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)

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Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

I received a copy of Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds at the Spring Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada. I loved the cover when I received it and was told that the story would be a good one.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Young Adult Romance

Blurb:

Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl . . . 

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves.

My thoughts:

I was enjoying the novel until I was asked to suspend my disbelief and to go back in the past with the protagonist and re-experience an event – more than once. Reliving the same episode was difficult for me especially when I realised that the character had actually gone back in the past with his knowledge of the future. Re-experiencing the past was not a reflection on what he could have done differently; instead it was actually reliving the events and changing the story of the characters.

The repetition of the same event with minor changes did become a bit tedious to read and I found myself skimming paragraphs (not a good sign). I was a little disappointed, too, that the story ended on a happy note. I am of the realistic bent and, even though I enjoy happy endings in stories, some tales do not merit it. And this one, I feel, should not have had it as the girl does have an illness that affects her longevity.

Having said all of the above, I did enjoy Jack, the main character. He reads like a typical teenager who is experiencing his first relationship. He falls head over heels with a girl an reacts in the way a young boy would. I believed the description of his experience easily and had no doubt of his charm. It was interesting to see how he developed as a character in the story, and how he came to certain realisations of his friendship with the girl he loved as well as his close friends and parents. The characterisation of Jack was, for me, the saving grace of this novel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 25th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

The synopsis for the novel The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth captured my attention because it reminded me of the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.

Genre: Young Adult fiction, Fantasy.

Blurb:

Five years ago, Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell cowered from air strikes in a London bomb shelter. But that night took a turn when the sisters were transported to another realm called the Woodlands. In a forest kingdom populated by creatures out of myth and legend, they found temporary refuge. 

When they finally returned to London, nothing had changed at all—nothing, except themselves. 

Now, Ev spends her days sneaking into the woods outside her boarding school, wishing for the Woodlands. Overcome with longing, she is desperate to return no matter what it takes. 

Philippa, on the other hand, is determined to find a place in this world. She shields herself behind a flawless exterior and countless friends, and moves to America to escape the memory of what was. 

But when Evelyn goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

My thoughts:

I was keen to read this story as I have enjoyed the Narnia series in the past – both as a teen and as an adult. I loved the fantasy world and the symbolism that C. S. Lewis had created and looked forward to reading a story that had been inspired by it.

Weymouth poses the question: what would a person feel once back in the reality of the world and far away from what was experienced in the ‘other’ world? We read of the coping mechanisms of three children who had crossed over to another world – and are introduced to the point of view of two.

The story is told with empathy, and the reader comes to understand the feelings of both Philippa and Ev. We see Philippa as the stronger, older sister; and Ev as the one who is unable to let go of the world and the people she came to love in that world when she was returned to a war-torn London. The reader learns to understand Ev’s plight and her desire to go back. There were times, however, when I felt her actions were selfish and manipulative. And so many times I wished that she would be grateful for the love and experiences of her current world. Because I felt this, I did lose a little sympathy for her and was more moved by Philippa who had always been there to support her sister.

I liked that half-way through the novel, I began to read the viewpoint of Philippa. Even though she does miss the Woodlands and the creatures she met there, her response to being back in London during the war is different to that of her sister. Through the characters of the two sisters, Weymouth shows that a person’s response to the same situation may be different.

I enjoyed the novel The Light Between Two Worlds and reading the thoughts of how a person could react to the Narnia experience. Even though there were moments when I wished the pace of the book was a little faster (when reading Ev’s experience), I did enjoy this heartbreaking story. If you enjoy fantasy novels and references to The Chronicles of Narnia, then this story would be perfect for you.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️  3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 16th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This year I plan to re-read The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling and during February I read the second book in the series: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This novel is available in a beautiful illustrated edition and this is the edition I read for my revisit into the Hogwarts world of magic.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb: 

The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone — or something — starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects . . . Harry Potter himself?

My thoughts:

I loved Harry Potter’s world the first time I read the series and my enjoyment was not diminished with a second reading. I smiled at the mischief Harry and his friend Ron got up to, and enjoyed reading about their stealthy adventures in the corridors of Hogwarts.

My enjoyment of this book was amplified by the paintings by Jim Kay in the illustrated edition. The paintings are beautiful renditions of favourite characters and he does them great justice. Like a young child, I ‘read’ the images in the book and admired the detail in Kay’s work.

I am reminded again of why children love this story so much: it is full of magic, adventure, as well as relatable characters. I look forward to reading the next installment in the story.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 15th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

I received Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner in the Indigo Book Box with Geekerella by Ashley Postun. Gardner describes a fandom in her novel which promised to be interesting – especially as my own daughter plays Dungeons and Dragons.

