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Not my Favorite Fantasy, But It Presents a Compelling World ⇉ Review of Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Ever since I first read Song of the Lioness, I've loved magical worlds with magical academy settings. I didn't get into the Shadow and Bone craze. (To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of the original covers. They gave off more of a historical or Gothic vibe than a fantasy kingdom vibe.) However, many people have recommended this book, so I decided to give it a try. While it's not my favorite fantasy book, it is an enjoyable read.


WHAT I LIKED


Interesting world
While the magical kingdom/academy setting isn't anything unique, depending on how it's done, the world can be an interesting place to explore. The Grishaverse is a compelling world that offers much to explore (though it didn't capitalize on the intrigue in the end).

Characters that make you feel things (both good and bad)
While I had some problems with the characters, their interacts drew me into the novel and had me feeling all sorts of emotions. Especially because of all the plot twists that led to new developments in relationships.

Plot twist after plot twist
For the most part, this is a straightforward story. We know the main enemy (or problem), and we know our MC Alina is going to do something about it. However, twist after twist has us questioning who to trust.



WHAT I DISLIKED


Characters lack complexity
The characters fall into boxed stereotypes. While Alina's vague understanding of certain characters has us wondering whether we can really trust certain persons, this lack of understanding also mean that these characters lack sufficient complexity for them to be more than a stereotype without depth.

Simplistic plot (despite the twists)
As I mentioned earlier, this novel is a straightforward story despite all of the twists. While I enjoyed the new revelations being made, they weren't unpredictable revelations. I don't mind a straightforward plot. (Most stories are retellings in one way or another. What makes them unique is how they're told.) However, while it was a solid story, it lacked the familiarity that makes a story great. The familiarity that makes the reader feel like he or she gets the world, and is a part of the world, and is interacting with the world.

A largely unexplored world
There are suggestions of court intrigue, and we learn about the big problem lurking in the kingdom. However, for the most part, the story doesn't capitalize on the intrigue or buildsupon it.


FINAL THOUGHTS


Overall, this is an enjoyable read. I really did feel moved to flip through the pages and find out what will happen to Alina, her loved one(s), and the kingdom. There is a failure to build sufficient intrigue and character complexity to make me feel like the world and characters have come to life, but I do have an interest in reading more of Alina's story. I hope to see more character growth in the books to come.

★★★★☆


Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.



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Between love and power, which would you choose?



Publication Info
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Published by Square Fish
  • On June 2017
  • Original Pub: June 5, 2012
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 416 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: The Grishaverse
  1. Shadow and Bone
  2. Siege and Storm
  3. Ruin and Rising
Content 
  • Kissing
  • Making out
  • Violence and death

Blood, Beauty, and Tragedy: Let the Heads Roll ⇉ Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Thursday, April 12, 2018
1. I love Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles. (Even though I have yet to read the fourth book....for no good reason. This will be remedied this summer when I actually have free time!!!)

2. The description of the lemon tarts in the first pages.

For these reasons, I knew that I was going to love this book.

And because the Queen of Hearts is a villain, I knew that my heart would bleed for it.


WHAT I LIKED


Compelling Characters
Heartless is filled with quirky, imperfect characters whose personalities and backstories make them characters that I felt something towards. Many I loved to loved and others I despised. Even the one character that seemed too good to be true has his own complexities.

Beautiful Use of Figurative Language
Marissa uses figurative language to bring the world the life. I especially love her description of the lemon tarts in the first pages of Heartless. They sound scrumptious. The use of figurative language and imagery does decline as the novel progresses, but the writing is still beautiful and poetic.

Whimsical (and Interesting) World Building
Yes, we're in Wonderland, where most anything we can imagine comes to life. I love the whimsical world building.

A Star-Crossed Romance I Didn't Dislike
I like how the ones involved in the star-crossed romance are aware of the difficulties of their attraction and how these difficulties contribute to the the trials they face. I'm not always opposed to stories where the characters want to be together despite their differences, but I appreciate how Catherine is conflicted.

