Book Review: A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kremmerer

*I received this book from Raincoast in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: A Curse so Dark and Lonely

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: January 29, 2019

ISBN: 9781681195087

Synopsis from Goodreads:
It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back.

In this modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, A Curse so Dark and Lonely is a heart-wrenching and fast-paced story of love and friendship that spans between worlds and brings two people together in a very unlikely pairing. Prince Rhen is that hunky fellow with a dark secret. Brooding, regal, and wise beyond his apparent age, he’s the type that every girl falls for. He’s been trying to charm girls for centuries to break his curse and has had no success. In his final chance, he’s lost the will to try to break the curse. Harper is a kick-ass heroine, if I ever saw one. She’s a force to be reckoned with, she’s resistant to all forms of fairytale charm, and she always fights for what’s right no matter the cost. She rises above every challenge in her life and is set to take this world by storm.

This is the first book in a long while that I zipped through. It’s an absolute page-turner. I’d been SO needing something fluffy, but also something with characters I could really get behind. This story is full of freshness and originality. It’s got cool characters, inter-dimensional travel, and a romance that makes your heart just burst with joy! It was such a refreshing take on a tried and true fairytale. The characters, although in a fantasy world, are so relatable and are both really appealing. Their story is tainted by enough fear and darkness to really set the tone of the story on edge and push the reader forward. Once you open this book, you won’t be stopping until you reach the end.

This was my first encounter with Brigid Kemmerer, but I’m totally hooked! Bring on the books! I want to read everything she’s got. I cannot wait to the sequel to A Curse so Dark and Lonely. I’m already counting down the days. I highly recommend this book to any YA fans out there. This book brings me so much JOY!


Book Review: Theory by Dionne Brand

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Theory

Author: Dionne Brand

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

ISBN: 9780735274235

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Theory begins as its narrator sets out, like many a graduate student, to write a wildly ambitious thesis on the past, present, and future of art, culture, race, gender, class, and politics–a revolutionary work that its author believes will synthesize and thereby transform the world. While our narrator tries to complete this magnum opus, three lovers enter the story, one after the other, each transforming the endeavour. Each galvanizing love affair (representing, in turn, the heart, the head, and the spirit) upends and reorients the narrator’s life and, inevitably, requires an overhaul of the ever larger and more unwieldy dissertation, with results both humorous and poignant.

Theory follows an unnamed narrator through the process of writing a dissertation–a process that is regularly derailed and redirected through three poignant love affairs that shape the narrator’s life experiences. Written in an elegant and intelligent prose, this story is thoughtful and beautiful. Through memory’s eye, this story observes these amorous relationships through a retroactive lens, scrutinizing the effects each lover had on the narrator and the writing process. Each lover is representative of the the heart, the head, and the spirit. The narrator’s journey with each of them allows for growth and transformation. With each all-consuming experience comes new-found knowledge, inspiration, and change.

This book challenges concepts of gender and gender identity. It does not outright define the gender or orientation of the narrator, but we are given clues throughout. There is a void that effectually creates a blank canvas for the mind to question and expand with each relationship. This story turns the construct of gender on its head, establishing the narrator as neither masculine or feminine. The narrator just is. The voice speaks to the human experience, valuing the expansion of the mind and the pleasure of the body over all else. There is much ambiguity to be had, and in this, the door is flung open for the reader to set critical analysis aside and just experience as the narrator does.

This book is one of the more challenging reads I’ve encountered in a long while. The narrator is critical, ambling, and verbose, but I felt a sort of kinship as the story unfolded. This book does require a lot of focus and some time. It’s not quick or easy to read, but it is beautiful and it offers an interesting analysis of academia, romance, and gender that is intriguing and intense.

Happy reading!

Book Review: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

*I received this book from Hachette in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Muse of Nightmares

Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780316341714

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep. Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else? As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected.

AHHHH! Ok, review done. Just kidding! Laini Taylor will forever be one of my favourite YA authors. There has yet to be a book of hers that I didn’t like. She’s a fantasy writing goddess.  I really don’t want to give too much away because this is a sequel. Let me tell you up front, if you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer, then GO GET IT NOW! 

