Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Kingdom of the Wicked
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Publication date: October 27, 2020
Pages: 448
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

From the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series comes a new blockbuster series…

Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.


Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost-even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked-princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…


M Y  T H O U G H T S


Nonna Maria has warned Emilia and Vittoria about the seven ruling princes of Hell and how they must stay away from the Malvagi's followers. Descended from a Goddess, through the di Carlos maternal line, Emilia and Vittoria are witches. They are known as the Daughters of the Moon. Their family is one out of 13 witch families in Palermo.

Although Emilia and Vittoria love listening to the stories of Nonna Maria, they don't take her seriously when she tells them not to go out or to be careful. The clashing of two cornicello necklaces long ago has been kept a secret between the twins for about ten years and Nonna tells the girls they must keep the amulets separate at all costs. 

Most of the novel occurs when the twins are 18-years-old. The prologue occurs when they are eight. As the Gates of Hell weaken over time, a prince of Hell emerges when he is summoned through a spell. The seven sins become the seven princes of Hell, each able to travel through different realms. It happens that Wrath travels to Palermo and Emilia becomes bond to him via a crescent moon/snake tattoo. Readers also learn more of the other princes of Hell has Emilia encounters them. 

The Kingdom of the Wicked is written in first person through Emilia's point-of-view. As Nonna tells Emilia to find forgiveness and acceptance into her her heart, Emilia wants to avenge what happened to her sister. Extroverted Vittoria has been hiding secrets from introverted Emilia and Emilia does whatever it takes to find out the truth. 

Kerri Maniscalco transports readers to an enchanting world in Palermo, Italy where witches hide in secret and dangerous demons roam. Maniscalco's intriguing and atmospheric descriptions tantalizes all the senses. Not only is there mystery in the air but I enjoy reading about Emilia's love for food and the family's trattoria, Sea and Vine. If you love fantasy books with descriptions of food, this is the one to pick up. Not only is Kingdom of the Wicked full of magic, witches, demons and food, but a strong family bond is vital.

I find the notion of turning each of the seven sins into a prince of Hell fascinating and creative. The way Maniscalco describes each prince physical descriptions and their actions is perfect! She captured each sin within an entity. However, the dialogue between Wrath and Emilia seems forced at times and sometimes unrealistic.

Although Kingdom of the Wicked is a fantasy novel, Maniscalco infused her Italian heritage and a family restaurant into this novel. It's great to see how her family lives within the pages of the Kingdom of the Wicked and how her family is an inspiration for the creation of the book. I cannot wait to pick up the next book in the series. I highly suggest this novel to readers who enjoy the Caraval trilogy by Stephanie Garber and All that Glitters (Enchantée) by Gita Trelease.
 


"Magic is a living, breathing entity; it thrives on the energy you give it. Like all forces of nature, it is neither good nor bad - it simply becomes based on the user's intent. Feed it love and it blossoms and grows. Nourish it with hate and it will deliver hate back to you tenfold." - Notes from the di Carlo grimoire

"Nightmares didn't last forever. I just had to make it through the night."

Monday, October 5, 2020

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Title:
 Magic Lessons
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: October 6, 2020
Pages: 416
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.

Magic Lessons is a celebration of life and love and a showcase of Alice Hoffman’s masterful storytelling.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Magic Lessons is the prequel we have all been waiting for! Readers finally get a glimpse of Maria Owens's story and how the Owens's curse began. For those who are familiar with Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic, you are in for a treat.

Maria Owens was abandoned as a baby in front of Hannah Owens's home. Hannah is gifted at the Nameless Art and acted as a mentor for Maria as Maria grew during childhood. However, Maria did have a chance to find out who her birth mother and birth father are. Unfortunately, they were not all about raising Maria as a family unit due to a complex situation back in the 1600's. Maria eventually sees the harrowing death of someone she looks up to, gets sold in servitude on a boat to Curaçao, works hard to pay off her debt for freedom as a child, falls in love with a man who lives in Salem, gives birth to a child from said man, tries to locate this man in Salem, only to find out he was using her.

What Maria didn't know was that her daughter's father is actually a well-known man in Salem, MA who is married and has a child. Her heartbreak grows while a curse is a-brewing, as readers are immersed in the world of chaos. When I was reading this novel, I was silently rooting for Maria and Samuel Dias even though I know Maria steadfast in finding Faith's father.