Stunning Cover
The cover is beautiful :)


WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE


Catherine's Indecisiveness Had Me (Mentally) Headbanging
I know this is a tragedy, and I know that bad things have to happen to good people for a tragedy to occur. And since this is the story about the making of the Queen of Hearts . . . good people need to make bad decisions. What is interesting (and a sign of fantastic character development) is how Catherine's upbringing and her own personality point towards her having the potential to become the Queen of Hearts, and we see her moving in this direction over the course of the novel.

That said, my heart bled many times over because of many of her decisions. And I kept hoping against hope that she wouldn't be the one to become the Queen of Hearts.

Mothers Who Push Their Own Agenda on Their Daughter
I got really angry at Catherine's mother. That said, this is also one of the good elements of the story (because it means Marissa Meyer did a great job bringing this character to life).

That Rushed Ending
In the last quarter of the novel, the plot picks up speed. Events are thrown at us one after the other, and the book ends almost before I realized it was coming. It felt rushed. I was almost okay with it because it reflects the chaos in Catherine's heart, but in the end, it really was too rushed for my liking.

A Tragic End (That I Was Coming) (But, okay, it was well-done for the most part)
"If only" . . . I can't count the number of times I thought these words. Plus, that adventure we almost had, except it got cut short prematurely. Because this is a tragedy, and you need to know this going in.


FINAL THOUGHTS


This is not a book to read if you love happy endings. If you love books that explore character relations and what drives people to make the decisions that they do, however, this novel is thought-provoking. It is poignant in its bitterness and beautiful in its dark poetry. It compels the reader to ask what is underlying the surface of the whimsical nature of Wonderland to reveal the darkness lurking beneath. And it portrays the human heart—showing us that the same forces that can be used for good can also be used for evil depending on circumstances . . . and the decisions that we ourselves make.


★★★★☆


Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.



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CHAT WITH ME


What is your favorite retelling?



Publication Info
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer
  • Published by Feiwel & Friends
  • On November 8, 2016
  • Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Romance
  • Pages: 453 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series
  • N/A
Content
  • Kissing
  • Violence

Friendship and Bullies ⇉ GIVEAWAY + Review of The Slithery Shakedown by Tracey Hecht

Monday, April 2, 2018
I love children's books that feature animals even more than I love children's books that feature magic, and that's saying something. I loved them so much growing up that I wanted to become a veterinarian, so I could spend my days with animals. My dreams have since changed, but I still appreciate a good book with animal protagonists.

The Nocturnals books are good books with animal protagonists. I'm delighted to not only share my thoughts on the latest addition to the series but a giveaway of the complete Nocturnals books!


WHAT I LIKED


Everything I Enjoyed About The Moonlight Meeting
I feel very unoriginal here, but it's also a sign that the series has stayed true to what makes it loveable!

  1. Full-colored illustrations that bring the characters and their unique personalities to life.
  2. Lively dialogue.
  3. A book about a group of friends.
  4. Fun facts about the Australian wildlife featured in this book. (Provided at the end.)

Themes of Bravery and Friendship
The Slithery Shakedown teaches good lessons to growing readers. In this installment of the Nocturnals Early Readers, the trio of friends learn what it means to be brave (that it is okay to be both scared and brave), and they provide a role model in standing up for your friends.

Fun Activities & Resources to Expand on the Reading Experience
The Nocturnals website provides resources that expand on the reading experience. The Early Readers website (growandread) has educational guides and book club kit materials. The Nocturnals site, which is intended for older readers (upper elementary and middle school) has some other activities, some of which may be used with younger readers depending on their reading level.


WHAT I DISLIKED


As always, I enjoyed this latest addition to the Nocturnals world. If I would add anything, I would love for the characters to show more complexities. At the moment, they're very much boxed into their type. In reality, we wouldn't be faced with one single problem. There are multiple elements that contribute to our problems. (A simple example would be being a person of color and a woman. Being poor and uneducated would also add to the complexities.)

All that said, this is a very short read, and I expect to see more Nocturnals books come out in the future. I hope to see more of the characters' development in future installments of the Early Readers books!