Just to recap, this series explores the world of gods, godspawn, and humans. Book one walks us through Lazlo’s perspective as he discovers the strange city of Weep and the mysterious citadel in the sky that has plagued their city for years. Book two, Muse of Nightmares, thrusts the aftermath of this story onto the reader confronting death and loss head on. Everything has changed and the characters must now figure out how to move forward in their new realities. Blends the present with an origin story, Taylor offers the reader a comprehensive look at how her world came to be and how it can possible progress forward from here. There is so much hurt and hatred that permeates this story, that it’s seemingly impossible that any peace or resolution might be found.

Taylor proves again and again that she is a masterful storyteller. Her tale calls back to the previous book, gently reminding us of all the action that occurred without becoming repetitive. She has built a vivid and tangible world, demonstrating her deftness with the figurative pen. Her already expansive universe explodes in this novel, becoming something that the reader never imagined. She demonstrates her ability to weave and transform story lines, allowing them to grow and adapt without becoming too out of control or overwhelming. It remains engaging, well-structured, and beautiful. Her world is sound and ever changing. 

The characters are breathtaking as they unfold throughout the story’s progression. This book allows us to experience the same characters even more deeply, as well as introducing new characters whose stories are equally devastating. There is SO.MUCH.CHARACTER.GROWTH. I’m so pleased. Even new characters have complete story arcs and incredible transformation throughout the novel. Delving into Minya’s past, we experience her tortuous past and begin to understand her complexity in intense and devastating detail. We also see Sarai and Lazlo struggle with the new realities that they face and we follow them as they explore new possibilities. 

Everything about this duology is incredible. The only thing I wants is MORE of these books! 

Book Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Broken Things

Author: Lauren Oliver

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780062224132

Synopsis from Goodreads:

It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods. 

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it. 

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.

I can’t say I loved or hated Broken Things by Lauren Oliver. I didn’t mind it, but it was nowhere near as good as Panic or DeliriumBroken Things tells the story of 3 teenagers–two girls in particular–who were accused of killing their best friend when they were thirteen years old. The story is intricately wrapped up with a fantasy novel that they adored and a fan fiction that they were writing together. 

The story has a very haunted and supernatural quality to it. It’s a spooky murder mystery YA novel with characters who are struggling greatly in the aftermath of wrongful accusation. These girls’ lives have changed so drastically in the 5 years since their friends deal, yet they are still at the centre of the town’s scorn and derision. Few have forgiven them their past and even fewer make attempts to make amends.

I had a really hard time believing the towns conviction in believing that 2 girls that young really committed such a brutal murder. I could understand the cold case and I could really get on board with looking into the victims friend, but the hatred that the town feels for these young girls, even after they are no longer suspects, it fierce and enduring. It weaves a very tragic tale. 

I did enjoy the friendships that developed throughout the book. Oliver always writes very interesting and well-developed characters. This book shows a story arc of things past, present, and future, and the characters really grow and blossom as the story unfolds. If you’re really in the mood for some against-the-grain type characters, this is the right book for you. They are interesting, in depth, and anything but normal. There’s a lot of hormones, feelings, memories, and so much more at play, adding to the difficulty of their search to find their friend’s real killer. 

What I liked about this book as well was that it tackled some other big issues. It explored drug abuse, physical and mental abuse, depression, anxiety, familial relationships, sexuality and sexual orientation, and so much more. It does really pack a punch with the strong variety of characters and personalities. This story really showcases the spectrum of struggles that people face throughout their lives, both intensely difficult, but also mundane.

Overall, I think fans of Oliver will enjoy this read, but it’s certainly not as powerful as her other series. For me, it was just fine, but I hope you’ll enjoy it more!