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Young Adult Fiction

Blurb: 

Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dude bro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious.

My thoughts:

I loved this story about fandom, cosplay, and believing in yourself enough to show the world what you love doing. Chaotic Good, however, is more than just about a fandom. It is about a young girl who comes to believe in herself and in her right to be who she is no matter who surrounds her. It is about a girl who comes to realise that it is okay to be who she is and to follow her passion.

As I was reading the story, I could not help but be reminded of the geeks playing Dungeons and Dragons in The Big Bang Theory – a true representation of geekdom and fandom. I enjoyed reading this story as much as I enjoy watching the show. I enjoyed reading about the camraderie that develops between the players of the game – and how they learn to support one another.

The story does not only encompass the camaraderie between geeks. It also references online bullying. The internet trolls do affect Cameron and for a moment she believes what they are saying about her. She has to learn that with support from her family and friends, she can overcome the negativity that the online harassment brings. So many our our teens face this problem and it is good to see this in a book.

I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys fandoms and stories about a young person growing into the realisation that they are good enough. This is a book I will pass onto my daughter as I know she will enjoy this read.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 14th in my book pledge for 2019)

Frenzy Presents Spring 2019 Releases

On Sunday morning I woke up excited to attend the Frenzy Presents event happening at the Harper Collins publishing house in Toronto. I love these events not only because everyone attending loves books and reading, but also because I get to hear of new releases and of stories that I would love to read. This event was extra special because both my daughters decided to come along with me. They were curious to see what the events were about and experience a little the vibe that I often enjoy. It is not often that I get to go out with my girls now that they are older teens and so I was pleased that they were willing to spend their Sunday morning with me (if you know any teens, you would know that giving up a Sunday morning sleep-in does not happen too often!).

There are many exciting Young Adult books that are planned to come out in the Spring. There were 8 titles in particular that I am excited to read:

Fantasy fiction is definitely my preferred genre. Add in romance and a little intrigue and I am sold! The Beholder by Annie Bright fits into this category and sounds like something I definitely want to read and will be available 4 June.

I love fairy tale retellings, don’t you? The Evil Queen by Gena Showalter is a Snow White spin-off told from the point of view of the stepmother. The premise sounds interesting and a little unusual. This tale will be available 25 June.

A Dress for the Wicked by Autumn Krause is a story set in the world of high fashion  – a little like The Devil Wears Prada. This novel is a little historical and touches on the theme of deception. I will have to wait until 6 August to read this one.

Both my daughter and I cannot wait to read The Beckoning Shadow  by Katharyn Blair which comes out 2 July. This is a fantasy novel that depicts a human that has some magic and has to fight for her survival. Sounds exciting!

I am a Jane Austen fan and when I heard that Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh was a retelling of Sense and Sensibility, I was in. This contemporary novel is out 4 June.

Last Things by Jacqueline West sounds a little creepy – but intriguing nonetheless. This is one I will definitely head out to pick up on 7 May.

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven is a contemporary novel that deals with an important issue – bullying. I believe this novel will be an important one for teens who are currently in a bullying relationship. I look forward to seeing what the author discusses in this one on 11 June.

Isn’t the cover of this novel absolutely stunning? It is for this reason that I would open With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo. I am sure this book will attract the eye when it is put on the shelves on 7 May.

The event ended with each blogger receiving a tote bag filled with goodies. I love the pillow slip and will enjoy the tea. I look forward to sharing with you what I think of the ARCs that I received.

Do any of the titles I listed interest you?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

 

Book Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

A Cinderella retell, geekiness, and fan fiction. I could not resist reading Geekerella by Ashley Poston.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Retelling

Blurb:

Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic science-fiction series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck and her dad’s old costume, Elle’s determined to win – unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons – before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he has ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake – until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part-romance, part-love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.

My thoughts: 

This was a sweet romance between two young people that reminded me of my young daughter – who  definitely has her fandoms. Not only does she have her fandoms, but as a young girl she loved the Cinderella story. I enjoyed the modern retelling of her favourite Disney princess – and loved how the aspect of fandom was woven within it. When reading the blurb, I was intrigued by the suggestion of the combination. Did the writer do a good job? Yes, I believe she did. The utter seriousness of those following fandoms is integrated with the notion of an uncaring stepmother who takes advantage of her stepchild.

