Review: My Long List of Impossible Things by Michelle Barker

Michelle Barker’s second YA novel, My Long List of Impossible Things, explores the aftermath of World War II through the eyes of a German teenager.  It depicts the struggles of a country and a people reeling from the horrors of war, silent compliance with genocide and Nazism, while being occupied by another dictatorial regime, the Soviet Union.  Barker treats this subject with care to make it much more of a nuanced story, rather than a work that attempts to garner sympathy for Germany in this period.  She captures the mental, emotional, and sometimes physical journey or a girl living in a bubble during the war, rarely coming into contact with those things that terrify her, until her life is upended and she must make a new way for herself.  This theme is something that many of us are feeling in the present day, adjusting to our new normal, which looks so different from what it was days, weeks, months, or even years ago. 

This heavy subject is presented in way that young readers, young adults, and college students can easily digest and understand another view of the aftermath of the war, rarely depicted in mass media.  A couple of warnings for scenes depicting or referencing sexual assault, rape, graphic violence, and genocide.  This book evoked an emotional response on more than one occasion for me due to it’s realism and highly stylistic writing.  I found myself feeling exactly what Katja felt in those moments:  terror, determination, love, fear, desperation, etc.

“You never knew when something would happen for the last time. If you did, you’d cling to every precious second.”

This sentiment is echoing so loudly here in the present day.  This novel is not only timely, but something that so many of us should read.  Though we are not facing the same dangers that Katja and Hilde eventually faced in their narrative, we are facing tumultuous change throughout our world.

The pacing of this work is spot on and the character development is wonderfully done!  I could not have been happier to have had the chance to read and review this book.  Michelle Barker is a top notch author!  I would recommend this book to all young adults, college students, and anyone interested in post WWII historical fiction.  Really a superb read!

This book is out now from Annick Press at most major retailers! 

I received a galley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley.

Michelle Barker’s goodreads page and her website is:  https://michellebarker.ca/.

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Review: The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas

The Magnolia Sword is a beautiful re-telling of the story of Mulan.  This story has the things I look for in a teenage romance/historical fiction retelling of a myth:  blindfolded arrow catching, looks that can fell trees, and exciting conflict!

Before you start reading, I must warn you:  this novel is not in the same style as the Disney movie.  Disney’s Mulan is a comedic, musical take on the folk tale.  This book is a true re-telling of the story of Mulan, complete with historically accurate enemies and speaking styles which would have been found in 5th century China.  

The Magnolia Sword, which is a beautiful name for a beautiful sword, could really be called “A Tale of Two Swords.”  Though it bears no resemblance to the classic work about cities, there are two legendary swords featured at length in the book.  The action opens on a sword fight in the dead of night.  We find Mulan crossing blades with her rival, a similarly aged man from the Peng family.  The legend goes that the Hua family and the Peng family are sworn enemies in a generations long contest to win the two legendary swords, one held by each family.   Thomas uses beautiful descriptions of swordplay and the honorific art of speaking in 5th century China.  Some readers may need to get used to this style of dialogue, but it really adds to the historical accuracy and authenticity of the book.  

I absolutely appreciate the use of the correct tribes, the Xiongnu, Xianbei, and Rouran in the novel.  Given the history and mythology of Mulan, this is a great nod to the origins of the story and the correct time period, rather than the attempts from other pop culture attempts at a re-telling.  The book references the Xiongnu as the Huns, which is a true statement.  When most people think of the Huns, they think Attila the Hun, who was part of the Eurasian Huns.  The Xiongnu were Asiatic Huns whose ethnic and cultural makeup were a blend of many semi-nomadic steppe peoples.  I think it’s important to make this distinction.

The author put an inordinate amount of historical research into this book and it absolutely shows in the masterful telling of the story of Mulan.  It is vivid, emotion, and a masterfully crafted work of historical fiction.  As other reviewers have noted, Thomas carefully reminds us that behind the male facade, the armor, the war…. there is a teenager, dealing with all of the things teenagers dealt with on a scale 10 times harder than our modern view, who is only trying to honor her family.  She is human and vulnerable, even with all of her martial training.  