Happy reading

Book Review: The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan

*I received this book from PGC Books in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Christmas Lights

Author: Karen Swan

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Publication Date: October 30, 2018

ISBN: 9781509840618

Synopsis from Goodreads:
December 2018, and free-spirited influencers Bo Loxley and her partner Zac are living a life of wanderlust, travelling the globe and sharing their adventures with their millions of fans. Booked to spend Christmas in the Norwegian fjords, they set up home in a remote farm owned by enigmatic mountain guide Anders and his fierce grandmother Signy. Surrounded by snowy peaks and frozen falls, everything should be perfect. But the camera can lie and with every new post, the ‘perfect’ life Zac and Bo are portraying is diverging from the truth. Something Bo can’t explain is wrong at the very heart of their lives and Anders is the only person who’ll listen. The mountains keep secrets – Signy knows this better than anyone – and as Bo’s life begins to spiral she is forced, like the old woman before her, to question who is friend and who is foe.

The Christmas Lights was everything I hoped for in a fluffy Christmas story driven by wanderlust and fully of scenic Norwegian fjords. It’s the perfect book for cuddling up with in front of the fireplace. What’s it about? Social media influencers and real-life couple Bo and Zac are travelling the world, promoting products and making a comfortable living by putting their relationship and outdoor adventures on display. If you don’t have the bug to hope on a plane to Norway when you’re finished reading this, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you! 😉 

This is my first Karen Swan book and I can’t say that I’m totally hooked on her after reading this, but her Christmas books appeal to me in the same way that I can’t stop listening to Nicholas Sparks audiobooks. It’s not for the overwhelmingly mind-blowing prose, but there’s something comforting about reading a fluff piece with a relatively simple plot, a whirlwind romance, and a gorgeous setting. What was quite compelling about this story is that there’s a dark side to it which creates added suspense and attempts to make the second half of the book almost into an intense mystery/thriller. The lovely Christmas spirit is overshadowed with an unknown dark presence that threatens the free-spirited existence of the protagonist.

The characters weren’t anything special, but they drive the plot. I didn’t really believe the relationship between the main characters, but I suppose that’s the point. Their relationship is meant to unravel right from the get go and you can really tell. I wasn’t enthralled by the new romance that springs up as the story progresses either. You can see it coming a mile away so there’s no real will-they-wont-they suspense. I wish I could have enjoyed Bo a little bit more, but I really wanted her to be more concrete. She felt like a phantom imagination of what a social media traveler might be, but not really like a real girl. She lacked a lot of conviction. Her boyfriend is pretty terrible, but we’re supposed to not like him, so Swan succeeds in that. Everyone fell pretty flat. Even the antagonist in the end was not as terrifying as he’s built up to be.

Overall though, the scenic descriptions and breathtaking setting made up for it and I was perfectly content to read. I’ve even checked out another one of Swan’s books from the library. This definitely isn’t a bad read if you’re looking for something light to read this Christmas season! 

Book review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

36260155*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Damsel

Author: Elana K. Arnold

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

ISBN: 9780062742346

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The rite has existed for as long as anyone can remember: when the prince-who-will-be-king comes of age, he must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been. When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, however, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon, or what horrors she has faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome prince, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny to sit on the throne beside him. Ama comes with Emory back to the kingdom of Harding, hailed as the new princess, welcomed to the court. However, as soon as her first night falls, she begins to realize that not all is as it seems, that there is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows–and that the greatest threats to her life may not be behind her, but here, in front of her.

I struggled with Damsel a lot because I expected it to be a lot stronger of a feminist text than I felt that it was. This story is a retelling of the “damsel-in-distress” narrative that dominates so many fairytales. In a drastic way, it calls attention to the lack of agency that female characters in these stories actually have. However, though it contains a graphic declaration of the perpetuation of patriarchal domination in these stories, I personally didn’t feel as though it did enough to combat these themes with a strong feminist objection. This book includes so many triggers incredibly graphic violence and rape, animal cruelty, abuse, and self-harm, making this book incredibly difficult to digest. I was uncomfortable reading the whole thing. I’m so glad to see that books are discussing these issues and bringing attention to these issues within literature and the literary cannon.

