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)

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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: Break In Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

Harper Collins Canada held a #FrenzyPresents event earlier this month at which they promoted the Young Adult book written by Brian Francis, Break In Case of Emergency. I had the opportunity to attend and meet the author so I was curious to read the novel the folks at Harper Collins were enthusiastically promoting.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, LGBT

Blurb:

Life has been a struggle for Toby Goodman. Her mother died by suicide five years ago, and her father left their small town before Toby was born. Now a teenager living on her grandparents’ dairy farm, Toby has trouble letting people in. She keeps even her closest friend, the brash but endearing Trisha, at arms’ length, and recently ended her first relationship, with Trisha’s burnout brother, Mike. Convinced that she is destined to follow her mother’s path, Toby creates a plan to escape her pain.

But with the news that her father is coming home and finally wants to meet her, Toby must face the truth of her family’s story. Not only is her father gay, but he’s also a world-famous female impersonator—and a self-absorbed, temperamental man-child who is ill-prepared to be a real parent.

When Toby’s careful plans go awry, she is forced to rebuild the life she thought she knew from the ground up. While she may not follow an expected path, through the support of a quirky but lovable circle of friends and family, Toby may finally put together the many different pieces that make up her past, her present, and her future.

My thoughts:

I do admit to beginning this novel with high expectations as it had been avidly promoted. The story also interested me as it dealt with possible mental health issues that so many teens face at this time of their lives. I think it is good that there is literature like this out there to help teen readers realise that they are not alone when experiencing suicidal thoughts or even feelings of worthlessness.

The story is written from the point of view of a teenage girl who does feel worthless; and who comes to believe that the people she is surrounded by would be better off without her. She does have a raw deal: growing up with her grandparents without a dad around, her mom having committed suicide. Francis places us right inside the mind of Toby Goodman, a girl who is having suicidal thoughts. We read of how her mind circles around suicide and why it would be such a good thing for her to do. There were moments, to be honest, when I felt that the thoughts expressed were a bit repetitive and I wished the story would move on – though I can understand that the writer wanted to reflect how a depressed person would focus on the negative and constantly obsess on a point.

Toby Goodman meets her dad who is a well-known drag queen. Not much time is spent on the encounter and subsequent meetings though. At the end of the novel, I wished that more had been written of their interaction. The moment of meeting her dad does help Toby come to certain realisations about herself, and even about her mom. Meeting her dad does put to rest some concerns that Toby had about her mother and her own relationship with her.

Toby is a character that grows in the story. She learns about herself and about what is important to her. She comes to learn more about the people in her lives; and begins to see herself through their eyes. The novel suggests to the reader that in our lives we are part of a group; and that we each have our role within that group. Out role is important and our actions do affect the others around us in a negative or positive way.

Break In Case of Emergency is a novel that celebrates a person who can overcome extreme sadness with the help of those around her. It celebrates that we, as people, can overcome the challenges in our ordinary lives with the love of those in our lives. This contemporary young adult novel will be one of those stories that can help young teens realise that they are not alone; and that they can look to the support of family and friends to help them through difficult times.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 90th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

At the Frenzy Presents event at the end of August, I was lucky enough to receive one of the books that interested me: A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth. This is her second novel and I wanted to compare the second novel with her debut.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb:

Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic always kept the countryside well. And as a child, this magic kept Violet happy, draping her in flowers while she slept, fashioning secret hiding places for her, and lighting fires on the coldest nights to keep her warm.

Everything shattered, though, when her father committed high treason trying to free Burleigh from the king’s oppressive control. He was killed, and Vi was forced into hiding.

When she’s given a chance to go back, she discovers Burleigh has run wild with grief. Vines and briars are crumbling the walls. Magic that once enriched the surrounding countryside has turned dark and deadly, twisting lush blooms into thorns, poisoning livestock and destroying crops. Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain.

Vi would do anything to help, and soon she finds herself walking the same deadly path as her father all those years before. Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house—before her house destroys everything she’s ever known.

