Entwined: 2.8

Entwined
Author: Heather Dixon
Rating: 2.8
Genre: Twisted Fairytale
THROWBACK REVIEW

“It should have frightened her, thinking of the palace as once evil and magicked, with the candelabras and ceiling murals alive, but it didn’t. It was hard to be frightened of a building that smelled of old toast.” 
― Heather Dixon, Entwined

NOTE: In order to keep up with my ever growing TBR pile, once a month I will now post a review of older releases.

I wanted to like this book. I say that a lot, but in a perfect world I would love every book I read. Entwined was recommended to me by a friend, so the bar was set higher than normal.

Synopsis:

Azalea is the crown princess of Eathesbury, and the eldest of twelve daughters. When they lose their mother, the girls are forced to go into mourning under the strict guidance of their distant father. In an effort to continue dancing, the one activity that brightens their days, the girls start attending a secret ball hosted by a mysterious man known only as the Keeper.

I don’t know if you all remember my fangirl rant about To Kill a Kingdom (GO READ THAT BOOK!) but this story did the exact opposite. It took a beloved fairytale, and mutilated it. Excuse me while I go weep in a forest dusted with diamonds.

À la Twelve Dancing Princesses style, the girls dance sneak out every night and the King posts a proclamation seeking the answer to their whereabouts. Dixon uses Entwined to fill in some of the more elaborate plot holes from the original story, such as how they find the magical forest and its back story.

She also includes her own special twist on the narrative, which is pretty much where I wanted to stop reading. It was boring. My entire reading list took a hit while I was struggling through this one.

Let’s start with the positive:

There was a playful wit to the prose that had me laughing out loud at times. Heather Dixon also does romance well, at least the few scenes that there were. It was embarrassing and flirtatious, a perfect portrayal of a newfound love interest.

Dixon also did a wonderful job at distinguishing each of the twelve differences, although that also had it’s downfalls in its execution. The dance motif that constantly appears throughout the story is masterfully executed and remains consistent.

….

On to the negatives:

The relationships felt shallow. For example, Dixon utilizes the King’s title as a plot device to demonstrate their relationship arc. This failed attempt creates a shallowly written character who doesn’t recover as much as his relationship with his daughters does.

Furthermore, the characters were annoying. Each of the twelve princesses has an extreme characteristic to express their personality, and none of them are done in moderation. Azalea is steadfast (read: stubborn), Bramble is rambunctious, Clover is sweet, and so on. Their names are also in alphabetical order by birth, and all flowers. While this may be a useful tactic to help the reader remember each princess, it results in one dimensional, static characters.

The magic system looked like it showed some promise. I loved the idea of silver gaining power from the people who possessed it, and the thought of dancing having inherent power. The entwine, a dance in which one partner attempts to catch their partner with a sash, seemed like a wonderful way to incorporate these ideas. So I waited.

And waited.

The other shoe never dropped, ladies and gentlemen. There is a big twist, but it feels like some of the magical elements were forgotten halfway through the story. I almost want to reveal the ending so you know not to waste your time, but I won’t do that.

Seriously though, WHO STOPS TO DANCE IN THE MIDDLE OF A BATTLE?

Overall, Entwined didn’t live up to it’s hype. There were parts that were promising, but the execution was poor. The few enjoyable moments weren’t worth the time I lost by reading this book.

The Crown’s Game: 2.2

The Crown’s Game
Author: Evelyn Skye
Narrators: Steve West
Rating: 2.2
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy

“His laugh echoed through the entire room. He didn’t sound cruel, but then again, the worst kinds of cruelty come in the guise of kindness.” 
― Evelyn Skye, The Crown’s Game

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

In a world full of magic and danger, why wouldn’t a country’s future leader want a strong enchanter by his side?

Apparently, because he’s a hormone riddled teenager with no mind of his own.

I mean… I had the highest hopes for this series. Look at that cover! It’s stunning. I love the reversal of the city in the crown to display both sides. The cover is about as deep as this book gets. The aesthetic part of me is thrilled. The rest? Not so much.

Essentially, Vika and Nikolai have been raised with the knowledge that one day they will duel to the death for the right to become the tsar’s Imperial Enchanter. Country Mouse and City Mouse, as they shall henceforth be known, are excited for the opportunity to show off their skills and earn the coveted role. Thus, the Crown’s Game is set into motion, and Country Mouse is summoned to City Mouse’s domain to compete for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Want to know the most interesting part?

You just read it.

know. How could a magical duel to the death not be interesting? How do the words talent show sound to you? Not as exciting as a duel, I’m sure.

The mice were essentially tasked with showing off their magical ability, but all they did was try to one up each other, and it felt amazingly immature, even for YA. I mean, come on. The loser is supposed to die, and they were all “ooh, look at my life size music box.”