Alice Hoffman has a gift in storytelling. She is able to narrate such a wonderful novel. Hoffman weaves historical fiction and magical realism within Magic Lessons. The pacing is steady and spans many years from when Maria was a baby to her adult years. I did enjoy reading sections where we see Faith's perspective when she flourishes helping others with the Nameless Art. Through hard work, love, regret, revenge and heartbreak, Maria lived a difficult life but she always tried to find the light beneath the darkness. She has escaped death several times. Unfortunately, her curse lives among the Owens's women for centuries to come. 


Monday, August 31, 2020

Hunting November by Adriana Mather

Title: Hunting November
Author: Adriana Mather
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: May 5, 2020
Pages: 368
Source/format: Hardcover//Purchased
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Surviving a few weeks at the world's most lethal boarding school was one thing. But now comes the real test: Can November Adley find her missing father before her enemies find her? Subterfuge is the name of the game in this thrilling sequel to Killing November, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Hang a Witch.

After surviving a crash course in espionage at the mysterious Academy Absconditi, November has only one purpose: finding her missing father. Along with fellow student (and heartthrob) Ash, November follows the clues that her father left, embarking on the deadliest treasure hunt of her life. The first clue is in her hometown, where old friends beckon and unexpected enemies lurk around every corner. The second clue is in Europe, where revelations about her family's history will plunge her into an international web of deception, lies, and intrigue. The third clue is deep in enemy territory, surrounded by the most skilled assassins and master strategists, and where everyone wants her and her father dead. Can one girl with limited training infiltrate a centuries-old organization that is powerful enough to topple empires? November only knows that she'll do whatever it takes to save her father . . . or die trying.


M Y  T H O U G H T S 

Hunting November takes place immediately after the events that occurred in Killing November. November and Ash are on the lookout for November's father and both are granted permission to leave Academy Absconditi. However, the duo must be careful who they interact with and who they trust because the Lions are out to kill them. 

After returning the her hometown, November tries to piece clues together with the help of Ash. Starting her hunt in Connecticut, the duo heads to Edinburgh and London where they meet new faces and reunite with familiar ones. If you've read Killing November, you are in for a treat with reading Hunting November. Although the novel is not set primarily at the boarding school like its previous counterpart, Hunting November is still full of adventure and mystery. Instead of proving herself in front of her classmates, November must outwit the most skilled assassins and strategists of the Strategia.

The pacing of the novel is super fast and there is a lot of action. When I read Hunting November, I am thinking about the cinematography; it truly reads like a movie. The world building of the Strategia world is fantastic while it blends in very well with the modern day normal world. Adriana Mather has elevated the stakes in this novel. Sure, in Killing November, November had to dodge death from a murderer on campus. However, in Hunting November, there is a bounty over several heads and the Lions will not stop until they get what they want. 

November has matured since the start of the first book in the duology. However, the most growth I've seen in a character in the duology is definitely Aayra. She has transformed from from a devious snake to something more complex. She yearns for a true friend and a challenge, which she sees in November. I am also growing more fond of Matteo in this sequel and of course I still love Ash. 

I highly recommend Hunting November and its predecessor for readers who love action, adventure, boarding schools, alliances, betrayal and mystery all rolled in one. Readers will devour this novel if they enjoyed reading the following series: Harry Potter, The Vampire Academy, Bloodlines and/or Stalking Jack the Ripper.


Thursday, July 2, 2020

Unravel the Dusk Blog Tour: Review + Moodboard + Favorite Quotes

Thank you to Caffeine Book Tours for this opportunity to showcase the beautifully written Unravel the Dusk by Elizabeth Lim. Unravel the Dusk is the sequel to Spin the Dawn, which is part of The Blood of Stars duology. If you are looking for an adventurous and fast-paced fantasy, look no further. This is the duology you need to pick up! I included some of my favorite quotes and a moodboard down below. Check out the rest of the #UnravelTheDusk blog tour for mood boards, favorite quotes, creative features, playlists and more!


Title: Unravel the Dusk
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: July 7, 2020
Pages: 368
Source/format: ARC//Giveaway via Elizabeth Lim
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Kobo

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2


Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

The thrilling sequel to SPIN THE DAWN, a magical series steeped in Chinese culture.
Maia Tamarin’s journey to sew the dresses of the sun, the moon and the stars has taken a grievous toll. She returns to a kingdom on the brink of war. The boy she loves is gone, and she is forced to don the dress of the sun and assume the place of the emperor’s bride-to-be to keep the peace.

