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Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

I read and loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone the year it came out. I can’t believe it’s been four years since then! I don’t know why I put off reading its sequels, I think I wanted to wait until the trilogy is finished so I can read all three books together. I was in the mood to read about Prague and also to immerse myself in a good fantasy world so I picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone to reread and dove right into the second and third books. There are unavoidable spoilers for the first book in this combined review.

Days of Blood and Starlight
Days of Blood and StarlightVastly different from the first book in the series, Days of Blood and Starlight is all about the cycle of violence and vengeance involved in the never-ending war between the seraph and chimaera. Karou and Akiva are on opposite sides of the war and both are struggling to make the most out of their current situation, to find a way to atone for everything that they’ve done previously. The peace and tranquility of Karou’s human life in Prague gives a nice contrast to the war-torn world of Eretz. If Daughter of Smoke and Bone was about an epic love, its sequel is about soul-crushing heartbreak. Heartbreak not just for Karou and Akiva but also for all their people, for everyone who has only ever known war. I can’t say that I loved twists and turns that the story took but I have to admit that it’s a compelling read. Laini Taylor has a beautiful writing style. I wanted to keep reading but also didn’t want to continue because I didn’t want the characters to go through more pain. While it’s not easy to read, I did appreciate the empathy that this kind of story invokes in the reader. I really just want things to get better for everyone (well not the villains, of course). I started the third book right after finishing this one because I couldn’t wait to find out what’s going to happen.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Dreams of Gods and MonstersYou know how some series just keep getting better as it progresses? For me, this series was the opposite of that. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and thought it was a beautiful story. I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the second book but I still found it an absorbing read. With Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I kept thinking more along the lines of, “What? What is going on here?” While Karou and Akiva’s storyline continues, other threads featuring new characters (Eliza and Scarab) are introduced. I wasn’t really invested in Eliza’s story and even skimmed some of the sections that were devoted to her. Scarab was more interesting but it might have been better if there was more than a hint about her people in the earlier books. At the end of the book, the varying threads of the story are pulled together but it didn’t feel seamless to me. I got the feeling that Laini Taylor was trying to tie loose ends and create an epic mythology encompassing Eretz and Earth but it felt a bit all over the place for me. From the start, the trilogy was focused on Karou, Akiva and the war between their people. The new elements in this last installment made the main focus of the trilogy feel smaller and less significant. I think there really was just one thing that I liked in Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which was the sweet secondary romance. Aside from that, I kept reading only because I wanted to see how the story would end. And even that wasn’t as satisfying as I would like. The end felt more like the beginning of the end – raising more questions than settling answers. It really makes me sad that I didn’t love the whole trilogy since it started really strong for me.


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Mini Review: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Girl in the ArenaLyn is a neo-gladiator’s daughter, through and through. Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family.

Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator. Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying.

The rules help the family survive, but rules — and the GSA — can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn’s seventh father, he also captures Lyn’s dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him…

I can’t even remember when I bought my paperback copy of Girl in the Arena. I do know that I picked it up because it came highly recommended by my good friend Angie. It’s been sitting in my TBR pile for YEARS and I’ve carried it from Manila to Singapore when I moved but haven’t had a chance to read it until recently. I’m trying to make more of an effort to read the physical copies in my TBR pile instead of always just reading ebooks. So, I don’t usually like dystopian novels but Girl in the Arena was a really good one. I read it in a span of one day because it kept me absorbed. I found the neo-Gladiator culture and history interesting – like how it all started and why it has such a strong following. I liked Lyn right from the start and I thought her interactions with all of the other characters – her mom, her brother, her best friend Mark and her enemy / potential husband – were great. I really wish Lyn and Uber had more interaction though. I loved the few scenes that they had together but didn’t feel like there was enough of them. There’s a lot that happened in this novel and I kind of felt like the story was spread a little too thin. Maybe if it was a little longer, we could have gotten more depth from the story and also more character development. Like I wanted more information on Lyn’s previous dads and what were her mom’s reasons for marrying them specifically. It wasn’t even mentioned which of the gladiator dads was her brother’s father. So I did enjoy the book overall but just wanted more from it. Surprisingly, Girl in the Arena lingered in my mind days after I finished reading it so the story must have made more of an impression that I initially thought. Recommended for fans of dystopian YA or those who like fiction featuring reality TV.

