Review: The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

Saturday, February 6, 2016
Title: The Shadow Queen
Author: C.J. Redwine
Genre: fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Series: Ravenspire #1
Pages: 400
Published: expected February 16 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

I wanted to like this book so badly.... but like the other fantasy fairy-tale retelling out this month from Harper, this was a disappointment for me (though this fared better, overall, than Reign of Shadows).  Veteran YA author C.J. Redwine's The Shadow Queen had a strong beginning, a great antagonist, and some good ideas, but was also weighed down by infodumps, lagging sections of narrative, dull tone, and an uneven pace. This may be a case of an author's style just not working for me as a reader, because these are also issues I had after reading her debut, Defiance in 2012.

The world in The Shadow Queen has potential but the worldbuilding is either rendered in an infodump or not at all. Some aspects of the novel go into detail but others (how does one nation have shape-shifting abilities but none of the others? How are witches only in Morcant if they also partiticpate in brial treaties like the one between Irina and Ravenspire?) The details on the magic system are sparse --- there are chants and certain words but apparently some users have to study (as Irina says she did for years among "the black clans") but some users can just know what to do (like... Lorelai..). Needless to say, I didn't get any answers by the end.

The characters in this novel were decent, teenager-wise. The romance between the two main characters is as inevitable as it is obvious and predictable, but Redwine injects some chemistry to make their scenes and drama at least bearable. I won't say I cared about either character enough to ship it (tho Trugg/Jyn? Trugg/Kol?  I'd ship thaaat!) but it wasn't the worst YA romance I've read this month. Individulally, Lorelai has some great moments and strengths but she's pretty broadly drawn. There's just not a lot of voice to this book and thus the long sections with Lorelai at the center drag down the pace and the entertainment value.

However, the adult characters in this are pretty excellent and well-defined. Irina is definitely the star of the 400-page show, but Gabril, a black man in a fantasy!, does a lot with his little amount of screentime. Irina is a great antagonist, and largely goes underused here; she's far more interesting to read about than Lorelai ever is. I do think her actions end were a tad disappointing for someone so cutthroat for the entirety of the story.

If this had been about 50 pages shorter, it would probably be a star higher in my rating. There's just too many pages it feels like a repetitive slog to get through in addition to the other issues that crop over The Shadow Queen's chapters. Lorelai and Kol make for two decent characters and the dragon angle, and the retelling adaptations it fresh and different. However, since this is the first of a series and the second novel from the author to not work for me, I don't think I will be reading on with the Ravenspire series.





Recent Book Acquisitions

Friday, February 5, 2016
I have been doing pretty well at not buying new books this year. I am holding myself to a "read-five-buy-one" policy and so far, it's working. That said, I do have new books on my shelves thanks to generous friends and publishers.

Sent/Given:

From the lovely Angie at Lady Knight Reads:


The entire Wintercraft (Shadowcry, Blackwatch, & Winterveil) series because I happened to mention I was interested in trying them. Super sweet and I am going to try to get through at least two of these before I meet her at BEA!

From MacMillan:

Tiny Night Fury was not included sry


The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
100 Days by Nicole McInnes
Before We Go Extinct by Karen Rivers
Unscripted Joss Byrd by Lygia Day Penaflor
A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody
Thank you, Macmillan!

For  Book Tours:


In the Land of Armadillos by Helen Maryles Shankman (Thanks to HMS and publishers!)



The Wild Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller


Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls' father is a plant hunter, usually off adventuring through the jungles of China.

Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan fails to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid, meaning that he will be thrown into debtors' prison and the girls will be sent to the orphanage or the poorhouse. Elodie's father has one last chance to return to China, find the orchid, and save the family—and this time, thanks to an unforeseen twist of fate, Elodie is going with him. Elodie has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China.

But even if she can find the orchid, how can she find herself now that staid, responsible Elodie has seen how much the world has to offer?


Kindle:


 She’s about to make a deal with the college bad boy...

Hannah Wells has finally found someone who turns her on. But while she might be confident in every other area of her life, she’s carting around a full set of baggage when it comes to sex and seduction. If she wants to get her crush’s attention, she’ll have to step out of her comfort zone and make him take notice…even if it means tutoring the annoying, childish, cocky captain of the hockey team in exchange for a pretend date.

