Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Abbreviations #87: Ballet Shoes, Next Year in Havana + Again the Magic

Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are three little girls who were adopted (under different circumstances) by a man who loves to travel and is interested in collecting all sorts of fossils. Under the guardianship of the man’s great-niece Sylvia and the care of their Nana, the three girls flourish. But as they get older, the money for provisions is slowly beginning to run out. This means a lot is going to change for the Fossils… including the arrival of new boarders to share their home and their enrollment into a school of acting and dancing in order to learn and eventually get theater work when they’re old enough.

I’ll be the first to admit that this was a total cover buy for me after seeing it at Books of Wonder one day. But I’m happy to be able to say that Ballet Shoes turned out to be just as lovely a tale as its cover would suggest! I started reading it on a whim, but it was all too easy to get hooked on this book. It’s a tale of three very different sisters who love each other, their family and their home and will do what they can to help preserve their situation… even if it means having to sacrifice to make things happen. The plot is as straightforward as I’ve described it, and while it was very good, it was really the characters that made this one a great reading experience for me. I really liked all three girls a lot – Pauline, the eldest who feels responsible for the rest and who can inhabit any character onstage like she was born to do it, Petrova, who often escapes into a book or to a garage to work with cars, and Posy, the youngest who has dancing in her blood. And their support system – at home and at school – consists of secondary characters who come to life off the page too. I had a wonderful time devouring Ballet Shoes from start to finish, and I can genuinely see why it’s considered a classic. Looking forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future!

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild | Series: Shoes #1 | Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers | Publication Date: November 6, 2018 (first published 1936) | Source: Owned the hardcover

After her beloved grandmother Elisa dies, Marisol travels to Cuba in order to fulfill her grandmother’s last wish: to have her ashes scattered in the country of her birth. Cleverly weaving together Marisol’s experience in present day Cuba as a first-time visitor eager to learn more about her roots and witnessing the fallout after the Cuban revolution and her grandmother Elisa’s experience embroiled in the political unrest of her country when she falls in love with a revolutionary, Next Year in Havana is the story of two incredible women as they bear their circumstances with extraordinary passion and strength.

I picked up Next Year in Havana after Rachel gave it a rave review. I’m so glad she encouraged me to add this one to my TBR, because it’s very, very good. As you may surmise from the summary, Next Year in Havana offers readers perspective when it comes to Cuba (in the past and present). The way Cleeton accomplishes this feat is exceptionally clever, in my opinion. She uses her fictional characters as the observers and the mouthpiece for narrating this story, which makes it seem even more personal to the reader regardless of whether they have a direct tie to Cuba. And it also really helps that her characters are vibrant and passionate, coming to life off the page as you come to care about who they are and what circumstances they face. My only reservation? It took me nearly ten chapters before I felt myself clicking with the characters and their story, which is a little longer than I’d have liked it to be. But overall, Next Year in Havana was a well-written, compelling book, and I’m glad I read it! 

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton | Publisher: Berkley | Publication Date: February 6, 2018 | Source: Purchased the paperback

Aline and McKenna grew up together, and it seemed inevitable that they would fall in love. But with their circumstances being vastly different – McKenna a mere stable boy, while Aline is the eldest daughter of a wealthy family of the peerage – Aline’s father eventually demands their separation. Aline hasn’t seen McKenna or heard from him in years, so it comes as a complete surprise when he returns to the estate as an accomplished business partner to an American. But McKenna appears to be hellbent on making Aline suffer the way he did when things fell apart. Will they be able to work out their differences and give their romance a second chance?

