Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress, #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publication Date: October 10th 2017
Publisher: Philomel Books

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a gorgeously written debut novel inspired by the Evil Queen legend from Snow White. 

Xifeng lives a frugal and unhappy life in her dilapidated family home, along with her aunt Guma who raised her. By reading cards and practicing magic, Guma sees greatness in her niece's future, but this rise to power will come at a price. Xifeng will have to give up something or someone important to her to achieve it. 

Xifeng is beautiful, ambitious and intelligent. She has a difficult and complicated relationship with her aunt. Although Guma treats her harshly with her words and physically beats her, she expresses that she has high expectations for her niece. Xifeng lives for the rare moments of kindness and occasional approval she receives from her aunt, hoping for genuine love and affection from her. Deciding to take her fate into her own hands, she leaves Guma and her village behind. She travels with her lover Wei to the Imperial City in the hopes of becoming the one destined to unite the five kingdoms and bring peace to the continent. However, it is foretold there is another whose destiny may be greater than her own.

Xifeng has an inner malevolence that she desperately strives to suppress. She is quick to anger and has extremely violent thoughts about others who she feels have slighted her, no matter how insignificant the circumstance. She constantly struggles to fight this creature within her and not embrace the darkness which will destroy her soul. Her transformation through her choices is plausible and authentic. She is resourceful as she faces adversity and rivals on her path to becoming the Empress.

There is remarkable attention to detail in every aspect of the story. The village, the Emperor’s palace, Imperial City and the forest where the tengaru reside, are all magnificently described.  The characters are extremely well-developed, unique and believable. The connections and interactions between the women are more potent and fascinating than the romances, which makes for a more thought-provoking narrative.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a powerful and compelling fantasy tale, filled with mystery, dark magic and secrets. Julie C. Dao has created a kingdom that is beautifully imagined. With East Asian mythology, colourful demons, political intrigue, complex relationships and an ambitious, yet tortured anti-heroine, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
The Wrath and the Dawn meets Snow White and the Huntsman in this dark and mystical East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her.

Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and  exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. 

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance. Fans of Heartless, Stealing Snow, and Red Queen will devour this stunning debut.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Forest of a Thousand Lanterns here.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

That Inevitable Victorian Thing
Author: E.K. Johnston
Publication Date: October 3rd 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

That Inevitable Victorian Thing takes place in the near future and is set in an alternative world created when Victoria I appoints her eldest daughter heir, instead of her son. Rather than arranging marriages for her children within Europe, she looked further to other continents and encouraged her daughter, Victoria II, to do so as well. This ultimately resulted in a diverse royal family and a strong multiracial, multicultural British Empire.

Margaret, Crown Princess of the Empire and direct descendant of Victoria I, travels to Canada with her parents, the Queen of England and the Prince Consort. Masquerading as a commoner, she embarks on an adventure reminiscent of Roman Holiday. She wants the freedom to enjoy her visit before taking up her royal responsibilities as an adult, including a political marriage. While there she meets August, son of a prominent family and Helena, his potential fiancée, who has been invited to debut at the ball in Toronto attended by the royals. The story revolves around the three as they forge a bond against a background of parties, dances and intrigue.

The book was an absolute joy to read. The characters live in a world where racism and bigotry is not tolerated. Diversity in gender, sexuality and religion is encouraged and different ethnicities and cultures are celebrated, not scorned. I was fascinated by so many aspects of this novel, especially the world building and use of computer genetic matchmaking, with it's combination of tradition and technology. Using the alluring scenery of Ontario as a backdrop to the story was refreshing. The pacing was steady, which gave me an opportunity to relish in the nuances and developing relationships, particularly the strong female friendships. 

Johnston has a unique writing style that kept me captivated. Once I started reading, I really didn't want to stop. That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a charming, compelling story of a future that although not perfect, inspires hope and understanding, amidst the unhappiness and division in today's chaotic world. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
Speculative fiction from the acclaimed bestselling author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear and Star Wars: Ahsoka.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history. The imperial tradition of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage. But before she does her duty, she'll have one summer of freedom and privacy in a far corner of empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process.

