Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Review: Of Fire and Stars, or The One With Princess Kisses

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
Pages: 389
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: November 22nd, 2016
Cover Comments: This is a beautiful cover. I love the golden, looping font, and the two girls on the cover, holding hands and standing against the world. The only thing I'm kinda meh about is the bow and arrow - archery isn't really a part of the book, so I feel like that was just added because bow & arrow is popular right now.

First Lines: When I was seven years of age, my mother caught me in the hearth stacking red-hot coals with my bare hands.

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.


"An Affinity, much like a heart, cannot be changed."

Of Fire and Stars is the quintessential fantasy romance with a twist: the princess doesn't fall in love with the prince, but with the princess. I was really excited to read this book because of this intriguing concept, and I did enjoy it. However, I was a bit disappointed in other aspects of the book, and without this little twist, I think the book would have been rather unremarkable.

Positive firsts: 

1) The romance is pretty adorable. Mare and Denna don't get off the the best start, and without having read the synopsis of the book, I might not have known they would become interested in each other romantically. Mare is forced by her family to give Denna horseriding lessons, and the first part of their relationship is strained by this obligation, and Mare and Denna's personality differences. However, Audrey Coulthurst did a great job with the slow burn type of romance. Slight touches, words, and eye contact build up until the romance just blossoms. I also liked that, despite, the medieval setting, homophobia didn't seem to be an issue in the world Audrey created. Other lesbian and gay couples are introduced in the book, and nothing is made of it. I liked that the only real barrier to Denna and Mare's romance was the betrothal of Denna to the prince, rather than societal judgements.

2) I really enjoyed Audrey Coulthurst's writing - it's very atmospheric, and there were some lovely passages, ie "Partnerships can be built, but love can't be coaxed. Love should feel like the first time you gallop a horse flat out. It should make your blood sing. It should terrify you. And some part of you should recognize it the first time you meet the other person's eyes." I'm excited to read Audrey's next few books and see how her writing develops, and what other kinds of stories she'll tackle. There were some pretty boring parts of the book that were carried through more easily because of Coulthurst's writing.

3) The magic system in Of Fire and Stars is nothing too new - it's based on the elements, like wind, fire, earth, etc. (a side note - elemental magic seems to be making a comeback, like in Frostblood and Ever the Hunted, two other recent releases). I did really like how religion ties in with magic in a unique way.

Now, for the not-so-positives

1) As other reviewers have commented, the names in this book are a little ridiculous. If Amaranthine and Dennaleia aren't enough of a mouthful for you, try Thandilimon. The first few chapters of the book were spent on stumbling over these names in my head. I happen to adore fantasy names, but it needs to be clear how to pronounce them. I feel like the author just threw in super long names to add to the fantasy/medieval feel. Also, Mare. Loves horses. Really?

2) The pacing was a bit slow, but tons of exciting things happened near the end. It was sort of like a Nancy Drew book without those clutch cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. There was lots of information-gathering and meeting and talking, but not much happened either plot or romance-wise, until the end.

3) I predicted the villain since their first scene. Maybe I've just read too many books, but I thought it was very obvious.

All in all, Of Fire and Stars was an interesting read for the unique romance/setting. That twist helps it rise above the overall meh-ness of the plot, and Coulthurst's writing kept me intrigued. I'd recommend for anyone looking for a unique romance and is not too bothered by typical fantasy fare.


Cover Love (1): All the Crooked Saints

Exciting news! I've realized that there's no bookish meme that I know of (PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong; I don't want to take someone else's idea!) that covers new cover reveals (heh). Cover reveals are maybe my favorite thing ever and I'd love to host a bookish meme every month where we all geek out over the pretty new covers in the world. So, introducing Cover Love! I will post my favorite cover reveal on the last Saturday of the month. I hope you enjoy & join in! Feel free to use my graphic above and link back to this blog in your post, or use your own graphic with a link back here.

For March, I will have to go with All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater.
Saints. Miracles. Family. Romance. Death. Redemption.

The book takes place in the 1960s in Bicho Raro, Colorado and follows the lives of three members of the Soria family—each of whom is searching for their own miracle. There’s Beatriz, who appears to lack feelings but wants to study her mind; Daniel, the “Saint” of Bicho Raro, a miracle worker for everyone but himself; and Joaquin (a.k.a. Diablo Diablo), who runs a pirate radio station at night.

What a beautiful cover! I'm so excited to get Maggie's next book. She's one of my all-time favorite authors, and this next book looks amazing.

Stacking the Shelves (3.25.16): SO MANY BOOKS YOU GUYS

So, I took it upon myself to do a huge clean-up of my shelves. After staying up until three because I am freakishly into organizing, especially when it's books, I came up with three boxes of books to trade in. Magically, my bookshelves are still full; don't ask me how this happens. 

I skipped on over to McKay's, my favorite used bookstore, to trade in my babies, and got $88 in store credit and YOU GUYS. I went a little cray. Here's what I got:

From McKay's

From OwlCrate:

All of the above except for Daughter of the Pirate King, were covered by my trade-in! I left with one box, but traded in three so... progress?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: Ever the Hunted, or, The One Where Not Bathing is Still Sexy

Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill
Pages: 392
Publisher: HMH
Release Date: December 27th, 2016
Cover Comments: I LOVE this cover. Beautiful font and design with a nod to the content with the bow and arrow.

First Lines: "To survive these woods, a man must be strong as the trees, Papa had said."

Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.

"If I were ever the hunted, you would find me."

Ever the Hunted felt like a mixture of several different stories I've seen and read, and while this sometimes led to a unique and intriguing blend, most often I felt like I'd been here, done that. The main character is reminiscent of Katniss from the Hunger Games, while her love interest reminded me of Gale. Bordering countries who are enemies because of disagreements over magic actually occured in the book I read before and after this one (Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst and Frostblood by Elly Blake). New trend? The magic system was different, I'll give it that, but almost random in the types of abilities that come together.

The issue of falling into fantasy tropes is not my main problem with Ever the Hunted, though. If I'm invested in the characters, the novel can be as tropey as you please. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case with our main characters, Britta and Cohen. Britta, as we know from the beginning of the novel, recently lost her father. But she spends much more brainspace on Cohen and his somehow always pleasant scent (after spending three weeks in the forest without bathing? I don't think so) than her recently deceased father. I found this a little odd and I think some opportunities were missed for introspective moments on the way we may perceive someone who has died differently than the idea we had of them when they were living. Sort of a Harry Potter learns about Dumbledore's past type of insight.

Another thing I found unlikely was that Britta never suspects that she might have magical powers. Trust me, that's not a spoiler. I knew from the first chapter, but it takes Britta 3/4 of the book to even raise the question to herself, and only after a few pretty striking displays of power. Britta is set up as a wonderful tracker, archer, and handy with a knife, but these skills don't actually help her a lot, which I was disappointed about. She has all the tools of being a kick-ass heroine, but Cohen is the one who does most of the saving. *cue Cinderella by the Cheetah Girls pls*

After struggling with a lack of connection from these characters for most of the book, I did feel it towards the end. It was an emotional part that actually made me feel strong rage, which I admit is pretty rare for me. The other element that kicks this book up from a 2 star to a 3 star rating is the fantastic ending. It ties up the necessary storylines from this book, while setting up some really intriguing possibilities for the next one. I still wasn't buying Cohen and Britta's romance by the end, but I felt connected enough to the characters and interested enough in the plot twists, that I'd be happy to pick up the next one in this series.