FINAL THOUGHTS


I love the Nocturnals books and what they bring to young readers, both in entertainment and in educational value. I am looking forward to reading more from Tracey Hecht. I especially love how these books are being used to promote reading. I highly recommend checking out the websites for the educational materials. This is a fun series that I can see bringing together older and younger values. I am saving this book to read with young readers in the future :)

★★★★★


Discover the friendship and humor of the Nocturnals Brigade! In The Slithery Shakedown, three unlikely friends—Tobin, a sweet pangolin, Bismark a loud-mouther sugar glider and Dawn, a serius fox—stand up to a big bully snake. In the process, they find themselves some spec-tac-u-lar snakeskin capes!




GIVEAWAY


Thanks to the publisher, I have a full set of the Nocturnals books for giveaway. I love these books and am delighted to provide the set to one lucky reader!

As the publisher is only able to ship to the United States, you must have a U.S. mailing address to receive your prize.




a Rafflecopter giveaway





Other Featured Nocturnals Reads


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CHAT WITH ME


This book describes a time when a group of friends stood up for one of their own. I'd like to hear the same from you!

Describe...

  1. A time when you stood up for a friend or family member.
  2. A time when a friend or family member stood up for you.
  3. OR A story you love in which a character stands up for another character.




Publication Info
  • The Slithery Shakedown by Tracey Hecht, illustrated by Josie Yee
  • Published by Fabled Films Press on April 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 64 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
Series: The Nocturnals Early Reader
  1. The Moonlight Meeting
  2. The Slithery Shakedown
Content 
  • N/A

Beautiful and Informative ⇉ Review of The NIV Woman's Study Bible

Monday, March 19, 2018
The NIV Woman's Study Bible features helpful study information at the beginning of each book of the Bible to give readers context for understanding the book that they are studying. Within the books themselves include features such as quotes, articles, and study charts designed to speak to a woman's heart and give insights into godly womanhood. These features, as well as chapter headings, are provided in full color.


FEATURES


What kind of Bible is this?
This is a study Bible.

What kind of special content is in this Bible?
  • Introduction to each book: includes author background, date (it was written), historical background (setting, audience, purpose), literary characteristics, themes, and outline.
  • Commentary (provided in the footnotes)
  • Quotes by women, articles, study charts designed to expand the reader's understanding of the historical context and also to apply biblical concepts to life today.
  • Table of Weights and Measures
  • Index, Concordance, Maps

What Version is it?
New International Version (NIV)



MY THOUGHTS


My Reactions
What drew me to this Bible is how it is a study Bible designed for women. This is an attractive Bible that includes full-color floral illustrations and font that make it pleasing to read. It encourages me while reading in this study Bible. Furthermore, it provides commentary through study tools that have been created with women in mind. More focus is placed on the women that appear in the Bible and on the circumstances that shaped their life. The study tools also provide information that are relevant to our lives today and which provide parallels between our lives and the lives of woman in biblical times. For example, one article in Genesis provides information on cooking during the time of the patriarchs. This helped me to get a better idea of the domestic lives of the Israelites and relate it to my family’s cooking customs today.

What are you overall feelings towards this particular Bible? Is it easy to use?
This is a beautiful Bible that is easy to use and encourages me in my Bible reading. The study tools and commentary are relevant and strategically placed to illuminate biblical truths.

Are the study tools helpful and informative? Does the commentary convey Biblical truth?
I like how the study tools are targeted towards women. They provide a different insight into biblical truths compared to the ones found in other study Bibles and commentaries. This helps me to understand the Bible better from a woman's perspective.

Is the Bible durable?
I'm reading in the hardback edition of this Bible. The hardcover feels durable, but the pages are cheap and low quality. The imitation leather edition might have higher quality paper. If you're looking for a more affordable edition and don't mind the low paper quality, however, the hardback edition is priced more affordably.

Do you like the typeface and print in general?
The font for the biblical and is large and readable, but the font for the commentary is on the small side. That said, I know footnotes and articles inserted into a text are typically smaller, so it's not unexpected. I do love how the chapter headings are colored and in a different font. It's beautiful and encourages me while reading in this Bible.