My thoughts:

As I began reading A Treason of Thorns, I was pulled right into the story. I loved the magical thread running through the story; and the fact that a house was imbued with a magic of its own. So much happens in a house and so many secrets occur within it walls. I love that this fact is transformed into magic in this story. While reading it, I could imagine the large houses in England of centuries past and the power that they used to have within society.

I felt a connection with the characters in Weymouth’s second novel much more than I did with the characters of her first. The reason could be that I enjoyed the inner strength of Violet – as well as the fact that she is loyal both to her House, Burleigh, and to her childhood friend, Wyn. In the novel, Violet has a series of choices to make and it is not always obvious what it is that she will choose. In order to make her choice, she comes to a few realisations about herself and what is important to her. I am tempted to say that Weymouth’s character development of her heroine is far stronger in A Treason of Thorns than it was in her first novel.

I enjoyed the magical quality of this novel and it is a perfect story for fans of fantasy fiction. The fantasy, however, is not too far removed from human history: readers can make a connection to the not too distant past (or even the present) when thinking of the influences of the Great Houses in society. It is a story that reminds us of the magic of the Great Houses in England. I enjoyed Weymouth’s storytelling and I look forward to reading her next offering.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 89th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Crier’s War by Nina Varela

At the Frenzy Presents event at the end of August, I was lucky enough to receive one of the books that interested me: Crier’s War by Nina Varela.

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

Blurb:

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

My thoughts:

Goodreads describes Crier’s War by Nina Varela as a Fantasy novel. While reading it, however, it had more of a science-fiction feel to me as it describes a world that is overtaken by human-made creations. The novel describes a possibility in a far distant era on Earth, and not on a mythical land.

The story describes a contrast between the Human and the Automae: two creatures that are at odds with one another and who both want their freedom – the Humans from enslavement of the creatures they created; and the Automae from their dependence on the humans. The politics of the Automae reflects the ideology followed by many humans in today’s world; a worldview that centres on keeping one’s culture and race separate from others.

Crier’s War is not just a story set in a possible future. It is a story that deals with separatism, as well as with being different. It is a story that reflects a realisation – and then acknowledgement – of difference within one’s self. It is a story that hints at the possibility of living in harmony (a possibility that I guess will be explored more in the second novel of the series). And it is a story that explores humanity and what it is to be human.

The two main characters in the story – Ayla and Crier – experience a growth throughout the novel. I enjoyed seeing their own self-realisation unfold as I turned the pages. The more I read about them, the more I grew to understand them and to like them as characters. It is a beautiful thing to see a young person come into their own and Varela describes their unfurling subtly and gently.

I enjoyed the world created by Varela as well as the characters that people her world. The novel ended on a cliffhanger and at that perfect moment. Now I need to wait for the release of the next in the series – and I am hoping that it is not a long wait. I need to know what happens next!

If you enjoy fantasy and science fiction stories, you will enjoy this one. In addition, it is a queer story with beautiful character development of young people. This is a series that I have every intention of completing.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 88th in my book pledge for 2019)

Frenzy Presents: Brian Francis

Last night I attended a Frenzy Presents event to launch a new release by Brian Francis. Break In Case of Emergency is his first YA novel which deals with mental health issues and the protagonist’s coming of age. I was excited to meet the author and read the words of a novelist I had not read before.

The evening had another attraction for me: I would see my dear friend who lives quite a distance from me. Normally when school is on, we don’t see one another. However, her children’s sports programmes have not yet started so she was able to meet me at the event.

I was enjoying her company so much that I forgot to take pictures! The snacks offered were yummy and the author was so nice to chat to. As the event was held at a restaurant, he came to each table and chatted with us for a while. So pleasant. My only regret was that he could not chat with us for longer! (And that I forgot to take a photo with him!)

Last night was a night to smile. I met an author, chatted with him, received a lovely novel to read, and spent time with my dear friend.

What has made you smile this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2017

(This post was inspired by Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

Book Review: Suggested Reading by Dave Connis

At the Frenzy Presents event at the end of August, I was lucky enough to receive one of the books that I hoped to read: Suggested Reading by Dave Connis.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Publication Date: 17 September 2019

Blurb:

A bookworm finds a way to fight back when her school bans dozens of classic and meaningful books.