...and it’s going to be oh so good.

All Garrett Graham has ever wanted is to play professional hockey after graduation, but his plummeting GPA is threatening everything he’s worked so hard for. If helping a sarcastic brunette make another guy jealous will help him secure his position on the team, he’s all for it. But when one unexpected kiss leads to the wildest sex of both their lives, it doesn’t take long for Garrett to realize that pretend isn’t going to cut it. Now he just has to convince Hannah that the man she wants looks a lot like him.


I bought The Deal by Elle Kennedy because of Morgan from Gone With the Word's review and general enthusing about it. She picks such excllent books that I trusted her advice when I decided to try NA not by people named Dahlia Adler.

That's pretty much it for me so far! I'm sure I'll be back before March with some new books to share my excitement about....


Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

Thursday, February 4, 2016
Title: Reign of Shadows
Author: Sophie Jordan
Genre: fantasy, dystopian, retelling
Pages: 304
Published: expected February 9 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

My first novel from veteran YA and romance author Sophie Jordan, I came into this mix of dystopian and fantasy and retelling of Rapunzel both curious and excited to explore a new version of an old favorite. And what I found in these three hundredish pages was a mostly serviceable adaptation of the basics of the fairy-tale; it was recognizable both as a retelling and as a novel with its own characters and ideas. Not everything in the story completely worked and it wasn't the slam dunk I had hoped for, but bigger fans of dystopian-type fiction and quick and easy love stories will find more things to enjoy about Reign of Shadows.

The book starts off pretty well, and moves along quickly.... if you are capable of ignoring the common sense questions that inevitably come to mind about the worldbuilding and basic ecology of this world that Jordan has created. Questions about plant life, about sustainable farming, etc. in a world of almost no light? How do people perform basic jobs? How has humanity adapted with constant dark? Does everyone have night vision? What determines how long "midlight" lasts? Questions about anything in this world not named Relhok City? There are almost  no answers provided over the course of the novel. There are no reasons for the seventeen years-long eclipse, either. You can either accept the lack of detail and go with the fast-paced story or... not. 

If your suspension of disbelief is enough to encompass those issues and keep reading, then Reign of Shadows will probably be a bigger hit for you than it was for me. I enjoyed the book when I turned off my brain, but to me, a fantasy needs substantive worldbuilding to succeed. It also needs well-developed main characters and more of a presence from the antagonist. Especially if it is launching a series, like this one is doing. I just didn't find any evidence of that kind of detail here in the first book and it dropped my involvement with the entire storyline. It moved fast, there were genuine moments of tension buuuut... I lacked any kind of genuine investment in the plot and in the characters.

I did have some affection for Luna, the main character and for Fowler, her love interest and travel companion. She isn't the most defined character but she is memorable for a couple reasons. She has agency and drive, even if it is shown in the most predictable and expected ways. She longs for freedom and independence but is denied that for several reasons known to anyone who's read a Rapunzel retelling. I liked that Jordan didn't go the expected route with her MC. Luna doesn't have the advantages of Fowler but she isn't always the damsel waiting to be saved, either. Fowler bugged me for a few reasons (women are not "females" stop calling them such) but his character wasn't stagnant; he reveals more as time went by.

Reign of Shadows was an uneven beginning for this series. The worldbuilding is negligible, the characters are in need of more time and personal definition, and the romance is too quick to be wholly believed. The moments of originality or suspense (dark dwellers were a great new addition to the story) do help but the complete nonending caused half a star to drop from my rating. I don't think this is a series that I will be continuing, personally. 



Review: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den by Aimee Carter

Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Title: Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den
Author: Aimee Carter
Genre: supernatural fiction, fantasy
Series: Simon Thorn #1
Pages: 320
Published: 2/2/16
Source: received for review from publisher
Rating: 2.75/5

Twelve-year-old Simon Thorn’s life has never been easy or normal, but things like being bullied at school and living in a cramped Manhattan apartment with his Uncle Darrell are nothing compared to his biggest secret: He can talk to animals.