Would you recommend this particular Bible to others?
I would recommend this particular Bible if you are looking for a Study Bible that is designed with women in mind. It provides especial focus on the women in the Bible and in drawing parallels between their lives and our lives today. I wouldn't recommend it if you are looking for more critical commentary on the Bible or one that with a linguistics focus.



OTHER INFORMATION



The Woman’s Study Bible poignantly reveals the Word of God to women, inviting them to receive God’s truth for balance, hope, and transformation. Special features designed to speak to a woman’s heart appear throughout the Bible text, revealing Scripture-based insights about how godly womanhood grows from a woman’s identity as a Christ-follower and a child of the Kingdom. Now with a beautiful full-color redesign, The Woman’s Study Bible reflects the contributions of over 80 women from a wide variety of ethnic, denominational, educational, and occupational backgrounds.



A copy was provided for review through BookLook.

Mini Reviews: Fan Favorites That Fell Flat for Me ⇉ Rebel of the Sands & Steelheart

Monday, February 26, 2018
Have you ever read a book that everyone seemed to be raving about, but you just didn't enjoy it as much as you thought you would?

Rebel of the Sands and Steelheart are books that I've seen a lot of rave reviews for. While I enjoyed them, I didn't love them. Following are the reasons why.



Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.


What was most interesting to me was how this book touches on the subject of what it means to be human. There was a lot of potential to explore this topic with the conflict brewing in Miraji and with the existence of the djinn (and their relationships with mortals). There are also elements of religion in the book, but there is a strong leaning towards atheistic themes, irreverence towards the country's gods, and the empowerment of humans. While it does reflect a growing trend in literature, it does get old, especially if that's the only perspective given. I would have liked to see more complexity in the world building. (For the most part, we only get the main characters' perspective).

The plot was predictable, no real surprises. The MC also shows inconsistencies in character that suggest that, while she is largely independent, she's easily influenced by her emotions, which is particularly noticeable when she's in love. I would have liked to see more development of the character and why she is the person that she is at the time of this novel, but the inconsistencies in character didn't detract too much from the read.

While it's not a particularly memorable read for me, it stays true to what it is: a YA fantasy with a good dose of romance. If you're looking for an easy read with a straightforward plot, I would recommend this book. Though the world is still underdeveloped (hopefully, more complexity is added with the later books), it is an interesting world to visit. That said, I don't anticipate reading book two anytime soon.

★★★☆☆



Publication Info
  • Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
  • Published by Viking
  • On March 8, 2016
  • Genres: Fantasy
  • Pages: 316 Pages
  • Format: Hardback
    Series
    1. Rebel of the Sands
    2. Traitor to the Throne
    3. Hero at the Fall
        Content
        • Kissing
        • Violence




        Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will.

        Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

        And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

        He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.


        Recently, I found out about Brandon Sanderon's Mistborn and Stormlight Archive series. At heart, I'm a fantasy lover and have been looking for books to return to my (reading) roots. I've purchased The Way of Kings off Amazon and, while waiting for its arrival, decided to read Steelheart (since it was available for digital loan from my local library).

        Since Steelheart is a YA novel, I understand that the characters and world building won't be as intricately developed as Sanderson's longer fantasy works. However, the characters were static. While we learn more about them as the novel progresses, I didn't see much character growth. Events were predictable for the most part and didn't flow into one another smoothly, though the time skips are understandable given all the waiting that must happen. What kept me turning the pages was my desire to learn why Steelheart bled and how the MC will get him to bleed again.

        Overall, Sanderson has created an interesting world that explores the effects of possessing ultimate power: what it does to an individual's personality, moral code, and attitude towards others. And how their treatment of others will influence the world. I'm not in a hurry to read book two, but I do expect to read it one day in anticipation of how the Reckoners will change the world.

        ★★★☆☆ 



        Publication Info
        • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
        • Published by Delacorte BFYR
        • On September 24, 2013
        • Genres: Science Fiction
        • Pages: 384 Pages
        • Format: Ebook
          Series: Reckoners
          1. Steelheart
          2. Firefight
          3. Calamity
              Content
              • Violence



              CHAT WITH ME


              What are books that you've heard rave reviews about but didn't enjoy?