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved not by the cost of blood and theft but by the effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on That Inevitable Victorian Thing here.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Seize Today (Forget Tomorrow, #3)

Seize Today (Forget Tomorrow, #3)
Author: Pintip Dunn
Publication Date: October 3rd 2017
Publisher: Entangled: Teen

In Pintip Dunn's Forget Tomorrow, memories are sent back in time to shape each person's future. After Callie Stone receives a memory that shows her killing her sister, she goes on a mission to discover not only why she would commit such a horrible act, but to stop an even worse crime from happening. Remember Yesterday follows Callie's sister Jessa ten years later in her determination to reunite her family and resolve some of the complications that occurred in the earlier book.

Seize Today is the third and final installment in the series and takes place six months on from Remember Yesterday. This time it is Olivia's turn to be in the spotlight. She is the daughter of the tyrannical Chairwoman Dresden, who is the nemesis of the Underground - those seeking to change the future for the better. I was excited to get more of an insight into Olivia's personality, history and thoughts about the sequence of events that transpired in the previous novels. I enjoyed being reunited with characters I already knew and was intrigued to find out what had happened to them.

This book provides a deeper understanding of the difficult and complicated relationship between Olivia and the chairwoman. Olivia craves love above everything else, but thinks she is somehow undeserving of it. Her only affection comes from her mother in an alternative vision of her life. In reality, Chairwoman Dresden is both physically and emotionally abusive toward her. However, Olivia views a future where her mother is kind, so she believes she might not be a complete monster. She sees better versions of the future that come from paths her mother could have picked, but chose not to. Most fascinating was to see there might be another side to the chairwoman.  

Olivia reveals strength as she rises above her insecurities. Being a precognitive, she sees the many different paths each individual's future could take, including potential tragedies she is unable to change. Her love interest, Ryder offers a genuine connection that she was never able to have before. He is also a mystery to her. Their dynamic is intense and strained even more by the future memory he has of killing her. 

The story itself is thrilling with the action, suspense and dangerous scenarios I've come to expect from this author. Seize Today brings the marvellous and breathtaking Forget Tomorrow trilogy to its satisfying conclusion. As with the previous books, it stresses that the path you choose will influence the person you become in the future. It is riveting and emotional, with plenty of new surprises. Dunn has invented an imaginative, exciting world filled with inspiring characters I've come to care about.

Thank you to Entangled: Teen for the eBook copy to review.

From the publisher:
Seventeen-year-old Olivia Dresden is a precognitive. Since different versions of people’s futures flicker before her eyes, she doesn’t have to believe in human decency. She can see the way for everyone to be their best self-if only they would make the right decisions. No one is more conflicted than her mother, and Olivia can only watch as Chairwoman Dresden chooses the dark, destructive course every time. Yet Olivia remains fiercely loyal to the woman her mother could be.

But when the chairwoman captures Ryder Russell, the striking and strong-willed boy from the rebel Underground, Olivia sees a vision of her own imminent death…at Ryder’s hand. Despite her bleak fate, she rescues Ryder and flees with him, drawing her mother’s fury and sparking a romance as doomed as Olivia herself. As the full extent of Chairwoman Dresden’s gruesome plan is revealed, Olivia must find the courage to live in the present-and stop her mother before she destroys the world.

The Forget Tomorrow series includes:

Before Tomorrow (Prequel)
Forget Tomorrow (Book #1)
Remember Yesterday (Book #2)
Seize Today (Book #3)

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Seize Today here.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Jane, Unlimited

Jane, Unlimited
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publication Date: September 19th 2017
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books

"Do you ever feel like you're trapped in the wrong version of your life?"

Jane has felt this way ever since her Aunt Magnolia went away on a photography mission to the Antarctica and never returned. Shortly before her death, Jane's aunt made her promise to never turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens, the large home situated on a private island owned by Octavian Thrash IV. While working part-time in a campus bookshop, Jane runs into her old acquaintance and tutor Kiran, who also happens to be Octavian's daughter. When Kiran invites her to stay at her family's estate, it's an offer she can't refuse.

Soon after arriving at the mansion and unable to sleep, Jane decides to explore her new surroundings. While wandering the halls, she overhears a strange conversation between several of the other inhabitants that may be connected to some strange and recent goings on. She soon finds herself trying to solve a mystery revolving around Kiran's absent stepmother, some missing children and stolen works of art!