But the war raging around Maia is nothing compared to the battle within. Ever since she was touched by the demon Bandur, she has been changing . . . glancing in the mirror to see her own eyes glowing red, losing control of her magic, her body, her mind. It’s only a matter of time before Maia loses herself completely, but she will stop at nothing to find Edan, protect her family, and bring lasting peace to her country.

YA fantasy readers will love the sizzling forbidden romance, mystery, and intrigue of UNRAVEL THE DUSK.

FAVORITE QUOTES AND MOODBOARD

"We were like the sun and moon, sharing the same stars and the same sky."

"If dying is this beautiful, then I wish I were a tree too. I'd be happy to die and be reborn in the spring."

"Plum blossoms are the first flowers to bud after winter," I remembered. "They're a symbol of hope and purity."..."And new beginnings," Edan said quietly.


Images from Pexels.com and Unsplash.com


ABOUT ELIZABETH LIM

Elizabeth Lim grew up on a hearty staple of fairy tales, myths, and songs. Her passion for storytelling began around age 10, when she started writing fanfics for Sailor Moon, Sweet Valley, and Star Wars, and posted them online to discover, "Wow, people actually read my stuff. And that's kinda cool!" But after one of her teachers told her she had "too much voice" in her essays, Elizabeth took a break from creative writing to focus on not flunking English.

Over the years, Elizabeth became a film and video game composer, and even went so far as to get a doctorate in music composition. But she always missed writing, and turned to penning stories when she needed a breather from grad school. One day, she decided to write and finish a novel -- for kicks, at first, then things became serious -- and she hasn't looked back since.

Elizabeth loves classic film scores, books with a good romance, food (she currently has a soft spot for arepas and Ethiopian food), the color turquoise, overcast skies, English muffins, cycling, and baking. She lives in New York City with her husband.

WebsiteFacebook | Twitter | Instagram 


MY REVIEW

Unravel the Dusk is the sequel to Spin the Dawn. After Maia Tamarin completed Lady Sarnai's last tailoring request of sewing the dresses of Amana, Maia has unlocked a new version of herself that she did not know she would find. And no, it's not the Imperial Tailor position but something more powerful yet deadly. Not only does everyone know that she is not Keton Tamarin but she is battling a demon within her.

With Edan in hiding and Lady Sarnai unwell, Maia is A'landi's only hope for peace. However, things don't go as planned with the wedding and two kingdoms are at war. Although the love story between Edan and Maia is not as prevalent in this installment of The Blood of Stars duology, their bond is still strong. Readers do not encounter Edan in the flesh until the second half of the novel. Edan's and Maia's love for each other never wavers. Maia, however, becomes closer to Ammi. The female friendship between Maia and Ammi blossomed slowly and is an excellent addition to the novel. As Maia's only female companion, Ammi is able to help Maia in many ways that contrasts to Maia's other relationships. But Maia is worried that the demon within her will harm Ammi.

Unravel the Dusk emits a darker tone compared to Spin the Dawn. While the predecessor is a mask of wonders, Unravel the Dusk shows the true colors of humanity and what everyone is capable of. We see the character development of multiple characters. We see how vulnerable yet powerful Lady Sarnai is. She is a multi-faceted character that I would love to read a companion novel about. Readers see how Ammi forgives Maia even though it took a while for Ammi to regain trust between the two ladies. Seeing Maia with her family is heartfelt and warming. Readers can see how they care for each other deeply no matter what.

Of course, Maia shows the most development of all. She has changed a lot compared to when she was working in her father's shop to competing in the competition to become the Imperial Tailor to even crafting the dresses of Amana. However, the most important test of character is how she handles the demon within her. Every day passes by and the demon inside her grows stronger. Maia fights the fire inside consistently even though demons and ghosts beckon her name to return to the Forgotten Isles of Lapzur. Can Maia overcome the demon and gain control or does she embrace the demon within? The more magic she uses, the harder it is to resist the call of darkness. The war and chaos in the novel parallel with how Maia is at war with herself. She is trying her hardest to overcome the demon's desires of destruction.

Elizabeth Lim expands on the already fantastic world-building that was set in Spin the Dawn. The map included in both Spin the Dawn and in Unravel the Dusk helps readers understand where everything is located in correlation to one another. Lim's expansive details of each landmark are memorable in both novels. Unravel the Dusk is divided into three sections, one for each dress of Amana. This is important regarding how Maia unleashes the power of each dress and unlocks their true potential.