Clara Evans is horrified when she discovers her principal’s “prohibited media” hit list. The iconic books on the list have been pulled from the library and aren’t allowed anywhere on the school’s premises. Students caught with the contraband will be sternly punished.

Many of these stories have changed Clara’s life, so she’s not going to sit back and watch while her draconian principal abuses his power. She’s going to strike back.

So Clara starts an underground library in her locker, doing a shady trade in titles like Speak and The Chocolate War. But when one of the books she loves most is connected to a tragedy she never saw coming, Clara’s forced to face her role in it.

Will she be able to make peace with her conflicting feelings, or is fighting for this noble cause too tough for her to bear?

My thoughts:

From the moment I started reading this novel, I knew I would love it. Not only does the story centre on a love of reading and censorship, but it also describes the emotions felt by the reader. Connis describes the reader’s experience when reading a beloved book – and it is perfect! The anticipation, the dread, the emotions. all are described as Clara (the main character) expresses her feelings when completing her current read.

Even today, book censorship can be an issue in some circles. These books are seen to have a negative impact on some readers – forgetting that, instead, these books describe the readers voice perfectly. Other books may have us question our social values, or the trends that can be seen in our environment. Books make us think and, if they are censored, those with the decision-making power intend for readers to think within the box.

Clara Evens fights for the books that she believes are important. She fights for the right to think outside of the box. She fights to read and think freely. While she is fighting the censorship of certain books at her school, she comes to the realisation of certain things about herself and how she was censoring other people’s actions. It was interesting to read how she developed as a person in the story. Just like books open a reader’s mind to ideas; her fight for these books opened her mind to the full persona of the people that she had previously disregarded.

This is definitely a book I would read again as there is so much to think about when enjoying the story. Even though it is described as a Young Adult novel, I believe that even older adults would appreciate both the story and the message. Suggested Reading is a novel that is definitely on my suggested reading list and would be perfect for any book lover!

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

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 87th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

While at the OLA Super Conference, I had a chance to meet the authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. Both Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite were enthusiastic about the novel they had written together and as I opened the first page of the story, I remembered their enthusiasm.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Blurb:

When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime…

You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything?

Actually, a lot.

Thanks to “the incident” (don’t ask), I’m spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a “spring volunteer immersion project.” It’s definitely no vacation. I’m toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own…and to hide a rather devastating secret.

All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks…like flirting with Tati’s distractingly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I’m even exploring my family’s history—which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse.

My thoughts:

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is told through a series of letters, texts, journal entries and emails. The various ways in which the story is told suits the age group of the main character and makes her more accessible to the reader. It also gave me the feeling, as I was reading the novel, that I was ‘in the moment’, learning information at the same time as Alaine.

What I found interesting while reading this story were the titbits I received of Haitian culture. Not knowing much about these island people, I was interested in learning more. Having said that, the references to Haitian culture are subtle and discreetly woven into the story.

I am not too sure about a school agreeing to have a student complete her semester volunteering at an organisation in another country for school credit. The idea, though, is an interesting one – and one that could be beneficial to learning. And Alaine does learn – she learns about her own culture (which children of immigrants often lose), as well as a little bit about herself and her family members. She begins to see her parents through the eyes of the adult she is becoming; and gets to spend some important time with her jet setting mom who is suffering from an illness.

I enjoyed the story as a relaxing and light read. I did not find the novel to be a deep one – though it is a fun read. I look forward to seeing what story the two sister writers will write next.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 83rd in my book pledge for 2019)

Frenzy Presents: Fall 2019

On Sunday after lunch, I headed out to an event that I have always enjoyed in the past – the event for the young adult upcoming releases organised by Harper Collins Canada. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by some of the people who work for the publishing house. At each event, I am always warmly received by our hosts and it certainly encourages me to attend frequently.