Also, let’s talk romance for a second. What. In. The. Ever. Loving. Name. Of. Love. Triangles. Was. That.

So City Mouse and Country Mouse embrace the enemies to lovers trope with arms wide open. Except they were never really enemies? They were mistrustful of each other, because sure, who wouldn’t mistrust someone who’s life depends on your death? They fall in love through their magic, without talking that much. It’s weird.

Pasha, the tsar’s son, is the one tasked with choosing the winner. This part makes sense, because the victor will be his enchanter when he ascends the throne. Pasha also happens to be Nikolai’s best friend, since childhood.

Does that give City Mouse an edge? NO. Apparently, Pasha is a hormone ridden adolescent who believes in love at first sight and can’t bear to sentence Country Mouse to her death.

I’m sorry little tsarovich, but if I was Nikolai, and you chose some girl that you just met over your best friend, I don’t care who your father is. It would be on.

I suppose I should explain the few pros that persuaded me to give this book the 2.2 stars that it earned.

The world building was detailed and beautiful, and the writing was smooth and delightful to read. The story itself lacked depth, and the characters were utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately, I have the e-book edition, so I can’t donate it.

Do you disagree? Comment below! 

Catwoman: Soulstealer: 3.5

Catwoman: Soulstealer
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Rating: 3.5

“She’d taken home more bruises than usual, and the man she’d beaten to unconsciousness… not her problem.” 

Sarah J. Maas, Catwoman: Soulstealer

I am a huge fan of Sarah J Maas and I love a good anti-hero, but Catwoman: Soulstealer was disappointingly obvious, and full of clichés. I mean, seriously, how many times did Selina Kyle have to purr her dialogue?

The problem I had with this book is that I loved the idea of Catwoman’s backstory more than I liked it’s execution.

Essentially, Selina Kyle is a trained League of Assassins alumnus who returns to her hometown of Gotham City with specific plans in mind, determined to do whatever needs to be done to meet her goal. She teams up with some of the city’s most notorious villains, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, thus creating the ultimate trio of female villains. Luke Fox, aka Batwing, is tasked with stopping them while Bruce Wayne is away.

The prose was well written, but not up to Ms. Maas’ normal standard. I get the sense that she wasn’t so much inspired by this work as she was filling in the blanks of a story that she was contracted to write. Which is technically true, so I suppose I cannot fault her for that. I can however, as a reader, be disappointed. Overall, it was a nice story, but not flushed out enough to make the reader feel fulfilled. The character relationships for the most part, although meant to be full of depth and meaning, felt more shallow because of the lack of development. It felt more like they took the steps out of rote than that they were truly motivated.

On the positive side, I loved the working relationship and friendship that bloomed between Selena, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. I wish there had been more of a focus on this relationship. Instead, both Ivy and Harley’s backgrounds were revealed via an info-dump that felt too bland for their amazing stories. Let’s face it, these girls definitely deserve more airtime. Harley Quinn’s plan to blow up the children’s pageant stage (before the children arrived) as a moral protest is definitely #squadgoals and #girlpower.

I won’t discuss the “hate to love” romance that WE ALL KNEW WAS COMING, partially because of my no spoilers policy (please note my sarcasm), and partially because it bored me to tears. Seriously. Out of all of Selena’s relationships, her SO felt like the least significant. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for promoting girl power and family over one’s love life, but I’d rather there be no romance than be bored by a tired one.

Now, her sister, on the other hand, has a significant relationship with the protagonist, which is mainly portrayed in flashbacks. Maggie Kyle serves as the cornerstone of Selina’s motivation. I love the hint of personality that Maas gives us in the brief moments that we get with her. Give me more of Maggie Kyle.

In short, Catwoman is an independent powerhouse with the power to upturn a world ruled by men. All the factors were there for her story to shine, but it doesn’t. There are a few parts that sparkle with promise, but fade quickly in the vast emptiness of the unfulfilling world. Would I read it again? Probably not.

I wanted more, but not in a good way. I felt that the novel itself was lacking and needed more work before it was released.

To Kill a Kingdom: 4.8

To Kill A Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Narrators: Jacob York and Stephanie Willis
Rating: 4.8
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy / Twisted Fairytale

“To them, the sea is never the true danger. Even crawling with sirens and sharks and beasts that can devour them whole in seconds. The true danger is people. They are the unpredictable. The betrayers and the liars.” 
― Alexandra Christo, To Kill a Kingdom

This is a wickedly stunning debut from Alexandra Christo, and I loved every minute of it.  I listened to the audiobook for this one, because I’ve been absolutely swamped this week and I can multitask much better with someone reading to me than I can with a book in my hands. Stephanie Willis and Jacob York did a wonderful job of bringing this dark fantasy world alive, and I couldn’t stop listening.