Other reviews:
Angieville
See Michelle Read


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I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I heard a lot of buzz about I’ll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios months before it came out. Bloggers who have read early review copies were raving about how good it is. I was pretty excited to read it and started on it when I was in the mood for a contemporary YA novel. It’s been a few months since I finished reading this and I feel bad that I haven’t posted a review of this wonderful book until now but I’m trying to do my best to catch up on blog stuff, especially on reviews for books that I loved. I made the mistake of starting this book on a Sunday, which led to me staying up all night to finish reading it and I was a zombie at work the next day.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

I'll Meet You ThereIf seventeen-year-old Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing standing between straightedge Skylar and art school are three minimum-wage months of summer. Skylar can taste the freedom—that is, until her mother loses her job and everything starts coming apart. Torn between her dreams and the people she loves, Skylar realizes everything she’s ever worked for is on the line.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Mitchell had a different ticket out of Creek View: the Marines. But after his leg is blown off in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be. What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s dusty Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and soon, something deeper.

Wow, this is the first book by Heather Demetrios that I’ve read but it definitely won’t be the last! I’ll Meet You There is beautifully written and captures a slice of California that most people won’t be familiar with. For someone like me who has countless friends and relatives who have migrated to the US because it gives people better opportunities than the Philippines, it’s interesting to read about Americans who struggle to attain what others take for granted. Yes, it’s true that most Filipinos who move to the States do get an improved quality of life than what they’d get back home (actually that’s true for me as well – I’m in Singapore for the same reasons) but the US is huge and there are places like Creek View where the inhabitants are in pretty bleak situations. The small town setting and the daily struggles of the characters in I’ll Meet You There all felt unapologetically real. The kind of life that Sky, Josh and their friends lead make your heart ache for them. I could see why Sky and her best friend Chris have always had this dream and vision of going beyond the confines of their small town, to go to places where they would have better lives. The book describes the setting as “the armpit of California” and I think it’s such a fitting description. It’s no wonder that Josh escapes from Creek View by joining the Marines but his military career is unexpectedly cut short by a life-changing injury and he has no choice but to go back to the town he desperately wanted to leave. While I know next to nothing about situations similar to what Josh went through, I felt that his experience is portrayed realistically.

“In my essay for San Fran, I’d written about how I’d always felt like there was something magical about taking bits and pieces of the world around me and creating something whole. It gave me hope: if you could make a beautiful piece of art from discarded newspapers and old matchbooks, then it meant that everything had potential. And maybe people were like collages – no matter how broken or useless we felt, we were an essential part of the whole. We mattered.”

What I loved about I’ll Meet You There is that even though there’s a lot of sadness and emotional weight in the story, it never becomes overwhelming. I loved the balance between despair and hope, something which only the very best of authors are able to create. There’s a strong and beautiful friendship between Sky, Chris and Dylan – they understand each other so well and do their best to support each other even if they don’t always agree with what the other person is thinking or feeling. They have their way of coping with their problems like reminding each other of the vision, getting crazy on the dance floor or focusing on art by doing collages. Sky also finds refuge in her job at the Paradise Hotel where she has a great boss who is like a second mother to her. I think it’s pretty obvious from the book’s description that there’s a romance in this one. It was a very swoon-worthy, slow burn romance which I gobbled right up. So good! There was a point that had me worried for the two lovebirds, because I had no idea how things will unfold – I didn’t want the story to go in a direction where I wouldn’t be able to forgive one of the characters. But I’m happy to say that I was more than satisfied with what happened. A realistic YA novel reminiscent of Something Like Normal by Trish Doller and Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols, I’ll Meet You There was worth all the hype that it generated.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Pirate Penguin Reads
Alexa Loves Books
Perpetual Page Turner


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Mini Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Goblin EmperorThe youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