Unravel the Dusk is enrapturing and picks up a notch in The Blood of the Stars duology. Join Maia on a journey where she fights the demons within her and still stays true to herself. Warning, there is human possession in this novel.

There is still time to pre-order this Unravel the Dusk! Check out this pre-order incentive as well!

GIVEAWAY

Check out this awesome giveaway. The giveaway ends on July 7th (Philippine Standard Time). Nicole's Novel Reads is not responsible for books lost or damaged in the mail. Good luck!



BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Check out  Caffeine Book Tours for links to each blog.




Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Girl, Serpent, Thorn Blog Tour

Thank you to Flatiron Books for inviting me to be part of this amazing blog tour! If you are looking for a beautifully written fairytale that defies the typical tropes, read further for more information regarding Girl, Serpent, Thorn. This is a story that will change how you view fairytales and for good reasons.



Title: Girl, Serpent, Thorn
Author: Melissa Barshardoust
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: July 7, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Kobo

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis:

There was and there was not... So begins Melissa Bashardoust’s utterly transporting new YA novel, GIRL, SERPENT, THORN (Flatiron Books; on sale July 7th, 2020; Ages 12-18). In this richly imagined fairytale, Bashardoust puts a modern spin on the Shahnameh, a Persian epic with parallels to “Rapunzel,” and draws inspiration from other classic stories like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” The result is a captivating coming-of-age novel filled with princesses, demons, and fairies—a tale that is at once thrillingly fantastical and deeply human.

In the vast kingdom of Atashar, a young princess lives a hidden life. Cursed from birth with a deadly touch, 18- year-old Soraya finds herself forever confined to her chambers, shrouded from the eyes of the public and forced to keep her distance from friends and family alike. Her sole comfort is her private garden of roses and thorns, the only living things that don’t wither at her touch. But with each passing year, Soraya has grown more isolated and increasingly tormented by dreams of the Shahmar, a young man whose anger and dark desires twisted him into a demon...and with poison, loneliness, and resentment flowing through her veins, Soraya worries that perhaps she, too, is more monster than princess.

As Atashar prepares for the wedding of her twin brother, Sorush—the heir to the family throne and the sun to her shade—Soraya is presented with an opportunity to speak with a captured div, one of the demons who may hold the secret to breaking her curse. The div, Parvaneh, is not at all what Soraya expects: Beautiful, mysterious, and intriguing, Parvaneh seems more than willing to aid Soraya in her quest...for a price. Now, after a life lived in the shadows, Soraya must decide whether she’s finally ready to step into the light and determine her own destiny. Together with the dashing soldier, Azad—the only person, besides Parvaneh, who isn’t afraid to stand too close to her—Soraya sets off on a journey that will force her to confront her greatest powers, her deepest desires, and her most frightening vulnerabilities.

With exhilarating narrative turns and an unforgettable heroine at its center, GIRL, SERPENT, THORN is a brilliantly told story of family, self-discovery, and love in all its forms.

Praise for GIRL, SERPENT, THORN

With crystalline, sometimes sensuous prose, [Bashardoust] digs into her characters' motivations and manipulations, deftly keeping readers on the hook until the final, stunning turn." — Booklist starred review

“Surefire for...readers fond of princesses capable of embracing actual demons as well as the inner sort.” — School Library Journal starred review

“Bashardoust’s exceptional attention to folktale structure and Soraya’s hard-won acceptance of herself make for a lyrical, inspiring read.”— Publishers Weekly

“An alluring feminist fairy tale.” — Kirkus

“Girl, Serpent, Thorn is YA literature at its best.”— BookPage

“Gorgeously written and quietly powerful...an enthralling tale of family, monsters, and the things we do for love.” —S. A. Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass

“A deliciously lush fairy tale of a novel. I was swept away by Bashardoust’s prose and found myself losing track of time as I read, turning every page, sinking into her magnificent world, wishing it would never end. At its heart, it’s a book about a girl who may be monstrous claiming her own power, filled with twists and a fascinating queer romance that stole my own heart.” — Patrice Caldwell, editor of A Phoenix First Must Burn

“The queer, good-monster book of my dreams.” — E.K. Johnston, author of Star Wars Queen’s Shadow

ABOUT MELISSA BARDSHARDOUST

Melissa Bashardoust received her degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, where she rediscovered her love for creative writing, children’s literature, and fairytales and their retellings. She lives in Southern California with a cat named Alice and more copies of Jane Eyre than she probably needs. Melissa is also the author of Girls Made of Snow and Glass.

