Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Heart of Ash by Kim Liggett

Title: Heart of Ash
Author: Kim Liggett
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 20, 2018
Pages: 288
Source/format: Hardcover from publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆ 

Synopsis (from goodreads.com): Ash may have escaped the immortal-worshipping cult that killed her mother, but the love of her life is still under its thrall. Dane has been possessed by his diabolical ancestor Coronado, a man who's fabulously wealthy, dripping with fame, and the leader of Europe's most dangerous immortal network. Dane begs Ash to join him at Coronado's castle in Spain, and swears that his blood bond with Ash is stronger than Coronado's hold over him. Ash is desperate to help Dane vanquish Coronado without having to sacrifice herself to the darkness. But when you're all in, blood and salt, the only way to hold on to the light might just be by setting everything on fire.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

"We're like a dissonant chord in the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, begging for resolution. As long as we're apart, there will never be peace in the world...harmony." - pg 41 of Heart of Ash

Ash Larkin barely survived a year ago when she was caught in the crossroads of a cult's curse and tradition. Through her mother's sacrifice, she lived and evaded Katia's wrath but is is now an immortal. But because without darkness there can be no light, Ash's twin brother's blood can kill while her's can heal. In a star-crossed lover's story, she is drawn to Dane but Dane is possessed by the evil Coronado. Ash needs to find her brother Rhys before he is found by the Arcanum Council.

Kim Liggett starts the novel off strong with her vivid descriptions. Although readers are transported back to New York and Spain instead of Kansas, Liggett draws in the reader with intrigue. Ash tries to see the good in Dane and tries to believe that he is ultimately trying to fight off Coronado's grasp over him. However, Dane connections is the closest she has to finding Rhys.

Beth and Timmons have been very supportive of Ash during good and tough times. Timmons is always helpful and promises to take care of Ash and Rhys. Beth is Ash's friend who will do anything to be there for Ash. Dane seems like he wants to help Ash but Ash is suspicious of his true intentions.

Heart of Ash is more of a mystery Ash and Dane are trying to investigate. While trying to win over a strong group of immortals and convincing them they are Katia and Coronado, Ash and Dane need to be careful since there might be a traitor amongst them trying to get them killed.

Heart of Ash is everything I want to see in an atmospheric, twisty, paranormal plot line. With its compelling words, the tinge of darkness and the banter between Ash and Dane, it keeps you wanting more. I highly suggest this novel as well as the predecessor, Blood and Salt, to readers who love The Vampire Diaries TV series as well at Kerri Maniscalco's Stalking Jack the Ripper series.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Novel Notes: I'm Finally Starting to Heal

It's been a month since I've moved away from a toxic environment where it was consuming my life. Ever since 2016, my life has changed and it for the worst. My quality of life has plummeted. I was no longer sleeping well, my appetite was all over the place and my anxiety started increasing to the point that I had panic attacks. I would be crying multiple times a week and I wasn't happy with my life. It was affecting the relationships I had with people as well.

I was trying to get out of the situation in the fall of 2016 and no avail. Things were a little bit better for a few months of the winter but then everything got swept into a whirlwind for most of 2017. The fall of 2017 was the absolute worst. I almost hit rock bottom but I was strong enough to find a way out! I needed this! Not just for me, but for people who have seen me be defeated. One wound was opened in 2016 and before it was able to heal, I was striked again and again in 2017. Enough is enough and with hard work and new changes happening, I knew that I needed to change things for 2018.

I was able to officially leave the toxic environment during the beginning of January. 2018 is a year of change! Last November my fiancé and I were officially engaged and we plan to wed later this fall! I am looking forward to a year of possibilities and opportunities that will last a lifetime. It's been a month since I moved forward and I am completely happy with my decision. My quality of life has improved. I feel like a new person. I feel empowered! I finally have a sense of peace.

During these couple of years, I've noticed that my blogging was sporadic. Because I am at a better place right now, I am hoping to create more of a schedule for Nicole's Novel Reads. I am ready to reinvent myself!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones

Title: Shadowsong
Author: S. Jae-Jones 
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 384
Source/format: e-ARC from publisher

Rating: ☆☆☆☆ 

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.