I had high hopes for this one since it kept being recommended by bloggers I trust. Also, they said that it’s a good read for fans of Megan Whalen Turner. In my eyes, that’s the highest praise that they can give! I did enjoy reading The Goblin Emperor and I really liked Maia’s character. But it didn’t become a favorite novel. I just didn’t love it as much as I was expecting. It’s a quiet kind of fantasy, a lot more introspective than action-oriented and filled to the brim with political intrigue. Maia was never groomed to become the emperor and his education is sadly lacking but he rises to the occasion beautifully. He’s a smart guy and never loses the compassion that’s such a big part of him even though he had a gloomy upbringing. He has an inner strength that others gradually recognize and admire, which helps him gain allies along the way. I like how Maia inspires loyalty because of how kind he is and how unusual that kindness is in an emperor. He deserves all the help that he can get so it’s a good thing that there are some people on his side. One thing that I liked about the novel is that it’s a standalone… as much as I love reading fantasy series, it’s refreshing to read a book that is complete on its own. While I believe this story wouldn’t linger in my mind, I did have fun reading it and would recommend the book to readers who like quiet fantasy with a strong dose of politics.

Other reviews:
By Singing Light
The Book Smugglers
Things Mean a Lot


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Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand

I think if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Laura Florand’s writing. I discovered the first two books in her Amour et Chocolat series in March 2013 and I’ve been devouring her books since then. Last year, I even organized a blog event called Amour et Florand to celebrate her books. Once Upon a Rose is one of my highly anticipated releases for 2015 especially since I loved A Rose in Winter, a novella that introduced me to the Rosier family. I loved reading about the Rosiers and their home in Grasse so when Laura offered a review copy of Once Upon a Rose, I jumped at the chance to read it as soon as I can. This happened a few months ago and I just haven’t been able to work on a review for it until now. I’m so behind on reviews!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Once Upon a RoseShe stole his roses.

Fleeing the spotlight, burnt out rock star Layla—“Belle”—Dubois seeks refuge in the south of France. That old, half-forgotten heritage in a valley of roses seems like a good place to soothe a wounded heart. She certainly doesn’t expect the most dangerous threat to her heart to pounce on her as soon as she sets foot on the land.

He wants them back.

Matt didn’t mean to growl at her quite that loudly. But—his roses! She can’t have his roses. Even if she does have all those curls and green eyes and, and, and…what was he growling about again?

Or maybe he just wants her.

When an enemy invades his valley and threatens his home, heart, and livelihood, Matthieu Rosier really knows only one way to defend himself.

It might involve kissing.

While I was in the middle of Once Upon a Rose, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to read it slowly so I can savor the words or to gulp it all down in one go because it was just so good. Laura Florand is amazing at making the scenes leapt out of the page. So much so that you feel like you’ve traveled to Paris or Grasse just by reading her books. I’m always delighted by books that have such a strong sense of place because they let me travel just by reading. I also love how she focuses on the senses – with tastes and textures in her Amour et Chocolat series, and with scents and sounds in Once Upon a Rose. With Matt as the heir apparent for the Rosier perfume business, he knows everything there is to know about the fragrance industry. Layla, a musician struggling with creative burnout, finds solace in the Rosier valley when she unexpectedly inherits a house there. I enjoyed reading about the sweet and tentative romance that blossomed between Matt and Layla, from their hilarious first meeting until the beautiful ending of the book. I loved how careful they are of each other, showing a wariness that developed from past romantic mistakes. Matt is a big marshmallow who tries to hide his soft side by being all growly and grumpy but Layla was able to see through him right away. A snippet that I loved:

“You always do that,” he murmured. “It’s as if you take everything I know, wrap it up in wonder, and hand it back to me like this bright, shiny new present. It’s like my whole life is Christmas when you’re looking at it.”