But when his mom is suddenly kidnapped by a herd of rats, Simon finds out that he, his mom, and his uncle are all Animalgams—people born with the ability to change into an animal at will.

In search of his mom, Simon discovers the Animalgam Academy based at the Central Park Zoo. There he learns about the fractured five kingdoms that make up this secret world . . . and realizes he may be the only one who can save it.

This action-packed page-turner is perfect for fans of the Spirit Animals and The School of Good and Evil series.
 

Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den is pretty engaging and a good introduction into magical and fantasy-type stories for young readers. Is it the kind of middle grade that transcends age and appeals to readers of all ages? I think that depends on how much UF and fantasy older readers have experienced before starting this series. Simon Thorn and the Wolf's Den is a fun and fast read but it doesn't do anything that new. But for the middle grade age readers this story about shape-shifting Animalgams is aimed at? I think Simon will make for a fun and engaging read.

Though there are new aspects to the story of misfit and loner Simon, my main issue is that it all feels so familiar. The hero and his friends fighting to find freedom/parents/mythological weapon. It's Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and a lot of other recognizable tropes... Carter has promise with her world of magical animal kingdoms but she needs more depth to that world. More detail that feels original instead of recycled. Not all the animal-shifting kingdoms are fully explored here, but that was obviously going to be covered in future sequels. I found the adaptions of the human/animals aspects to be pretty clever.

I wanted to like the story (and at times I did) and I was also impressed at one or two twists, but there's not that will stick out in my memory when I remember this book. Simon Thorn and its eponymous hero may grow up into a strong series but this was an adequate beginning.


Review: My Second Life by Faye Bird

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Title: My Second Life
Author: Faye Bird
Genre: contemporary, thriller, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 305
Published: Jan 19 2016
Source: publishers for review 
Rating: 2/5

A pacy pageturner that asks: Can you be held responsible now for something you did in a previous life?

Fifteen-year-old Ana has a good life--she has friends and a boy she likes and a kind mother--but still, she's haunted by her past; she knows that she lived once before as a girl named Emma, and she still misses her old family. When, by chance in her life now, Ana meets a woman she knew in her previous life, a terrifying memory flashes through her mind of a young girl drowning. Was Emma responsible? And should Ana pay the price? Consumed by guilt, Ana sets out to find out as much as possible about the person she was before and what she had done, only to discover that the family she misses so deeply had dark secrets of its own. To come to terms with her life now, Ana must figure out how to let go of the past.

Though the author attempts a lot with her debut novel, My Second Life is a somewhat flawed and predictable YA thriller. The premise is an interesting one -- second chances to understand an old tragedy -- but the execution is ultimately shallow and unfulfilling. There are aspects of the novel that did work, and work well but overall it is an uneven novel. 

The issues with My Second Life are simple but impossible to ignore. The general storyline and plot are predictable from the beginning. It's very easy for a reader with any kind of awareness to guess what happened on the pivotal night and why. Thus, the next 200 pages of the novel feel way, way too drawn out for the amount of plot left. As Ana tries to understand it gets frustrating when the answer seems, and is for the most, obvious. 

The characterization shown for anyone in My Second Life is thin to nonexistent. It's hard to care about either of Ana/Emma's lives when so little time is spent developing her into a real person. The same goes for anyone else involved in her life. Both her moms are cardboard cutouts, as is the unavoidable and unnecessary love interest. 

The author did manage to pull off one twist before the end of the novel. I did like the unexpected angle that played naturally into resolution; it made it a more engaging read... just 95% too late. I can't say that this was a particularly good novel but it was not egregiously bad, either. For the most part what My Second Life is forgettable. There's not much to recommend and I doubt if I will remember the particulars two months from now.


TBR Planning: February 2016

Monday, February 1, 2016
February has a lot of books releasing so it looks like I will be keeping busy just trying to keep up. That said there are a couple that I am particularly excited to get to this month...


Behold the Bones by Natalie C. Parker (Beware the Wild #2)

Candace “Candy” Pickens has been obsessed with the swamp lore of her tiny Louisiana town for . . . forever. Name any ghostly swamp figure and Candy will recite the entire tale in a way that will curl your toes and send chills up your spine.