“Mulan means Magnolia….I feel a secret connection to the great blade, as if it were always meant to come to me.”

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the story of Mulan, but would caution you that this isn’t the Disney version.  This is much more true to the folk tale, with some artistic license thrown in.  If you are looking for a solid work of historical fiction, bordering on YA romance, this is the book for you!  Though it came out last year, this book is still available for order!  Don’t forget to support your local book shop and share your recommendations with friends! 

Sherry Thomas’ goodreads page can be found here

​Happy reading!

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Review: Spindle & Dagger by J. Anderson Coats

Wales in the twelfth century was a dangerous place for a woman, especially a woman with a secret.​

This is the story of Elen, a girl I slaughtered whose family at the hands of one Owain ap Cadwgan and his band of warriors.  Elen intends to survive.  She finds herself assaulted, but in a position to use her power to spin a lie and convince Owain that he has been blessed and cannot die while under her protection.  Clothed, fed, and living a lie, Elen finds herself well cared for, until Owain kidnaps the wife and children of a Norman warlord.  Elen’s lies seem to be on the brink of spinning out of control as war rages with the Normans. 

This is a meticulously researched and written novel that evokes the brutality of the world in the twelfth century.  Interesting action scenes pared with beautiful prose make this an enjoyable read for anyone who loves history and appreciates the gritty-ness of the time period.  Coats describes in brutal detail the challenges, battles, and sexual assaults that likely took place at the time.  This is not a book that is a watered-down accounting of Norman warlords in the twelfth century, this is the all-out, all-encompassing, and incredibly brutal novel that is, most likely, very close to the reality. 

The book has solid character development through the second half of the book, though I do agree with other reviewers that the overall pacing in the first half of the book is slow.  I do think that the writing makes up for this slow exposition through the exploration of the relationship between Elen and Nest, the kidnapped wife of Gerald of Windsor. 

Though this is a young adult novel, I would caution anyone under the age of 16 to read it due to its graphic violence.  It wouldn’t be a good historical fiction novel without violence, but this can get extreme at times.  My only other criticism is that the passage of time seems to be choppy and the scene structure can get in the way of the narrative, but this is a small complaint.

I really enjoyed this book and I would encourage historical fiction lovers to pick up a copy!  The book releases March 10th, 2020!  I originally requested this book because it has a beautiful cover and an intriguing premise!  

Thank you to Candlewick Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book, it was a privilege to read it and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  This is a freely given review.

Later this week I will be posting my review of not only The Breaking by K. S. Marsden, but a review of the two previous books in her The Northern Witch series!  You don’t want to miss this!

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Review: Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

Cerys is the daughter of the royal gardener of the Kingdom of Aloriya, a land that has seen peace for 300 years.  Bordered by a forbidden, cursed forest, Aloriya’s residents are rocked by the death of their king and are preparing to crown a new monarch.  Cerys’ best friend is the soon to be queen, Anwen, but she also has a secret.  Cerys can make flowers grow from a drop of her blood, what a useful power for a gardener’s daughter!  All goes well until the kingdom is attacked and the world seems to crumble around Cerys.

This is the sixth novel from Ashley Poston and I was absolutely enchanted by her writing style!  The narrative carries the reader through several different fairy tale tropes without it being incredibly obvious.  Poston is a master of show don’t tell and I did not see the ending until it happened.

Pacing is fantastic, I couldn’t put this book down!  I read it in two sittings because I couldn’t get enough of the world building.  Cursed kingdoms, fantastic monsters, unrealized love, and beautiful imagery all come together to make a wonderful new YA title! 

Cerys’ character development is honestly wonderful.  I could relate to her, I could see her struggles, and I could feel her anguish about the hard decisions she makes.  Her companion, a wily fox, is such a fun character in the story.  Fox is dynamic and interesting without being boring, as most animal-y companions can become.  The relationships between the characters are described early on so the reader absolutely understands the sacrifice and danger of the ultimate situation. 