I loved how present Matt’s cousins are in this story. It’s so much fun to see them tease and annoy the hell out of each other but at the end of the day, they’re always there whenever one of them needs help. I also thought it was endearing how vulnerable Matt is when it comes to his family – how he tries to hide his weaknesses to let them see that he’s a strong leader. And yet his cousins are actually aware of what he’s really like. I just think it’s great that the Rosier guys were involved in Matt and Layla’s romance. While Layla’s family isn’t as big as Matt’s, she does have a strong connection with her mom. It’s always nice when the romance isn’t the sole focus of a book (even if it is a romance novel). It’s much more realistic to see the relationships that MCs have with their families or friends instead of having one person as their entire world. I also really liked the contrast between Matt’s rootedness in the valley vs. Layla’s life as a traveling musician. Matt knows that his rightful place is at the stronghold of their family’s business while Layla has never had a permanent home of her own. It was interesting to see how their different experiences shaped who they are now. Once Upon a Rose is a strong start to the La Vie en Roses series and I can’t wait to read the next book featuring a Rosier hero. It would be so much fun to dive back into this Provencal world filled with the sweet scent of roses. I know this wouldn’t come as a surprise but I’m happy to announce that Once Upon a Rose is now firmly placed in my best of 2015 shelf.

My Instagram shot of my copy: Once Upon a Rose

Other reviews:
By Singing Light
From Cover to Cover
Girl Meets Books
Smexy Books


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Dare Island Series by Virginia Kantra

Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island series was one of my favorite discoveries last year. I got the recommendation for this series from one of my favorite contemporary romance authors: Laura Florand. I’ve also seen positive reviews about the Dare Island books from my friend Brandy and that has just made me more curious. I love romances that don’t just focus on the couple but also highlights the important people in their lives. The Fletcher family is a very close-knit family. Growing up as Marine brats, the Fletcher siblings knew they had to support each other – they even had a motto: “back to back to back”. I liked how the stories in the series are so different from each other because of the distinct personalities of the characters. I had a lot of fun reading about the Fletchers and the cozy island where they’ve made their home. I’ve never been to the Outer Banks of North Carolina but it seems like a lovely place based on the descriptions in the books. I like the small town vibe of the island, with everyone sticking their noses into everyone else’s business but people are also willing to help out when the need arises.

Carolina HomeCarolina Home
I grabbed a copy of Carolina Home back when it was a Kindle deal. I was just waiting for the right mood to strike before I dived into it. I was in a contemporary romance kind of mood one night last December so I decided to start reading Carolina Home over dinner. It was very easy to get into and I was immediately absorbed. I read it on my commute back to the flat and stayed up late to finish reading the whole thing. I basically gave up sleep and read the book in one sitting because it’s such an enjoyable read. Matt is firmly settled in Dare Island, taking care of his teenage son and helping out his aging parents. Allison has never really put down roots but she fell in love with the island and wants to see if there’s a chance for her to become a part of this place. Aside from that, Matt grew up in a very supportive, close-knit family while Allison feels the need to keep a distance from her controlling parents. I like the contrast between Matt and Allison and how well they fit together in spite of their differences.

Carolina GirlCarolina Girl
Another great romance set in Dare Island! I loved seeing more of the Fletcher family in this one. I was a bit frustrated with Meg for being so blind about her boyfriend Derek’s faults, how she made up excuses about him and how she kept insisting that they have a good relationship. But overall, that’s just a minor quibble. I liked how driven Meg is, from getting an undergrad degree in Harvard to an MBA in Columbia to climbing up the ranks in the corporate ladder. Meg and Sam have so much history between them even if they haven’t seen each other in years. I really enjoyed seeing them reconnect with each other and also with the island community after being away for so long. It was interesting to read about how they’re both trying to figure out what they should be doing with their lives, career wise. I found their romance sweet and satisfying. By this point, the Dare Island series has hooked me and I happily succumbed to hours of pleasurable reading.

Carolina ManCarolina Man
I have liked the brief glimpses that I’ve seen of both Luke and Kate in the earlier books and I was more than happy to find out how their romance unfolds. Luke’s life suddenly changes when he gains custody of ten-year-old Taylor, a daughter he had no idea about until his high school girlfriend passes away. With family being a strong theme in the Dare Island series, it was no surprise that Luke and Kate’s story is intertwined with Taylor’s. I love how Taylor instantly becomes Luke’s number one priority the moment he finds out about her. I also liked how Kate develops a relationship not just with Luke but also with Taylor. All three – Luke, Kate and Taylor – have been through difficult situations and I wanted things to work out for them. What I appreciated about this book was that even if the characters have carried heavy burdens, the story never gets too dark. There’s a nice balance of grief and sorrow vs. hope and happiness. I think that applies to the other books in the series too.