Lira is a siren princess. Actually, she’s the siren princess, sole heir to the throne. Think that’s a cliché? Well, when you add in the fact that it’s a sea queendom, sirens are reclaimed as the deliciously vicious creatures that they are, and Lira’s mother would rather get rid of her daughter than step down from the throne, I can be content with another princess story.

Lira, non-favored daughter that she is, makes a big mistake and her mother’s idea of a punishment is to embarrass her in front of the whole kingdom, weakening her in the eyes of the people that she is set to rule in a few short years. Lira then gets it in her head that bringing her mother the heart of the siren-hunting prince that is plaguing their waters will be a sufficient sacrifice to avoid this punishment.

Elian, crown prince of Midas, feels more at home onboard his ship than in his golden palace. He spends his days hunting the sirens that threaten the seas. Despite his murderous tendencies, he can’t help but stop when they encounter a drowning girl in the middle of the ocean with no other ships in sight.

I. Loved. This. Book. There are a number of reasons why, but let’s focus on the reasons it earned a 4.8/5 rating.

Stylistically, Alexandra Christo is amazingly talented. Since I was listening to the audiobook, her words combined with Stephanie Willis’ performance literally sent chills down my spine at times. The prose painted a refreshing re-telling of a classic tale, and even though the ultimate ending was easy to predict (it is a twist on a fairytale after all), it managed to keep me thoroughly engaged. It was smooth without being too simple, and the protagonists were pleasantly mature for their age.

The protagonists were refreshing as well in a love-to-hate, slow burn that had the perfect amount of sass. There were no gullible obsessions, no shy blushes, no butterflies in the stomach. Lira and Elian worked well together, because of how they were equals and I am here for romances like this. Both characters were strong enough to stand on their own, but they were stronger together.

As far as twisted fairytales go, this one is high on my recommended list. The extra oomph that brought it to the higher level of my ranking comes from Alexandra Christo’s subtle nods to various other myth and folklore tales and the dry wit that she infused her characters with. There was no shy innocence, nor gullibility. The purpose and reliability of her narrators allowed me to immerse myself fully in her tale, and not return from its depths until Jacob York read the closing credits.

This Savage Song: 3.8

This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Narrator: Therese Plummer
Rating: 3.8/5
Genre: YA Dark Fantasy

“But the teacher had been right about one thing: violence breeds.
Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just she’ll casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”

– Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song

This is the darkest version of Romeo and Juliet I have yet to see, and of course, I loved it. In a city divided by monsters, the rich have sought protection from Kate’s father, Callum Harker. The poor struggle to stay safe, banding together in the Flynn Task Force, led by Henry and Emily Flynn, August’s adoptive parents. Except that August is a monster himself. He struggles with the reality of his world. He is a sunai, a type of monster who devours the souls of sinners. August and Kate discover that forces are at work to cause a war between the two sides, and are forced to band together to save the city.

Both August and Kate are unique anti-heroes that made this story refreshingly wonderful to read. It was Romeo and Juliet without the romance, and if Juliet was a courageous, independent, badass. And Romeo was a soul sucking monster.

Also, there’s the inherent message that the true monsters aren’t always obvious, which, cliché though it may be, works with the nature of this book.

Kate might be a delinquent, after all she’s been kicked out of 6 schools in 5 years, but everything she does is calculated and with purpose. She’s determined to prove herself to her father and to the world. Yes, of course, she has daddy issues. Most of the thematic motives are cliché and used, I mean, it was inspired by Romeo and Juliet, so what did you expect?

Honestly, I did not expect to like it as much as I did for that reason specifically. I love Shakespeare, but hated his star-crossed lovers. They were way too dramatic, even for teenagers. Seriously, HE KILLED HER COUSIN. That, however, is a post for another day. Or maybe a thesis.

*ahem*

Anyway, the characters motivations are thoroughly thought out, which makes the book predictable, but also enjoyable in its predictability. The world building is intensive and unique, as we’ve come to expect from Ms. Schwab.

My favorite part of the book was the lyrical tone of the writing. August feeds off of souls through his music, which doubles as an outlet for his (teenage?) angst. The prose of his narrative emphasizes the metaphor of music as a representation of life in a beautiful way. I also loved the way that Ms. Schwab toyed with the motif that all actions have consequences, in this case the darkest acts resulting in literal monsters. 

This review is starting to feel a little bland to me now… This book was a fun read, but nothing to write home about. If I hadn’t had the audiobook, I probably wouldn’t have finished it as quickly as I did. This is a great read for when you know you’ll constantly be interrupted, and of course a fun twist on a classic love story. Minus the romance.

Tempests and Slaughter: 4.2

Tempests and Slaughter
Author: Tamora Pierce
Rating: 4.2

“Arram hated boredom.  That was the source of many of his problems.  Bored, he might tinker with the spells he was taught- just tinker, not actually cast the whole thing!  Then came visits to the healer, unhappy interviews with instructors, and labor or essays after that.”