When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands?

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Shadowsong is a wonderful sequel to Wintersong. With S. Jae-Jones's lyrical writing, it brings music to my ears. Don't be fooled by the slow pace of this book. Savor it as long as you can. Expanding on the last installment, Wintersong delves into more soul searching via a musical career. Liesl is distraught that she doesn't hear from Josef but she heads to Vienna in search of Josef with Käthe after Josef's master has passed away.

Shadowsong is a novel focusing on building a stronger sibling relationship. The novel is more Liesl centric and doesn't have that seductive dance with the Goblin King as in Wintersong. However, readers learn more about the Goblin King's history and his true name! Also, most of the novel is set above ground compared to its predecessor.

S. Jae-Jones includes hand written letters within Shadowsong just like in Wintersong. It adds that personal touch to the novel. She has honed in on a more character driven plot line and ties the duology well with the revisiting of the Goblin King. However, I felt more drawn to Wintersong than Shadowsong only due to the fact that I love reading about the Goblin King.

This dark fantasy is definitely one to be picked up. Just as a fair warning, there are some topics about addiction, reckless behavior, self-harm and suicidal thoughts within this book that might trigger some people. Jae-Jones includes an author's note about it to warn readers. Shadowsong has a deeper focus on mental health and how it affects the characters within the book.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

Title: By a Charm and a Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 300
Source/format: Publisher//e-ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Emmaline King calls Claremore, Oklahoma a circle of hell but for reasons most people don't know about. Her mother abandoned her and her brothers for a year with her father in order to pursue an investigation in Guatemala. Le Grand's Carnival Fantastic visits the outskirts of Claremore and Emma is thrilled to explore the carnival.

Before Emma gets to know Benjamin Singer, she is tricked and is cursed at the carnival. In order for the carnival performers to be charmed with their unnaturally lucky existence, one person is the center of the charm and is ultimately the curse that holds everyone together. The curse lives in the person and that person becomes the Boy in the Box or the Girl in the Box. The charm protects the carnival until recently. Something has changed and the charm is wearing off. People are falling and accidents are occurring. But why?

Jaime Questell writes characters that are vibrant and full of life. Each are unique in their special way.  Although many are sad about Emma's circumstances, the carnival performers and employees do whatever it takes to make Emma feel at home. I love reading about the traveling carnival. Readers don't just experience the magic of the acts but they also experience the grittiness of the lives of the carnival employees.

The novel alternates chapters in the POVs of Emma and Ben. Due to the length of the book, I feel like the character development wasn't fully fleshed out. I have to say that I enjoyed reading about Sidney. Readers get to know more about Sidney's history and his life in a small period of time compared to Emma and some of the other characters. I found it fascinating to learn more about the origins of the the charm and curse. However, I found the ending to be fairly rushed. It was predictable and I wanted read more about everyone's outcomes.

Readers who want to be entranced by the magic of a carnival will enjoy reading By a Charm and a Curse. A bit of romance and bit of intrigue will make this novel a quick, pleasant read.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 320
Source/format: Publisher//ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT and she has a crush on Darren Takahashi. Because of her parents strict rules for Mei, they disapprove Darren. Her parents want her to graduate MIT and go to medical school to become a doctor. The thing is, Mei has germophobia. In the meantime, she is expected to meet a MIT Taiwanese guy and eventually get married and have kids with the parent approved guy. Mei wants to break way from her stereotypical family and do what makes her happy.

I am glad Mei was able to find her way to express herself through dance. Even though her parents took away dance classes after Mei got accepted to MIT, Mei was still able to teach dance to Chinese adopted children. Even though I haven't been raised by stereotypical Chinese parents, I can connect with Mei and dance. When my parents presented me the choice of taking Chinese language classes or Chinese dance classes, I opted to take Chinese dance classes. I was lucky to have options in my life and I wasn't forced into anything. However, my grandmother always hoped that I would attend MIT or Harvard to become a doctor or a lawyer. I hope other readers will related to Mei in American Panda as well. How does one live a life balancing cultural and traditional expectations with American values?