Ashley Poston’s previous titles have sequels and I am hopeful this world and story will continue!  Also, read to the end, even after the THE END, it’s very important!

Thank you to Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray for a galley copy of this title in exchange for an honest review!

You can find Among the Beasts & Briars on goodreads and visit Ashley Poston’s Website!

Among the Beasts & Briars is out on October 20, 2020!  Pre-order from you favorite retailer today!

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Review: The Jealousy of Jalice by Jesse Nolan Bailey

Two women, fed up with the corrupt regime, set out on an adventure to unseat the Sachem by kidnapping his wife and installing someone to spy on him.  Annilasia takes the Sachem’s wife, Jalice, on a wild journey to confront the evil that plagues their land, but things do not go according to plan!

First blush:  I really enjoyed this book and am very glad that I had a chance to review it.  I’ll be pre-ordering a print copy, great cover and fun book that needs to be on my shelf.

I firmly believe there is a fine line between detail and believability.  This book is very detailed, but it just edges over to unbelievable, even in a world with alternate realms, magic.  It’s a delicate balance that is almost achieved here.  This doesn’t detract from the book, it’s still fabulous, just a little too complicated at some points in the story.  I certainly do think that with more novels in this series, this view will not apply as much.

That said, the pacing is tremendous!  The harrowing journey, action, and quick dialogue drive the story forward at a clip that was honestly surprising.  I finished the book and couldn’t believe it was over because it felt like I’d just picked the book up.  Another strength here is the narrative and plot.  There are some people who play video games, not so much for the mechanics, but for the story.  This is a book that thrives on it’s lore and worldbuilding.  It’s a masterfully done show not tell building of the world of the story and I was left wanting so, so much more!  I love that I was dropped into a world that I had to learn about through the interactions with the culture that the characters had.  It made this even more of an intellectual journey, something I really cherish here.

The character interactions were very interesting, given that Annilasia and Delilee hatch a plan to kidnap a woman with which neither of them were familiar.  I felt really, like other reviewers did, that this wasn’t a book in which I had to like the main characters.  I didn’t need to like them, but I needed to follow them, almost like I’m watching this story unfold from behind glass.  But, it isn’t a bad thing!  I’m glad it wasn’t a point that I had to like the characters, I’ve read too many novels where the main character wasn’t relatable, but it felt like the author was forcing me to like them.  This wasn’t that novel. 

I did notice that other reviews noted that they felt as if they were just scratching the surface of this world.  I wholeheartedly agree, but I view that as a good thing.  That means there is more to learn, more books to read, and more world to explore! 

I really did enjoy this book and I can’t wait for the next installment!

Thank you to BookSirens and Jesse Nolan Bailey for the opportunity to provide an honest review in exchange for a galley copy of this title!

Check out the author’s website, Jesse Nolan Bailey and get a copy of The Jealousy of Jalice eBook on May 19 and pre-order a print copy before September 22nd!

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Review: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

Ember is a high-achieving sophomore at Heller High, a normal school with a terrible secret, the Red Court.  The Red Court exists to bring chaos and mayhem into the lives of Heller High’s students.  A highly secretive group of students, with a mastermind, codename:  The Queen of Hearts. 

This is the setting in which Ember Williams finds herself.  Ember’s sister was injured in a car crash before Ember enrolled at Heller and of course the Red Court is responsible.  Ember vows to get revenge on the court by infiltrating their ranks and taking them down from the inside.

These Vengeful Hearts is exactly the high school drama meets dark action movie that I wanted!  The premise is a fun twist on Mean Girls and is filled with fun banter and so much intrigue that your heart will legitimately try to pound out of your chest! 