-Tamora Pierce, Tempests and Slaughter

YES.  Tamora Pierce has built her own world and fleshed it out with rich cultures and a variety of adventures.  This time we get to experience the traditional training mages go through.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing Alanna develop her skills as a knight, and Aly grow as a spymaster, but a MAGE SCHOOL?  I’m still waiting for my Hogwarts letter.  Sign me up.  For those of you hardcore fans, The Circle of Magic characters were privately taught, which is one of the major differences in this series.

Pierce sets the scene by showing ten year old Arram Draper saying goodbye to his family.  Alone in a strange country and years ahead of his peers in his studies, Arram is an outcast.  When he meets Prince Ozorne and Varice, he begins to open up.  The trio bonds as they take on adventures, mysterious tasks from gods, and exams.  Oh, and the mysterious deaths of numerous members of the royal family.

This book felt nostalgic to me.  I’m pretty sure I have an entire shelf in my library- I mean, home office- dedicated to Tamora Pierce’s books.  I started reading them when I was in elementary school, and clearly, I haven’t stopped.  So, opening up a story and returning to her special universe felt like coming home.

The world building is full of depth and wonderful, as it should be.  Ms. Pierce has spent three decades creating this world, and she is a master of her craft.  The story starts a bit slow, but once it gets rolling it’s hard to peel your eyes away.  And its a lengthy one, so I would set this aside for when you have some time.

I LOVED the character arcs and growth that were established in this work.  We literally got to see the characters grow up, for better or worse.  It was such a refreshing change to see the dynamic contrast of their development from innocence to maturity.

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

The one issue I, personally, found with the character development was the budding romance between Arram and Varice.  It’s obvious that it will happen and then that Arram has a crush on her, but there’s no buildup in their interactions, it just sort of happens.  And his love life is a mess.  Seriously, it’s just a free for all where there’s a random girl, and once again NO BUILDUP.  It’s not even emotional that time, it just feels as though Pierce threw that girl in there as a sacrifice so that Arram had some experience before forming her OTP with Varice. The romance with Varice feels forced as a result

Other than the romance, it was an exciting read, and I look forward to the sequel in 2019.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.

All That We See or Seem: 4

All That We See or Seem
Author: Kristina Mahr
Rating: 4.0/5

DISCLAIMER: I have since been contracted to voice the narration for this book (and I am SO EXCITED!)  This in no way affects my impartial review process.  After reading the audition script, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.

“I quickly realize that my flight won’t matter.  I can hear the screeches through my hands, more arriving to join the first, discordant and jarring until suddenly it occurs to my ears that the horrific sounds are parts of a whole.  They overlap and blend in harmony with one another, intertwining into a beautiful, haunting song.  It calms my heartbeat, even though I am still running, even though I can still hear the very human wails beneath its sharp melody.”

– Kristina Mahr, All That We See or Seem

This is the kind of dark fantasy that I crave.  If you have any similar recommendations for me to review, GIMME- I mean, uh, please drop me a message on the Contact page. PLEASE.

Anyway, Lady Reeve Lennox is the niece of the king of Acarsaid.  She spends her days wandering the palace grounds carelessly with her four guards trailing her around.  At night, however, she dreams of a dark kingdom filled with man-eating birds and secrets.  She has wandered this same kingdom every night of her life, invisible, until the night of her 18th birthday.  Suddenly, she’s visible and everything she thought she knew about her dreamworld unravels in the light of the moon.

Okay, so where to start?

I’m obsessed with Kristina Mahr’s beautiful prose.  Seriously, I could read it all day.  Also, I literally screamed when I reached the end of the book.  You can ask my mom, I was visiting her and she ran into the living room with a skillet (she was cleaning the kitchen).  I guess I’m glad I wasn’t on the subway or something, because THAT would have been awkward.  Also, I love the premise and originality of this book.  The imagery is vivid and descriptive.  While I obviously wouldn’t want to live in the nightmare world, I’m so glad I got to experience it.  Ms. Mahr is a brilliant storyteller whose debut won me over.

She does, however, stay a bit to true to the realism of the story.  Reeve is naive, and her naivete can occasionally be annoying.  It is also annoying in its realism, because she never leaves the palace grounds.  Reeve dreams of adventure, but she never seems to do anything to live her dream.  Instead, adventure finds her, which is fine, but I wish she would take her own life into her hands a little more.  She’s perfectly flawed, but I want more character growth from her.  Hopefully we’ll see more of that in the sequel.

For now, I highly recommend adding this book to your TBR pile.  You won’t want to put it down.

Do you agree? Want to change my mind? Comment below! Maybe there’s something I missed the first time around.