MY REVIEW

Girl, Serpent, Thorn opens up with a story within a story. The story told as the opener is actually a true story that a mother tells her firstborn daughter, Soraya. Cursed, Soraya harbors a poisonous touch that kills any living being and thus is isolated in the shadows from others. The royal family is preparing for the wedding of the young shah next month. The shah is actually Soraya's twin brother, Sorush. As twins, Sorush is known as the Creator, one born of hope, and Soraya is known as the Destroyer, one born of doubt.

As Sorush gets ready to marry childhood friend Laleh, Soraya feels even more abandoned. Soraya is desperate to find more about her curse. However, the only being she thinks can help her is someone who was captured and is held as a prisoner in the palace. Melissa Bashardoust introduces readers to a world where not only Soraya's secret is hidden behind walls but Soraya finds love with someone unexpected. With a guard's help, Soraya is able to blend within the people and is able to navigate the world.

The world-building opens up new frames of mind. There are new places among Atashar to explore and new beings to meet. The characters we meet in the Girl, Serpent, Thorn are characters you want to get to know better. Some of them, you would like to befriend. While each character may have different intentions, many want to help Soraya. However, when Soraya finds a way to extinguish her curse, she will need to decide whether it's worth it to risk others' lives. Throughout the novel, Soraya learns self-acceptance and self-worth. Things may not seem as they appear and many characters possess secrets that can be deadly. Join the journey of family, loyalty, and betrayal. Immerse yourself in a world where the divs and humans hold secrets that can literally kill.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is a captivating character-driven novel where there are many unexpected twists and turns. The novel is a wonderful, unique fairytale woven with Persian elements and Zoroastrian beliefs where love interests and character's paths are not so obvious. As Soraya battles between good and evil, she paves her own path and it's up to her to decide whether to be a princess or the monster that some people see her as. She becomes somewhat of an anti-heroine in her own story. Soraya is a strong woman. She is curious. She is headstrong. And she seeks knowledge. She has a weapon that wields such power but what type of woman does Soraya want to be? Will she betray her own family so she can lift the curse? To read more about Soraya's story, pick up Girl, Serpent, Thorn.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Title: Spin the Dawn
Author: Elizabeth Lim
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: July 9, 2019
Pages: 392
Source/format: Hardcover//Purchased
Rating: ☆☆☆
Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she'll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There's just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia's task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor's reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh

M Y  T H O U G H T S

"A Tailor's worth is not measured by his fame, but by the happiness he brings." Spin the Dawn, pg 7

Spin the Dawn is the first book in The Blood of Stars duology. Maia Tamarin was born to become a tailor with a needle in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. She follows the footsteps of her father who is also a tailor. Hailing from Gangsun, Maia wishes to become a master tailor yet tailors in Maia's world can only be male. Women can become seamstresses but not tailors. However, Maia seizes the opportunity to pursue her dreams in the disguise of a boy to compete to become the Imperial Tailor.

After the death of her mother, Maia's father struggled to continue tailoring as he used to. No longer is his sewing the same quality as before and Maia helps as much as possible to keep the shop going. After moving to the coastal town of Port Kamalan, loss has fallen upon her through her brothers.

Maia perseveres through the imperial tailoring challenges appeasing Lady Sarnai. However, Lady Sarnai asks for an almost impossible task that can cost Maia's life. Readers can expect the competition to be fierce and there is a lot of backstabbing and sabotage among the tailors. Things get complicated when enchanter Edan is made known to Maia. Magic is something that Maia once never believed in but she has a change of heart when she arrived at the palace and she learns she can wield a small amount of magic through a pair of scissors. However, Lady Sarnai despises magic while Emperor Khanujin relies on Edan's expertise. Elizabeth Lim weaves her own version of Jinn into Spin the Dawn which works well.

Although Maia is headstrong, her heart is in a good place. She wants to let everyone know that women can do the same things that men can do. She wants to help provide for her family. Edan, on the other hand, is mysterious. We don't know too much about his background or his past. He gravitates toward Maia and provides great wisdom. He is her helping hand despite how much Maia pushes him away. Fate entangles them in the long run and they grow to appreciate each other more. One can see that they grow very fond of each other.

Spin the Dawn has something for everyone. Whether people love reading about the competition or the journey to create three dresses of Amana, readers will enjoy the expedition and possibly the romance in the novel.