I was hooked from chapter one and could not put this book down!  The character development is solid and the world building was fun!  These Vengeful Hearts seems to take place in the modern world, with references to Instagram, Facebook, and other present day conveniences.  Overall the writing style and plot development reminded me of Cassandra Clare if she wrote things that didn’t have magic in them!

I would recommend this to readers that enjoy a classic high school YA adventure with a fun twist.  Readers who enjoy Cassandra Clare, Meg Cabot, Stephen Chbosky, and others would love this book! 

These Vengeful Hearts releases September 8th, mark your calendars or pre-order from your favorite retailer!

You can find the book on Goodreads here:  These Vengeful Hearts and Katherine Laurin’s website here:  Katherine Laurin

Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for a galley copy of this book in return for an honest review! 

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Review: The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

The Obsidian Tower is the first book in a new series by Melissa Caruso.  Set in the same world as her previous trilogy, Sword and Fire, this book is centered in a small kingdom to the north of where the main action took place in the previous books.  New characters, new magic, and lots of courtly conspiracy!  Ryx is our main character, the self-described black sheep of a royal-magical family.  In the opening chapters, Ryx explains (in beautifully written detail, rather than boring exposition) that her magic works in reverse, instead of creating things or manipulating things, she kills everything she touches.   

The author really builds great tension through a complex narrative with lots of political intrigue!  As other reviews have said, the plot isn’t new, it’s a book about a girl with a power that is different from her family, she gets pushed away by said family, discovers a group of people who understand her, and she tries to save the day.  That’s common, but don’t we read books because we like elements of that plot?  Because we love magic, politics, made up kingdoms and worlds, and reading intently as the heroine discovers that her power isn’t bad, just different  and different is okay. 

I really enjoyed this book and would absolutely recommend it to a YA reader of any age.  Fans of Leigh Bardugo, Victoria Schwab, Cassandra Clare, and Sarah J. Maas would love this book! I already have the Sword and Fire trilogy on my TBR list for when I finally get out from under this pile of ARCs!

I received a galley copy of this book from NetGalley and Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

You can find The Obsidian Tower on goodreads and on Melissa Caruso’s website.  This book releases June 4th (someone’s birthday!) and be sure to pick up a copy from your favorite retailer!

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Review: Palace of Silver by Hannah West

This series is very interesting because it combines so many different elements of storytelling.  The first book, A Kingdom of Ash and Briars, takes place well over 100 years before the setting of the sequels.  It seems a bit like this was meant to be a standalone that was picked up for a series, which isn’t a bad thing, only an interesting thing.  After reading the first book in the series, I really did enjoy it!   Great storytelling and world building, from what I can tell other reviews said that it was an underrated release in 2016, which was very promising. 

Book 2, Realm of Ruins, focuses on a direct descendant of the heroine of the first book and blends together fairy tale elements and other interesting storytelling devices.  I also really liked this book, though the time jump was disconcerting at the beginning.  I quickly came to terms with the time shift and happily finished Realm of Ruins

Palace of Silver is a continuation of the story from Realm of Ruins and is a captivating read!  I absolutely love the magic system, the elicromancers are a cross between the classic high fantasy elves and wizards both guardians and magic users with a noble charge to protect the people of the world, yet immortal and having to come to terms with long life.  The world building through the first two books holds up, though the original characters are absent.  The political system, magic system, currency, and overall order of things remain steady through this book. 

I really enjoyed the relationships between the characters, the main queens and the other queens.  A world with four queens?  You can never have too many queens!  I love the elements of high fantasy, of fairy tale folklore, and of your favorite fairy tale tropes!  This book has elements of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and other classic western tales that you likely know and love.

This is a great book and series for YA fans of magic and fantasy!  I would recommend to anyone looking for a fresh magical series to get them through this period of social distancing and beyond!  This is a book I would absolutely buy for my shelves (already bought the first two books, so I’ll have to have this one to complete the set!)

This book can be found on goodreads and on Hannah West’s website!  Out on April 28th, be sure to pick up this book from your favorite retailer!