This book discusses great themes of female agency and the theft of the female voice in it’s dark attempt to rewrite the classic fairytale. BUT, I kept hoping for a strong woman to rise up and fight this fictional system. The only resolution to be found is profoundly unsatisfying within in the very short last one or two pages. Leading up to that is continued and recurrent abuse that becomes too much as it goes on throughout the book. I can recognize that this is likely the author’s intention, to demonstrate the terrible inescapable situation that abuse carries and to showcase the negative ideals that the princess-in-the-castle stories perpetuate. This book is supposed to be a discussion of misogyny and feminism and the patriarchy, but for my own interest, there was too much misogyny and not enough feminist ladies kicking ass.

WARNING: this book is classified as a young adult novel, however the rape and sexual assault scenes are gratuitously graphic and in depth. I don’t expect this level of description from adult texts, so I wouldn’t advise that this be read by teens. I don’t want you to mistake me that we shouldn’t be talking about these topics in literature–we most definitely should. But such description is not common in YA lit and I can see many unsuspecting readers coming across potential graphic descriptions. The book is sexually graphic throughout to the point where I, as an adult, was uncomfortable. I kept reading in hopes of some great redemption, but that never came.

I can’t say I enjoyed this book. I wanted it to be more than it was and so perhaps my feelings originate from dashed expectations. If you choose to read, take warning to the intense triggers throughout. I hope you take more away from this book than I did.

Book review: The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse

35833029*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Summer of Us

Author: Cicelia Vinesse

Publisher: Poppy (imprint of Little, Brown & Company)

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 9780316391139

Synopsis from Goodreads:
American expat Aubrey has only two weeks left in Europe before she leaves for college, and she’s nowhere near ready. Good thing she and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last group trip across the continent. From Paris to Prague, they’re going to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible with their friends Clara, Jonah, and Gabe. But when old secrets come to light, Aubrey and Rae’s trip goes from a carefree adventure to a complete disaster. For starters, there’s Aubrey and Gabe’s unresolved history, complicated by the fact that Aubrey is dating Jonah, Gabe’s best friend. And then there’s Rae’s hopeless crush on the effortlessly cool Clara. How is Rae supposed to admit her feelings to someone so perfect when they’re moving to different sides of the world in just a few weeks?

If you’re looking for a light and fluffy summer read, this is the book for you! The Summer of Us has everything you’re looking for if you like cute, whirlwind romance novels with the perfect mix of friendship, love, and beautiful cities thrown together. This book delivers exactly what it promises, a summer of crushes and romance, and many a gorgeous European city. The characters have known each other for their high school years, forming the kind of friendships that one can only form in those important formative years. They are facing an end of an era with college fast approaching in the fall. Their weeks together in the summer are wrought with fear of the unknown and uncertainty in the face of change, with an intense desire to hold on to what they’ve got in one another.

I do enjoy a good fluffy read. This one was light and breezy and didn’t ask too much of the reader. It’s here to make you smile and warm your heart. I did struggle with one of the protagonists, Aubrey, as so many of her problems could be solved if she was just open and honest about her feelings. Conflict that arises when there is a break down in communication can drive me a bit nuts sometimes. However, I’m willing to forgive Aubrey a bit because she’s at a tumultuous point in her life where so much upheaval is occurring and as a teen, she’s just on the cusp of learning who she is.

I enjoyed how much of this book is focused on friendships, in tandem with the focus on relationships. Not only are the characters falling in love and learning what it means to be in love, they are also navigating their friendships as they experience incredible change. They navigate their transforming relationships with uncertainty.

I actually think this novel would have been a lot better if it had focused on Rae and Clara’s developing relationship. Rae has been out as a lesbian for a while and she’s developed a huge crush on Clara, but she’s not sure if Clara is attracted to girls. They’ve been friends for such a long time and Rae doesn’t want to risk ruining things before she moves to the opposite side of the globe for school. All she wants is for a fresh start. Her story becomes all the more complicated when things get sticky in her friendship with Aubrey. This story is so much more interesting and complicated. We could have done away with the Aubrey story line and really delved into Rae’s world. Cecilia, can you write a Rae only story please?

This book is fun, but not life changing. It was light and easy reading. It’ll be perfect for the beach side if you get a chance to get out this summer.