Lim created a mesmerizing Asian inspired fantasy world that fans of Mulan and folklore will adore. If you enjoy reading novels such as Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan and Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, I highly suggest picking up Spin the Dawn.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: May 19, 2020
Pages: 517
Source/format: Hardcover//Purchased
Rating: ☆☆☆
Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Ambition will fuel him.
Competition will drive him.
But power has its price.


It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.

The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined—every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

M Y  T H O U G H T S 

About one decade later, Suzanne Collins releases the prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy. And this prequel, The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes, is about President Coriolanus Snow when he was a teenager living in the Capitol. Yes, it may be hard to pity or sympathize with the cruel and cold tyrant but it's important to understand how he becomes the Snow he is in Katniss's world. The novel gives us much insight into how society and the environment shaped him to become President Snow.

It is interesting to read how much Snow suffered despite him living in the Capitol. However, unlike many of the Capitol citizens, his family is poor after losing their wealth during the war. With his parents gone, he becomes an orphan. He lives with his grandmother and with his cousin, Tigris. While trying to maintain the family status, becoming a mentor in The Hunger Games is his only opportunity to go to university. The winning tribute's mentor will receive the grand cash prize!

Snow is cunning, manipulative and can be cold at some times but The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes shows that Snow once had love in his heart. The only thing he had left to win people over was his charm. Over the years, his heart shriveled and blackened as he put himself over others. He is quite the Slytherin and will do anything to succeed. Perhaps what he endured during his time mentoring the games has changed him. The Capitol not only pits against the people of the districts but it also pits against the people of the Capitol. Dr. Gaul, who is the Gamemaker for the 10th Hunger Games, plays with the hearts and minds of tributes as well as with the mentors. She conducts tests regarding nature vs. nurture and it's quite disturbing.

There are a lot of parallels that I find captivating within the prequel and also The Hunger Games trilogy which contribute to the history of the Capitol and the origin of the games. This novel might not be for everyone but I highly suggest it if you would like to read more about the context of The Hunger Games and the life of Snow. If you enjoy reading or learning more about the villains of books and movies, pick up The Ballard of Songbird and Snakes when you have a chance. Find out where Snow's loyalties lie.


Warning, spoilers will be mentioned for the rest of the review. Please do not read further if you have not read the book.



As part of a project before graduating from the Academy, Snow becomes a mentor to one of the tributes in the 10th Hunger Games. And you guessed it that Snow became the mentor to no other than the girl tribute of District 12, who goes by Lucy Gray Baird. Snow actually gives Lucy Gray a white rose when he first meets her. We find out how meaningful the white rose is. Snow always had the white rose with him in The Hunger Games trilogy. This is symbolic and not the only way to disguise the smell reeking from his mouth after he poisons people. In fact, his family grew lots of roses when he was younger. Also, he poisons others to make sure no one gets ahead of him. Sounds much like how he gave his mother's compact to Lucy Gray and Lucy Gray hid rat poison in it to kill some tributes quite quickly. This is very similar to how Katniss and Peeta planned to commit double suicide with poisonous nightlock berries. Poison is a reoccurring theme within the series.

The Hunger Games' rules were not the same as the ones we know of today. Yes, there are 24 tributes for the 12 districts but the rules with the drones, sponsors, scoreboard, etc were not created prior to Snow's presence in the games. Snow and his classmates were the ones who came up with these great ideas. These ideas are what kept the games running and having people staying engaged to watch the games.

So Lucy Gray Baird and Katniss Everdeen are both from the Seam but they are very different. Lucy Gray is part of the Covey, which is a group of musicians who travels around place to place. They just happened to be stuck in District 12 at the time around war and post-war. In fact Lucy Gray sings The Hanging Tree song after an incident with a District 12 Man accidentally kills three. Do you remember that song that Katniss sings? Yes, we finally find out the origins of this song! While Katniss can be unlikable, Lucy Gray is the opposite. Everyone loves Lucy Gray! With Lucy Gray's singing and personality, she shines! However, Lucy Gray is witty and resourceful like Katniss. They take advantage of what they have in order to survive. Their knowledge and resources help them in the games. Their main priority is to stay alive while hiding. They waited for the other tributes to kill each other off before they had to kill.

Although The Ballard of Songbird and Snakes isn't The Hunger Games, the novel is a good origin story about The Hunger Games and it sheds more light on Snow's past which helps with his character development bridging from the 10th Hunger Games to the 74th/75th Hunger Games.