I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Curse of Blood and Shadow by J. M. Kearl

This is the first book in J. M. Kearl’s second series, Allied Kingdoms Academy.  Though the title denotes that this book would follow the traditional academy trope in YA books, but it is really a fantastic blend of Harry Potter, Throne of Glass, and a hint of teenage angst that manifests in the best way.  For fans of Middle Grade fiction, this also reminds me of the Magisterium series from Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. 

I absolutely enjoy the premise of this book – Vesteal is a princess with two fun friends and a dark secret.  Her parents, the King and Queen, send her to a brand new academy comprised of students from the three kingdoms.  What adventures await? What trouble could there be?  As the description says, this work has talking cats, star crossed lovers, royalty, teenagers trained to fight, and action packed into every chapter!
The author melds interesting characters with subtle wordplay to create beautifully developed world building and fun action sequences.  I loved Atticus and his cat network, he provided some fun sass to break the tension in some scenes.  I feel like the action and story really picked up pace about 1/3 of the way through the book. 

This book was a great read for me!  If you enjoy Holly Black, Lauren Kate, or Sarah J. Maas, you will LOVE this book!  I would definitely recommend this novel for anyone who loves magic, YA, and a great romance!

I found this to be a refreshing new release in YA fiction.  I can’t wait to see where the series takes these characters!  Curse of Blood and Shadow is out on April 7th!  Check out J. M. Kearl’s other works on Amazon!

J.M. Kearl is on goodreads and her website is https://jmkearl.com/.

I received an ARC from the author for an honest review of this novel.

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Review: Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare

Set in Edwardian London, Chain of Gold, follows a cast of characters from all the Shadowhunter families you already know:  Lightwood, Herondale, Fairchild, Blackthorn, Carstairs, etc.  And a few you haven’t heard about yet:  Bridgestock, Townsend, Wentworth, etc.  As with all of Cassandra Clare’s novels, this is a wonderful romp through London with plenty of danger, intrigue, romance, twisting plot points, and more! 

Really, I only had a minor criticism of the book, characters get confusing at the beginning, but it eventually clears up.  It’s a little weird that all the character traits, blue eyes/black hair/gold eyes/red hair, are all mixed up from the original Shadowhunter Series.  I understand needing to describe people, but suddenly a Lightwood doesn’t look like a Lightwood because in the years between Chain of Gold and the Mortal Instruments series many people have married each other and it’s just a bit odd.  Also, everyone is someone’s cousin.  I may have waited too long from reading the last Clockwork book, but I’m not sure.  This is honestly a minor criticism.  Around the first 1/4 of the book, I didn’t care about who had which last name because the characters really grew into their own!

I’m really loving the use of characters who identify as LGBTQ, and the depth of these characters is honestly amazing!  You love to see it!  Since this book came out, I’ve seen some comments that Clare used too many characters that identified as lesbian, bi, or gay for the time period.  I really don’t think that criticism should be applied here, Cassandra Clare recently tweeted in response to comments about this issue saying that LGBTQ people existed in the time period, just because you haven’t heard about them does not mean they did not exist.  I absolutely understand where she is coming from and I have to agree.  Persons who identified as a sexual orientation that does not conform to the society in which they live have been a part of humanity since the dawn of time. This isn’t a new thing.  The only thing new about it is that we, as humans, are much more aware and conscious of the free expression of love. 

I appreciate the use of flashbacks to tell backstory; it helps with the continuity and ultimately enhances the narrative.  My favorite character is probably Matthew, he reminds me a lot of Jace from The Mortal Instruments series.  He’s broody, sometimes distant, headstrong, and seems a bit careless.  Definitely a guy I’d like to meet in Edwardian London!

Overall, this book is another exciting adventure by Cassandra Clare and I would encourage you to pick it up ASAP!  If you have not read the Mortal Instruments Series or the Infernal Devices series, you can still read this book. You may miss a few of the jokes that reference earlier books, but it stands well on its own as a new series set in the Shadowhunter Universe!  

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