I am ecstatic Mei was able to reconnect with her other brother, Xing, and realizes that she can pave her own path in life. I am surprised how overbearing her parents are, especially her mother. Mei's mom would call her day and night. Her parents meet her at a Taiwanese restaurant to check in with her every week. No wonder Mei wants to break away from her parents and wants to call the shots to her own life.

Mei is a likable character. She is funny, sincere and thoughtful. Gloria Chao penned a honest journey through the eyes of Mei and how Mei manages to delve into her passions and her happiness. Darren cares about what Mei thinks and how she feels about things. Even though Mei's parents want a certain life for her, Darren encourages Mei to follow what her heart says. And she finally opens up about her desires to her parents. However, only one parent gives in to her passion and honors her wishes.

American Panda is a delightful coming-of-age book; it's about finding yourself. Through cultural values and identity, family expectations and living life to the fullest, Mei is able to follow her dreams even though she has to jump over many hurdles in order to succeed. Mei defines what it means to reach an American Dream. If you enjoyed reading Starfish and/or When Dimple Met Rishi, you will love American Panda!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

Title: Shadow Weaver
Author: MarcyKate Connolly
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Pages: 308
Source/format: Publisher//ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

The first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology, MarcyKate Connolly weaves a tale filled with shadows, danger, and magic that has the feel of a new classic.

M Y  T H O U G H T S 

Emmeline has a gift to control shadows around her ever since she was a baby. Her only friend is her shadow named Dar. The Cerelia Comet passes through the lands every twenty five years and blesses those who are born during that time with a magical gift. All was well until a noble family comes to offer to take away Emmeline and to cure her of her gift. Dar offers to help but at what cost?

MarcyKate Connolly creates a whole new fairytale that entices your curiosity. She threads together a wonderful story about Emmeline and Dar who are on two different sides of the spectrum personality wise. The symbiotic relationship morphs into more of a parasitic relationship. Old world charm shines through the book with a a dash of magic.

When Emmeline befriended Lucas, she is not afraid of magic he wields since she also wields magic. Lucas is the Yang to Emmelin's Yin. He is light as day and she is dark as night. Together their friendship becomes strong. Lucas's parents are very accepting of him while Emmeline's parents are not. The two parenting styles contrast each other within the novel.

Emmeline shows character development throughout the entire book. She has always confided with Dar but finally takes a stand and lets Dar know who's in control. Emmeline always thought she needed Dar but in fact she was using Dar like a security blanket. Dar, on the other hand, would persuade Emmeline that she is her friend but little does Emmeline know that Dar had her own agenda. Oh, that twist at the end of the book! I didn't see it coming but it works seamlessly with the plot.

I highly recommend Shadow Weaver to those who love a dark and twisted middle grade fantasy. The novel teaches children to stand up for themselves but to also embrace the gifts they are born with. It sheds light on those who are willing to help others even if they are not blood related. The meaning of friendship and trust are important themes that readers will appreciate.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Pages: 384
Source/format: From Nicole of The BookBandit Blog // ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Jude lives with her parents and her twin sister, Taryn, and her older sister, Vivienne until that one day when a man came to their house. In a swift minute, Jude and her sisters become parentless and forced to leave what they called home.

What Jude doesn't know is that Vivienne has a different father than her and Taryn. In fact, Vivienne's father is Madoc the Redcap. Off the children go to live in the faerie world with Madoc. They are raised among the faerie royal court and they learn more abut the faerie customs They are introduced to the important faeries of the land. One of them is a cruel prince named Cardan.

Holly Black starts off The Cruel Prince strong. Usually I have a hard time getting into her faerie books but this time she hooked me from the first page. She describes characters and scenery with so much detail.You can feel the emotions so well! Holly's beautiful writing is exuberant!

The writing builds up slowly and it's worth the wait to find out what's going to happen next. I love Jude! You can really relate to her. She is a flawed character wanting to belong among the faeries. Unlike Vivienne, Jude enjoys living in the faerie land. It was a little bit hard for me to remember the names of all the faeries but it didn't take away from the plot of the book.

With faerie politics, manipulation and a twisty plot, The Cruel Prince is a novel for those who love to read about faeries but also for those who love a good fantasy read. There is romance, action, mystery and a bit of darkness in this novel which makes it an intoxicating read.