              A Valentine's Read on Love as an Action ⇉ Review of With Love, From Me to You by Mary Manz Simon

              Tuesday, February 6, 2018
              A day meant to celebrate those we love, Valentine's Day all too often becomes about the number of candies and flowers that we receive (or give). In With Love, From Me to You, Mary Manz Simon reminds us that love is, at heart, an action. Through a series of encounters by different animals, Simon portrays different ways we can show others that we love them. She ends with a reminder of the source of our love and the need to love others year round, not just on Valentine's Day.


              WHAT I LIKED


              Cute Illustrations
              From front to back cover, this book is filled with full-color illustrations. The overall ambiance created is light and airy. That and the board-like pages suggest that this book is intended to be enjoyed with beginning readers.

              Textured Cover
              The cover is textured with the title and hearts intended and covered in red shiny material that adds to the Valentine theme of love. Young readers will enjoy feeling the texture of the title letters and hearts.

              Fantastic Message
              What drew me most to this book is the theme of love as an action. I love how the book reminds us that love is not all about how many candies and flowers we give or receive but about showing others through our words and actions that we care about them—and that we should do this every day of the year, not just on Valentine's Day.

              Furthermore, this book reminds young readers that we love not for our own benefits or because we prefer someone over others. Rather, we love because God's love is giving, and we feel it when we love others.


              WHAT I DISLIKED


              Complex Ideas (for the target audience)
              For a book that is only nine pages, With Love, From Me to You is very wordy. The style and format/layout of the book seems to target beginning readers, but the complexity of the language and ideas is more appropriate for an older audience (and is more at a beginning chapter book level). I wouldn't read this book with young children, but the style and layout of the book seems young for grade schoolers.

              Small Print
              Each stanza is squeezed onto a single page of the book. As a result, the font size is small for a picture book. The font size as well as the book itself is small for a picture book. I wish that the book were larger and that the stanzas were spread out over at least two different pages. (Even four or more to add variations.)

              Zero Character Development
              Though the cover features a cast of characters, the characters are silent and show no character development throughout the book. They are merely there to illustrate the ideas that are expressed in the book. While this would be fine to illustrate a point in a Sunday School lesson with older children, the lack of character interaction isn't as good with a book that seems to target a younger audience.

              Rather than trying to make a theological statement, this book would have been better off portraying the lesson through a story about a cast of characters. This would help the message stick in the readers' minds. After all, we learn best through stories.


              FINAL THOUGHTS


              While I love the message, the book fell flat for me because of the lack of story line. Rather than a story, this felt more like a Sunday School lesson wrapped in the guise of a children's storybook. It becomes quickly apparent from the first pages, however, that there is no narrative to this book. With the theological message of the book presented clearly in the final pages of the book, this book make a clear argument for God's love as the basis for our personal responsibility to love others in turn. It did not present any challenges to my faith.

              I would recommend this book to parents who want to teach their children about the theological reasons for love. Because this book tries to pack a lot of information in so few pages, however, parents should prepare supporting material to expand on the ideas presented in this book. Among these materials, I would include narrative stories that allows children to explore the act of love in the characters' stories.

              ★★☆☆☆


              With Love, From Me to You is a board book for little ones that will remind them how important it is to love and be loved. With adorable illustrations and sweet, rhyming text by bestselling author Dr. Mary Manz Simon, this book shows children how important their actions and words are in expressing God’s great love with one another. Parents will enjoy reading this book on Valentine’s Day or any day of the year to encourage their children to remember that love is more than gifts and candy; it’s about doing for others and sending love to everyone who’s near.



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              CHAT WITH ME


              What's one action you take to show others that you love them?



              Publication Info
              • With Love, From Me to You by Mary Manz Simon, illustrated by Corinna Ice
              • Published by Zonderkidz
              • On December 26, 2017
              • Genres: Children's Book
              • Pages: 9 Pages
              • Format: Board Book
              Series
              • N/A
              Content
              • N/A