Many of the upcoming releases look exciting! The ones that interest me are the fantasy novels and there are many that look promising.:

  1. Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron. This is a high fantasy novel written by a debut author.
  2. Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin. Another debut featuring a French inspired fantasy. Anything French and I am in!
  3. Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth. This is an alternate history fantasy set in 1800s England.
  4. Memory Thief by Laureen Mansy. A romance set in a fantasy world.
  5. The Sky Weaver by Kristen Ciccarelli. This is the third novel in her series.
  6. Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh. A fantasy fiction with similarities to The Amazing Race.
  7. The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco. A fantasy that focuses on climate change.
  8. The End and Other Beginnings by Veronica Roth. A collection of futuristic short stories.

I look forward to seeing what other bloggers and bookstagrammers think of these stories – though I am sure that I will be pre-ordering some of these without their input! There are also a couple of novels that are not fantasy stories that I am interested in reading:

  1. Suggested Reading by Dave Connis. This novel is about a bookworm who fights back when her school censors a number of meaningful books.
  2. Verify by Joelle Charbonneau. The first of the duology centres on information restriction and censorship.
  3. Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen. The main characteer in this romance takes her advice from Jane Austen novels. As an Austen fan myself, this book is a must for me to read!

At the event, we also had the opportunity to hear Jamin Kaur speak and read some of her poetry from her upcoming release When You Ask Me Where I’m Going.

Her poetry is powerfully written and her words gave me chills.

We were each lucky enough to receive a signed ARC of her upcoming release. I look forward to reading her words.

Upon leaving the event, each person who attended was given a swag bag which contained three ARCs of the upcoming releases. When I peeked into mine, I gave an inner squeal of delight when I saw what I had received – a couple of the books were what I had wanted to read.

As always the event had me smiling – during and after. I have placed the books I received on the top of my TBR and will read them in the next few weeks while sipping the tea that was dropped into my swag bag.

What has made you smile this week?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2017

(This post was inspired by Trent’s Weekly Smile, a challenge which focuses on sharing all things positive.)

Book Review: Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

At the Spring Frenzy Presents event that I attended, I received a copy of Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller. I was curious to read the story told in two points of view. In addition, mental health in teens is an issue that should no longer be taboo and I was pleased to see that a teen novel was exploring the subject.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary

Blurb:

A crucial, genre-bending tale, equal parts Ned Vizzini and Patrick Ness, about the life-saving power of friendship.

Solomon and Ash both experienced a traumatic event when they were twelve.

Ash lost all memory of that event when she fell from Solomon’s treehouse. Since then, Solomon has retreated further and further into a world he seems to have created in his own mind. One that insulates him from reality, but crawls with foes and monsters . . . in both animal and human form.

As Solomon slips further into the place he calls Darkside, Ash realizes her only chance to free her best friend from his pain is to recall exactly what happened that day in his backyard and face the truth—together.

My thoughts:

I liked the concept behind the story: that a childhood trauma affects a child’s perception on life. Solomon experiences such trauma and loses himself in a fantasy world of his own making. There were moments, however, when I read of his experience in this fantasy world that I was a bit lost in the story. Miller attempts to create a fantasy world but for me, as an avid fantasy reader, it fell a little flat. In addition, at times the link between Solomon’s fantasy world and the reality was too tenuous. Having said that, midway through the story, the connections between the two seemed more believable.

Ash’s storyline was more interesting to me as she strove to help her friend, and to remember the night that she had blanked out in her mind. Like her friend Solomon, she had found a way to erase the event out of her mind – but in different manner. While searching to help her friend Solomon, she finds a way to help her own mind heal.

What kept me reading the story was my curiosity of the trauma – which is indeed something that would cause a mental breakdown in a child. The suggestion of the trauma is revealed in increments until finally Solomon is able to reveal what happened the night Ash lost her memory. Miller resolves the story with finesse and realism – an ending that I certainly appreciate.

Destroy All Monsters is a much needed story about mental health issues. It is a story about friendship – a friendship that survives even a childhood trauma. Miller tells the story through two points of view – both Solomon and Ash – and at times I was unable to make the connection between Solomon’s created world and the reality that Ash described.

Even though I expected much when I began this story, Miller’s novel did fall a little flat for me as he tried too hard to create a fantasy world. What kept me reading was Ash’s story and my desire to know more about the trauma that they had experienced.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 77th in my book pledge for 2019)