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: ☆☆☆☆


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.


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


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.


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.