Geekerella is a simple story that kept me smiling. It is a modern tale that embraces the magic of fandom, and which encouraged me to keep turning thepages. It is the perfect read for those like my daughter – a teen who will understand the seriousness of fandoms, and who wishes for a little romance. I enjoyed this lighthearted read and look forward to reading Postons upcoming book The Princess and the Fangirl. 

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 7th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

My favourite all-time classic is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice so when I heard that there was another rewrite featuring the characters of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, I knew I had to read it. Pride by Ibi Zoboi is an original rewrite that puts the main characters in Brooklyn, New York.

Genre:  Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb: 

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant re-imagining of this beloved classic.

My thoughts: 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it is a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing that they want to do is clean it up.” (Zoboi, Ibi. Pride, 2018, p1)

The first line in the novel made me smile in glee as the beginning of this sentence echoes one of my favourite lines in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The remainder of the sentence echoes what is suggested in the rest of the novel: the gentrification of a neighbourhood that, on the outside, may look neglected.

Pride depicts a young woman’s pride in her neighbourhood and in her culture. Zuri (Zoboi’s Elizabeth Bennet) is comfortable with her culture and has no shame of her roots. She does not immediately take to Darius Darcy as he does not appear to fit in with the neighbourhood, nor does he behave in the way Zuri believes he ought to. Her prejudice reflects the prejudice of Austen’s Elizabeth albeit in different surroundings. In addition, Zoboi adeptly transforms the setting of Austen’s novel into a modern day Brooklyn while embedding the prejudices that people living in the environment may embrace.

The neighbourhood described in Pride is unknown to me; and I am not intimate with its culture. Tidbits are added to my knowledge as I read the story – tidbits that are subtly woven into the story. Yet the romance described is a well-known story of two young people who come to know one another and fall in love. This is a story that transcends time.

I love how Zoboi wove a well-loved and well-known story into a story of her own. The story that she created is a contemporary one and is well suited for a young teenager of colour.  Yet Pride is not so far from the original that the reader cannot make the connection. I enjoyed this reworking of Austen’s novel and will surely read it again in the future. If you are a fan of Austen’s novel, you will enjoy this retelling. And if you do not know Pride and Prejudice, you will enjoy this romance for being a story of our times.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 80th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

For my next read, I decided to pick up one of the ARCs I received at Frenzy Presents, an event held by Harper Collins Canada for book bloggers.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Blurb: 

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

My thoughts:

I loved reading this book! The story is refreshing and encompasses so much: identity, loneliness, growth as a person, social issues, young romance. Shirin is a young girl who is angry most of the time because of the way she is treated by those in her community at at her school. As we read her story, we get inside the head of so many young women who cover their heads. They have the freedom to choose how to dress – and yet their choice is reviled. As I read about the experience of this young Muslim woman, I respected her and began to understand the choices she had made. What I love about this character, though, is that she grows and develops during the story. She learns to see others for who they are and, as a result, grows as a person.

This novel is honest. It forces you to see the experience of a Muslim teenager living in America. It encourages you to look at preconceptions – your own as well as those of others. A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a story I would recommend not only to teens, but also to older readers who are looking to understand the experience of young people from another culture living in a western society.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 74th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen

At the Frenzy Presents event organised by Harper Collins Canada for bloggers, I received an ARC of the book When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen. I always enjoy historical fiction, and the touch of romance was an added bonus.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Romance

Blurb: 

It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.

As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze. Sweeping, soapy, and romantic, this is a story about an epic love triangle—one that will literally set the city ablaze, and change the lives of three childhood friends forever.

My thoughts:

The historical aspects of this novel interested me – Chicago’s Great Fire and the possible causes of it. The fire raged over a number of days, killing people and leaving many homeless. The reference to this event in Godbersen’s novel, however, is minimal which, for me, was disappointing. The novel instead centres on the love triangle between three friends since childhood: Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders. There were some moments during the novel, especially in the beginning, when my attention wandered from their story. The description of their relationship was a little too repetitive and, at these moments, I wished for the novel to move forward.

The story did become more interesting to me when the historical aspect of the novel was introduced. The Fire changes the relationship between the three – and also helps the women (Emmeline and Fiona) realise a little about who they are and what their own relationship with one another means to them. I enjoyed the second half of the novel more than I did the first -it was definitely the saving grace of the book for me.

This novel was written for those who enjoy romance stories – more so than for those who enjoy historical fiction. As a Young Adult fiction novel, the sexual relationship described is not explicit and focuses instead on the feelings of the two women in the love triangle.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 70th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)