I finally picked up the ‘prequel’ to the rest of the Wallflowers series, which centers primarily around Aline (who is sister to Marcus, the love interest in It Happened One Autumn) and her second chance romance with her first and only love, John McKenna. It was cute, though I wouldn’t consider it a necessary addition to the series, nor do I feel like it has an equivalent level of charm to the main four titles. I did like that Aline and her younger sister Livia were fiercely independent, determined to do the best they could with what they had and that they had more modern sensibilities in some ways. And seeing all three siblings (Aline, Livia and Marcus) together was a delight! It was also hard not to find myself swept up in the tumultuous emotions that this romance brought on. What did decrease my level of enjoyment was my frustration over certain aspects of the story, from the miscommunication and deception that plagued the main romance (which I don’t normally mind, but this felt like a little too much) to the speed and lack of proper build-up for the secondary romance. It was incredibly frustrating, and certain a little eye-roll worthy at times… but I still ended up devouring this story quickly. So, would I recommend reading this one? If you feel like ‘completing’ the series, then yes, do pick it up. Otherwise, I’d still recommend checking out other Kleypas titles over this one.

Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas | Series: Wallflowers #0.5 | Other Books in the Series: Secrets of a Summer Night, It Happened One Autumn, Devil in Winter, Scandal in Spring, A Wallflower Christmas | Publisher: Avon | Publication Date: January 1, 2004 | Source: Paperback gifted by Hannah

Monday, April 15, 2019

Abbreviations #86: Roar, A Crown of Wishes + Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Aurora Pavan has been groomed to be the next Stormling queen, perfect for the role in all ways except one: she has none of the magic she’ll need to keep her people safe. To protect her secret and the crown, Aurora’s mother has arranged for her to marry a powerful Stormling prince. Cassius appears to be the solution to all her problems, but Aurora soon finds that he’s keeping secrets of his own. When spying on her betrothed leads to her discovery of a black market dedicated to storm magic and the storm hunters who claim the power of storms for their own, Aurora realizes that there may be a way to gain the magic she needs in order to rule in her own right. But first, she’ll have to learn how to hunt a storm…

It’s always so satisfying to enjoy a book that you were told would be a perfect fit for you as a reader, and that’s exactly what happened with Roar. It’s a novel with so many elements that I find personally appealing: elemental magic, a capable princess who is determined to do whatever it takes to achieve her goals, a broody and manipulative prince who is pulling the strings to make things go his way, a group of storm hunters who form a found family filled with a variety of personalities, a journey-quest to discovery of important knowledge about the world and about one’s self. It’s no surprise that I really enjoyed reading this one! Carmack did an excellent job juggling the characters (and their personal development and relationships) and the plot (the main one and the subplots), and her narrative style is incredibly accessible and easy to read. But what I think fascinated me the most about this story was the set-up of the magic system, as it felt unique to most elemental magic tales that I’ve read in the past. I can’t stop thinking about how clever it is, and I’m certainly looking forward to learning more about it! Even though she employs recognizable fantasy tropes and veers into dialogue and description in a way that occasionally feels a bit contrived or corny, I still think that Carmack did a great job with her first venture into YA fantasy. I’m a Roar fan, and I’m looking forward to diving into Rage when it comes out later this year.

Roar by Cora Carmack | Series: Stormheart #1 | Publisher: Tor Teen | Publication Date: June 13, 2017 | Source: Paperback gifted by DJ (Thank you!)

Vikram, the Fox Prince, is determined to win the Tournament of Wishes in order to secure a wish that will secure his place as heir to his kingdom instead of the puppet ruler the council wants him to be. He needs to have a partner for this competition, and with the information he’s been given, Gauri, the Jewel of Bharata, a princess who loves her country fiercely and can handle herself well in court and in combat, fits the bill. The two of them must venture into the mythical world of Alaka to participate in this competition and will need to work together to overcome all the obstacles they face. But will they win it all in the end?

