to share a story featuring diverse characters who are Latinx. Noturna is a wonderful addition not only to fantasy fiction, but also to books featuring a different race/culture group. If you love the world of magic, a story filled with adventure, and a tale that features young people growing into their own sense of self, then you will enjoy this novel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 37th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Rebel Mages by Laurie Forest

Ever since I had finished the second novel in Laurie Forest’s series of The Black Witch Chronicles, I had been waiting for The Rebel Mages to come out. I pre-ordered the novel and, as soon as I received it, I opened the pages and read it.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy

Blurb:

The novel contains two novellas which had been previously published as e-books. The book contains the back story to the characters found in The Black Witch: Elloren Gardner and Sagellyn Gaffney.

Wandfasted

Twenty years before Elloren Gardner enrolled at the illustrious Verpax University, Erthia was rent asunder during the devastating Realm War. When Tessla Harrow is driven from her home by the fighting, she discovers a depth of power she never knew she had…and an irresistible draw toward Vale Gardner, the son of the most powerful mage her people have ever known—the Black Witch.

Light Mage

Before Elloren came to possess the White Wand of myth, the Wand was drawn to another bearer: Sagellyn Gaffney. Sage’s affinity for light magery, a rare skill among Gardnerians, makes her the perfect protector for the one tool that can combat the shadows spreading across Erthia. But in order to keep the Wand safe from the dark forces hunting for it, Sage must abandon everything she once knew and forge a new path for herself…a dangerous course that could lead to either triumph or utter ruin.

My thoughts:

I loved delving into Laurie Forest’s world again. The images that she creates in my mind with her words are so beautiful. I adore her characters and enjoyed reading the back story to The Black Witch. The characterisations are on point, and the issues that she addresses run seamlessly throughout the story. There were a number of moments in both novellas when I got goosebumps – the author’s words pulled me in and then suddenly a sentence would take me back to the first book I read in the series – or to a moment in human life that is reflected in the scene.

Reading The Rebel Mages underscored, for me, what it is I enjoy about the fantasy known as The Black Witch Chronicles. The story is more than just a Fantasy set in a world of fantastical characters. Instead it is a critique on society, on oppression, on prejudice. It is also a story of hope and the dream that all peoples, no matter what race or culture, can live together in freedom. Forest is a writer who has woven her experiences of the world into a magical tale that has certainly captured – and held – my attention.

Now I wait impatiently for the third novel in the series. These novellas have only whet my appetite for more of Elloren’s story.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 stars with no reservation.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 26th in my book pledge for 2019)