Tu Reviens is like a living entity and hides secrets within its vast walls. It is described as making sighs, rumbles, groans and "protesting noises". The house itself is integral to the progression of the story. Magnolia tells Jane that it's a place of opportunity and this information is relevant in her decision to take Kiran up on her offer to go there. Its occupants are an eclectic group, with their individual quirks and traits. There is an old fashioned nostalgic feel to the setting and the residents with their clever, witty dialogue. 

Without her aunt, Jane is lost. She drops out of school, has an uninspiring job and lives in a small rented apartment with three other people. When Kiran invites her to stay at Tu Reviens, it makes sense for her to accept. The invitation also brings her closer to her aunt. Jane has a vibrant personality. She makes umbrellas for both practicality and art. When pitted against the wealthy socialites, she says what she thinks and asks questions no one expects. Tangled in the mystery that is Tu Reviens, Jane wonders why Aunt Magnolia was so eager to send her there.

The first part of the book sets up the main story, but the subsequent ones careen off into different directions, based on the multiple decisions Jane makes. It's an unusual format and one that allows author Kristin Cashore to bring together many elements and genres. The novel is mysterious, atmospheric and magical with prevalent themes of sea, water and exploration. I loved the many references to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, also, as it is one of my favourites.

Jane, Unlimited is ultimately about the importance of the seemingly random choices we make and how they can have a significant impact on the outcome of our lives. Recommended.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
The highly anticipated standalone from the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of the Graceling Realm series—a kaleidoscopic novel about grief, adventure, storytelling, and finding yourself in a world of seemingly infinite choices.

Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family's island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: "If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you'll go." With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn't know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.

Read Jane, Unlimited and remember why The New York Times has raved, "Some authors can tell a good story; some can write well. Cashore is one of the rare novelists who do both."

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Jane, Unlimited here.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Warcross

Author: Marie Lu
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers

Emika Chen makes her living as a bounty hunter in New York City. She tracks down those conducting illegal activities within a hugely popular online game called Warcross. During the opening of the Official World Championships, she discovers a tiny glitch in Warcross's security and is able to steal an expensive item just before one of the tournament players is about to use it. By doing so she inadvertently hacks herself into the game. Instead of being banned from the game or worse, she becomes an instant celebrity, attracting the attention of its creator, Hideo Tanaka. With barely a moment to catch her breath, she is personally invited to travel to Tokyo and work for him. But what awaits her there is more than she’s expecting and danger is just around the corner.

Author Marie Lu does a fabulous job describing the game and how widespread its importance is. The Official Warcross Championships are watched the world over and the top-ranking players are superstars. Images of the game and its stars are displayed all over the city. The audience for the opening ceremony numbers five hundred and twenty million.  Warcross is a not just a form of escapism, it is also a way of life. 

Emika is a strong, sympathetic and worthy character. When her father dies unexpectedly, she is left with a huge debt and sent to live in a group foster home. Although she struggles to make ends meet and works hard to support herself, she feels empathy toward those even less fortunate than she is. She wants to escape from the poverty stricken life she leads and often dreams of becoming a star Warcross player. She is a loner, her only friend being her roommate Keira. Desperate for money, with threat of eviction looming over her, it is understandable why she is eager to leave her unhappiness in New York City behind and agree to Hideo’s offer. Emika is convincing as a girl thrown into an unsuspecting circumstance. She handles pressure well and is used to dealing with criminals and situations quickly and efficiently. She accepts her new surroundings quite easily when her fantasy becomes reality. Her relationship with the wealthy, mysterious Hideo is intense and intriguing.

Lu invents a world that is imaginative and detailed. Creations like the NeuroLink - thin wireless glasses that trick the brain into believing the virtual is indistinguishable from reality, are exceptionally illustrated. The differences portrayed between the bright neon lights of Times Square, the dirty, garbage-strewn streets of the Bronx and the dynamic, vibrant city of Tokyo with its virtual models, flying ships and unusual pets, is superb. The game itself is magnificently depicted, with spectacular scenic views and incredible landscapes. 

Warcross is a clever and addictive thrill ride from start to finish. Complete with a relatable heroine, colourful imagery, a fast-paced story and the most amazing tech to die for, this book kept me on the edge of my seat! Highly recommended to gamers, Science Fiction fans or anyone who enjoys an exciting, action-packed novel.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu—when a game called Warcross takes the world by storm, one girl hacks her way into its dangerous depths.