I was hesitant to pick up A Crown of Wishes because, though I liked The Star-Touched Queen, I didn’t end up loving it as much as I expected to. But DJ recommended that I read this book, put a finished copy in my hands and picked it for me to read as my “book picked by a friend” for March this year – and I’m truly glad he did. I adored A Crown of Wishes, and I’m glad I didn’t miss out on reading this one. There are just a lot of things that I truly liked about this book! First, I live for a tournament set-up and a journey-quest set-up, and I get both of those things in one story. Second, the descriptions were still done in a way that made them vividly pop off the page and into my mind but didn’t feel overly flowery the way that the ones in the previous book did. Third, there’s a lot more humor in this story than I expected, and I love when that happens (especially when it manifests in the form of banter). And fourth, and best of all, I really liked both main characters a lot. Vikram reminds me a little bit of Nikolai from the Grishaverse – charming, clever and cunning about working towards his goal. But my heart really belongs to Gauri, who is just the sort of female lead I adore – ferociously independent, incredibly passionate about what she loves, fully capable of wielding both her looks and her weapons with skill and still so vulnerable in a lot of ways. I really enjoyed their story and would certainly highly recommend checking this one out (even if you felt only lukewarm about its predecessor)!

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi | Series: The Star-Touched Queen #2 | Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin | Publication Date: March 28, 2017 | Source: Hardcover gifted by DJ (Thank you!)

Bailey Chen has been working at the Nightshade Lounge while she struggles to find a job that will put her college degree to good use. Owned by her best friend Zane’s family, the Nightshade Lounge is more than meets the eye – it’s a front for bartenders who fight demons and monsters using cocktail recipes that give them an advantage in a fight, one bar among the many who are part of this secret world. It’ll be up to Bailey and the rest of these mixologists to figure out who is behind the string of recent gruesome deaths in Chicago before it’s too late.

If I were to rate Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge based on sheer enjoyment, I’d be inclined to give it a more favorable one because I thought it was a fun read! In many ways, this story shared the vibes that shows on the CW/WB give me – entertaining and compelling, even when it gets to be just a touch unbelievable and over the top with the drama. It was fun to read about Bailey trying to piece things together, both with regards to her life and the murders, and it kept me reading once I’d started. But what really piqued my interest was the author’s use of cocktails and alcohol variants as the magic system. I thought it was refreshing to see a new twist to the idea of potions in a modern-day setting, and I fully appreciated the inclusion of cocktail recipes (and historical details pertaining to their ingredients) from the “handbook” in the novel. Unfortunately, this novel lacked development beyond the surface level with regards to the characters and relationships. It also felt like there was a lot of lull time where nothing happened in the first two-thirds of this novel; on the other hand, the last third felt rushed because things were happening all at once. Still, despite erratic pacing and shallow development, I found it pretty fun (and quick) to read!

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger | Publisher: Quirk Books | Publication Date: June 7, 2016 | Source: E-book borrowed from the library

Friday, April 12, 2019

Book Haul: March 2019

I've been exclusively doing book hauls on our channel for the past couple of years, but I recently decided that I should start sharing them here on the blog again as well. I'm always excited about getting book mail, whether it's my own purchases or the exciting things that I get from the lovely folk at a variety of publishing houses. Without any more introduction, since we've got plenty to talk about, here's my March book haul! (*All review copies mentioned in this post were provided by the specified publisher for free for feature and potential review.)

Purchased & Gifted
from Heidi, who found herself in possession of a bunch of foreign editions of Harry Potter novels that she didn't have plans to keep: Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal, Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, Harry Potter a L'ecole des Sorcieres + three more editions
from DJ: the OwlCrate edition of Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith | I was lucky enough to attend the launch event for this novel, which was a real treat after I fell head over heels in love with it when I read a review copy earlier this year!
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab | I read this one and really enjoyed it years ago, so it made my heart happy to see there was going to be a redesign and rerelease for this title. Can't wait to reread it later this year!
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman | I'm dying to read this one before the show is released on Amazon Prime at the end of May, and I figured it would also make a great souvenir from my first visit to Kramerbooks.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta | I've been really interested in this one since I first heard about it, and couldn't resist picking up a copy of my own when I visit Book Culture LIC for the first time.

For Review
Penguin Teen: Wicked Fox by Kat Cho

Digital Purchases & Review Books


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