That doesn’t mean Candy’s a believer, however. Even though she and her friends entered the swamp at the start of summer and left it changed, Candy’s the only one who can’t see or feel the magical swamp Shine. She’s also the only one who can’t see the ghosts that have been showing up and spooking everyone in town ever since. So Candy concentrates on other things—real things. Like fighting with her mother and plotting her escape from her crazy town.

But ghosts aren’t the only newcomers in Sticks, Louisiana. The King family arrives like a hurricane: in a blur and unwanted—at least by Candy. Mr. King is intent on filming the rumored ghostly activity for his hit TV show, Local Haunts. And while Candy can’t ignore how attracted she is to eighteen-year-old Gage King and how much his sister, Nova, wants to be friends, she’s still suspicious of the King family.

As Candy tries to figure out why the Kings are really in town and why the swamp that had previously cast her aside now seems to be invading every crack in her logical, cynical mind, she stumbles across the one piece of swamp lore she didn’t know. It’s a tale that’s more truth than myth, and may have all the answers . . . and its roots are in Candy’s own family tree.

I loved Natalie C. Parker's Beware the Wild last year. It was creepy and Southern gothic in the perfect amounts. There was so much atmosphere and imagination in that novel; it was the rare debut that left you desperate for a sequel or companion. I definitely plan to reread BtW before jumping  back into Parker's newest and most anticipated creation.

The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine (Ravenspire #1)

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

I am so nervous for this book. I want to love it so dearly but the only Redwine novel I have read was not the best experience. However, that synopsis is impossible to resist and I have to try it. 


These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas (These Vicious Masks #1)



Jane Austen meets X-­Men in this gripping and adventure-­filled paranormal romance set in Victorian London.

England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.


Jane Austen Meets X Men and yes hello I am here please show your work. This sounds so good I am definitely wary to get my hopes too high. We shall see but early word has been cautiously optimistic. I definitely will be reviewing this so let's hope it goes well. 


Dani & Jessie's January Recap

Sunday, January 31, 2016
January was a bit of a rough start for me. I had some home issues (my hot water heater exploded and ruined the wood floors in the second bedroom) and my first 20 reads had only one 5-star read. Which was a reread of a favorite named The Night Circus - you maaaay have heard of it. I had a few 4-stars and some very enjoyable 3-3.5's but it was not the best month of reading. I also didn't manage to read as many books per month as I usually do but I feel like my mojo is coming back just in time for a February.

Also -- I've only bought four books this month. Two of which were Kindle Daily Deals so I got them for about $2. Not too bad!

Books Read: 24

Notable Favorites: 
The Young Elites by Marie Lu (The Young Elites #1)
The Rose Society by Marie Lu (The Young Elites #2)
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson (review to come later this year!)
The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine (The Impostor Queen #1)
The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas (The Elemental Trilogy #3)



Reviews Posted:
Discussion Review: Underwater by Marisa Reichardt - ★★★
Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto  - ★★★
The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt -  ★★
Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers - ★★
Discussion Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow  by Lena Cockley - ★★★
The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine - ★★★★
In A Handful of Dust by Mindy McGonnis - ★★★
Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace - ★★★
January DNFs



Favorite Bookstagram:






Important Posts: Something New.... 


January wasn't my most productive month. While I did rally in the second half, the most "reading" I did in the first twelve days was the wiki summaries of Goodkind's books to figure out which one had the evil chicken. Still, I may have only read eight books, but one of them was 1100 pages, which is basically three regular books. I'm counting it.

Books Read: 8

Notable Favorites: 
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
The Countess by Lynsay Sands
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Blog Posts:
TTT: Top Ten 2015 Releases I Meant To Get To
Review: The Countess by Lynsay Sands  - ★★★★★
TTT: Top Ten Books Recently Added to My TBR

Favorite Quote: 

(My actual favorite quote is too spoilery to put here, but if you've read WoR, let me say Swallowed by the Sky.)

That was it. That was how I died. Kayla Davis, age twenty-four. Cause of death: Sexed into oblivion by one Michael Bradbury, Internet billionaire and master of cunnilingus. 
—Rebekah Weatherspoon, SO SWEET



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