Carolina BluesCaroline Blues
Caroline Blues is the first book in the series where the main characters aren’t part of the Fletcher family. It’s still set in the same town and both Jack and Lauren know the family well so we still see a lot of them in this installment. Jack and Lauren are new to the island – with Jack just settling in as Chief of Police and Lauren taking a much-needed break to restart her writing. I liked seeing Dare Island from their points of view, which is different from how locals see it. Their romance is a bit tentative, with both of them trying to keep things casual at the start but eventually developing deeper feelings for each other. Similar to the earlier books in the series, Caroline Blues is a heartwarming romance about two flawed characters set in cozy Dare Island.

I gobbled up the whole series in one weekend, that’s how much I enjoyed reading Virginia Kantra’s writing. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Carolina Dreaming, which will be released sometime this year. Recommended for fans of contemporary romance set in small towns, similar to books by Liza Palmer (especially Nowhere But Home) and Sarah Addison Allen.


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Retro Friday: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Susanna Kearsley’s writing from some of my book blogger friends. I’ve been curious about her books for a while now so I was thrilled when my friend Heidi sent me a signed copy of The Winter Sea last year. I thought it would be a good introduction to Susanna Kearsley. I picked it up when I was in the mood for a historical fiction novel and I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed reading The Winter Sea.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth-the ultimate betrayal-that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her…

The Winter Sea and Mocha

Photo taken using Instagram.

I thought The Winter Sea was a lovely read with excellent characters, an atmospheric setting and unique plot. It’s funny how interested I was in reading a book that is heavily tinged with Scottish history when I know next to nothing about the Jacobite revolution. I had to do a bit of Wikipedia research to get a better understanding of this part of history. I think Susanna Kearsley did an amazing job of making history come alive by intertwining Sophia and Carrie’s stories. It was a pleasant surprise that I wasn’t bored by the historical aspects of The Winter Sea. I thought it was interesting how Carrie’s ancestral memory surfaces as she was wandering along Scotland, doing research for her next novel. She feels the pull of the place and decides that she needs to spend more time in that area. Being near Slains awakens something inside Carrie and she’s able to write about Sophia’s memories. That’s the only supernatural element in the book and I liked how seamlessly it was done. I love how Carrie describes her writing process and how she gets swept away by the stories in her mind. A non-spoilery snippet:

“…I could feel the stirrings of my characters – the faint, as yet inaudible suggestion of their voices, and their movements close around me, in the way someone can sense another’s presence in a darkened room. I didn’t need to shut my eyes. They were already fixed, not truly seeing, on the window glass, in that strange writer’s trance that stole upon me when my characters begin to speak, and I tried hard to listen.”

Carrie’s description of how writing makes her forget about everything else around her is similar to how I feel about some of the books that I read. Whenever I’m engrossed in a well-written novel, I tend to focus on it and ignore my surroundings. I really liked Carrie and Sophia and I was rooting for both of them. I loved that there was a sweet and slow burn romance for both of these ladies because they deserved to have that in their lives. Carrie’s story was more quiet and mellow compared to Sophia’s adventures during a difficult time in history. I was worried about how things will work out and that kept me absorbed in The Winter Sea until I reached the end. I even found the descriptions of the winter sea in Scotland charming, how it was described as kind of desolate but still has its own beauty. I’ve seen The Winter Sea compared to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I read the latter ages ago and wasn’t impressed. In my opinion, The Winter Sea is a much better read. I’m delighted to have discovered a new historical fiction author to enjoy. I’m already planning to reading the rest of her books. Mariana and The Rose Garden have been suggested as good ones. Although it’s a different kind of historical fiction, this reading experience reminds me a little of when I first found out about Mary Stewart just because it’s a lovely feeling to have an author’s backlist to look forward to.

Other reviews:
Angieville
See Michelle Read
Book Harbinger

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