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty-hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

In this sci-fi thriller, #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu conjures an immersive, exhilarating world where choosing who to trust may be the biggest gamble of all.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Warcross here.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Before She Ignites

Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy, #1)
Author: Jodi Meadows
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Mira Minkoba is a teenage girl living on Damina, one of the six island nations of the Fallen Isles. She has a sheltered life as the cherished Hopebearer of her people. Her father is the creator of the Mira Treaty that unites the islands against threats from the mainland, but not everyone is approving of it. After uncovering a treacherous and mysterious secret, Mira is taken to the Pit, the deepest prison in the Isles, to await an unknown fate.

Mira is a flawed, but admirable heroine. Taught to rely on her looks and raised to be perfect, she privately suffers acute panic attacks. She uses her obsessive counting habit to calm her anxiety. Beautiful and empathetic, she represents hope to others, but needs to develop the confidence to trust and rely on herself. She's been protected and cared for her whole life, but after her imprisonment must find the inner strength she needs to survive her perilous situation. The development of her character is realistic and inspiring.

The author pays exceptional attention to detail in every aspect of her world -  from the histories, cultures and politics of the people, to the individual isles and their attributes. Damina is depicted as a peaceful place with its scents, sights and sounds. The Heart of the Great Warrior is a magnificent, holy temple of the Khulani people and a huge underground training complex for warriors. It also contains the Pit, with horrific living conditions for its prisoners. The drakarium or sanctuary, with an enormous wall 17 stories high, is impressive. The descriptions of the various species of dragons, their colours, sizes and how they communicate, is fascinating.

Meadows wrote a gripping story that I found mesmerising. It is about trust, betrayal and standing up for what you believe in. With its complex protagonist, diverse collection of characters, political intrigue and array of fantastic dragons, I absolutely adored Before She Ignites. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next instalment of the series.

Thank you to Harper Collins for the eBook copy to review.

From the publisher:
From the New York Times bestselling co-author of My Lady Jane comes a smoldering new fantasy trilogy perfect for fans of Victoria Aveyard and Kristin Cashore about a girl condemned for defending dragons and the inner fire that may be her only chance of escape.

Mira has always been a symbol of hope for the Fallen Isles, perfect and beautiful—or at least that’s how she’s forced to appear. But when she uncovers a dangerous secret, Mira is betrayed by those closest to her and sentenced to the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles.

Except Mira is over being a pawn. Fighting to survive against outer threats and inner demons of mental illness, Mira must find her inner fire and the scorching truth about her own endangered magic—before her very world collapses. 

And that’s all before she ignites. 

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Before She Ignites here.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Black Bird of the Gallows

Black Bird of the Gallows
Author: Meg Kassel
Publication Date: September 5th 2017
Publisher: Entangled: Teen

The house next door to Angie's has been vacant ever since her ex-neighbour came home from a business trip, then set to work killing his entire family and himself. Not many people want to live in a home where a murder-suicide took place. So when Reece Fernandez moves in with his mother and siblings, she's intrigued, especially since after meeting him odd occurrences start to happen. It certainly doesn't hurt that he's very tall and extremely attractive, either.

As Angie gets to know Reece it becomes apparent that he has some dark secrets. It is clear to her that he has suffered a terrible tragedy in his past. He wears an open expression of grief and despair that she instantly recognises and is drawn to. He is intense, mysterious and displays an unusual affinity with the mass of large black birds that have recently started to swarm on their street. 

Angie has a painful history that affects her and makes her vulnerable. She is a multidimensional young woman and like Reece, is not as she appears on the surface. Only her two close friends know that she is Sparo, a popular DJ at a local night club. With prophetic warnings and ominous signs appearing around her, she has to pay attention. She finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations as she is unwittingly drawn into a battle between good and evil.

Black Bird of the Gallows is filled with omens, curses, frightening otherworldly beings, menacing creatures and brooding, creepy atmosphere. There were some outstanding visuals involving bees that reminded me of the wonderful film Candyman. The relationship between the two central characters was slightly familiar, but this was offset by the originality of the story's mythos. The book contained enough chills to keep me riveted, not to mention the stunningly beautiful cover! I thoroughly enjoyed this darkly delicious YA and would recommend to readers who love thrilling tales, gothic romance and fantasy.

Thank you to Entangled: Teen for the eBook copy to review.

From the publisher:
A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What's more, she knows something most don't. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Black Bird of the Gallows here.