Off the Shelf: A Review of Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

When I scroll through ARCs that are available to request, I often find myself getting into the bad habit of looking specifically for authors that I have already read. I like the familiar territory, especially if I really enjoyed a previous book by that author. The unfortunate part of that is that I often overlook some rather stunning reads because I didn’t give them a chance. I am so thankful that when it came to Wild Beauty, I didn’t pass it by. I’ve never read any of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, which caused a brief hesitation, but there’s something about covers with whimsical silhouettes that tends to catch my eye. See how stunning the cover for Wild Beauty is? Take a look at the covers for some of her other work, such as The Weight of Feathers and When the Moon was Ours. They might say not to judge a book by its cover, but I believe that a beautiful cover can spark your curiosity. Without a doubt, Wild Beauty is certainly the kind of book that you are going to want to know more about.

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RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
Summary (via Goodreads)
Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Things I Liked:
I have a confession – I don’t know the first thing about flowers, other than how NOT to keep them alive. I don’t exactly have a green thumb, and to be honest, I’m shocked that the petunias and marigolds I planted at the beginning of summer haven’t shriveled up and died yet. Within the first few pages of Wild Beauty, you will realize that Anna-Marie McLemore takes flowers very seriously – this chick knows her stuff! Of course, my first reaction to this was Uh-Oh…I’m in trouble. If I can’t get a clear picture of what is happening, then I start to lose interest. Didn’t happen here though! The author’s writing is so rich in description even flowers that I’d never heard of were blooming in my mind. The gardens of La Pradera are the primary setting, and they provide a vivid landscape on which the lives of the Nomeolvides women depend.

Another plus to this book is its representation of diverse sexualities. It seems like the Young Adult genre has been especially lacking in regards to LGBT characters. Wait, that’s not entirely true…what I mean is that it has lacked LGBT characters who aren’t just stereotypes.  Or ones that only serve as a plot device and ultimately just end up getting killed off. Annoying, right? It’s also a real problem when you’ve got LGBT youth looking for representations of themselves in what they are reading, only to find themselves hidden in the background, never out front. Wild Beauty delivers a cast of characters which are mostly all bisexual. The five cousins are all bisexual, some of the mothers and grandmothers are bisexual, and there’s also a genderqueer character that quickly became one of my favorite characters of the entire book. If you’re looking for more of this kind of representation in YA, Wild Beauty is the book for you, and I applaud McLemore’s dedication to researching and providing accurate representations.

Wild Beauty is a mix of Latino folklore and magical realism, but the aspect I enjoyed most was how the threads of each family’s history were all braided together in the most unexpected ways. I found myself being more and more drawn to Fel and the mysteries behind his sudden appearance in the garden. As his past started to come to light, I felt my heart breaking for him. He considered himself undeserving of the kindness and affection he received from the Nomeolvides women, especially that of Estrella. I adored this pairing, from getting to see Estrella’s conflicting emotions towards Fel and another character, to just how much Fel truly adored her. I’m not normally one for a whole lot of romance, and the author isn’t very heavy handed with it in this regard, but I did find myself racing through the pages to see how this relationship would play out.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve probably said it a million times before, but what really gets me hooked on any book are the characters. I need fully-formed, flesh and blood characters that simply feel REAL. Unfortunately, with such a large cast of characters (the five cousins, their five mothers, their five grandmothers, Fel, Bay and her family, and many others), characterization falls a little short. Sure, some of those characters are meant to hang in the background and not all of them really have a part to play in the story, and I get that. I had a pretty decent mental portrait of Estrella, Fel, and Bay (and I totally adored all three). What I found to be especially tough though was keeping all of the cousins straight in regards to their names and ages. Maybe it’s just me, but mostly they all just started to blur together in my mind, which could get pretty confusing at times.

Overall Rating:

If the characters (other than Estrella, Fel, and Bay) had been a little more distinguishable, this book would have been a home run for me. I’m giving it a 4/5, and might even go so far as a 4.5/5. I find myself still reflecting on this beautiful story even weeks after I have finished reading it. I look forward to its publication so that I can start getting it into the hands of other readers who I know will be just as drawn in by the magic of the Nomeolvides women. This book definitely has me considering picking up some of the author’s other books, and if I ever get a chance to review another Anna-Marie McLemore title, I won’t even hesitate!

Add Wild Beauty to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

“Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidding places.” 
― Anna-Marie McLemore, Wild Beauty

Off the Shelf: A Review of Ash & Quill by Rachel Caine

First off, let me tell you how much I NEEDED this book. In May, I finished what can only be called The Worst Semester of Grad School in all of Time and Space. I would have never thought it possible for one semester, or even just one class for that matter, to break my spirit so severely… but it happened. I reached a point in these last several months that not only did I (1) not have time to read for pleasure, BUT (2) on the rare occasions when there was time to read, I was too tired to even pick up a book. I was a mess, and I needed a little time off to recover. So, I am THRILLED to make my return to reviewing with such a stellar book from a series that happens to rank among my all-time favorites.  I received an advance copy of Ash & Quill from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, and I honestly can’t tell you enough that you need to pick up the rest of the Great Library series before book three hits the shelves!

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RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny….

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library….

My Reviews of the Rest of the Series
Book 1 – Ink & Bone
Book 2 – Paper & Fire

THINGS I LIKED:
If, like me, you are obsessed with all things Great Library, you probably already know that the series has been expanded to be five books instead of three. I found this out shortly before beginning to read Ash & Quill, so it definitely changed some of my expectations. The ending is one that you will never see coming, and one that gives me very high hopes for the rest of the series.

One of the things I loved most about this book? KHALILA. I said in my review of Paper & Fire that Glain and Khalila were quickly becoming my favorite characters, and they definitely didn’t disappoint this go around. Khalila especially. She is so strong, resilient, and level headed. Jess makes for an interesting enough main character, but part of me would really love to see some of this story through Khalila’s eyes. Fingers crossed that maybe one day Rachel Caine will write a short story on Wattpad from Khalila’s POV…

The characters are what really make this series come alive (a close second is the vivid alternate reality established by such richly detailed settings), and I think this book really builds on who each of them are and how they respond to having no safe place left to run.  This book really reminded me why I’d initially liked Thomas, caused me to reconsider how I felt about Dario, and gave me further reason to celebrate Santi and Wolfe. Oh, and Brendan! I mentioned in my review of the second book how much I was really starting to enjoy his character and how I hoped to see more of him in the next book, and I’m thrilled at the role he played in this part of the story.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
Ever find it hard to pick out the things you didn’t like when it’s a series that you really love? I feel like I’m grasping at straws here, but at the end of Paper & Fire, I was so stoked that our little band of rebels would be heading to America in book three. We get an excellent look into the lifestyle of the Burners in Philadelphia and how the Great Library treats them, but I almost wish our crew had been able to spend a little more time in America, perhaps outside of Philadelphia, just so we could see more of what America would be like under the rule of the Great Library.

You do also have to keep in mind that this book now marks the midpoint of the series, not the conclusion like you may have originally thought. With it being the midpoint, there’s a lot of setup going on. While I feel like a lot DID happen in this book and there’s certainly moments with a LOT of action, I didn’t feel like I was on the edge of my seat as much as with the other books in the series so far. That is, until the ending… The fourth book is sure to drop us headfirst into the heart of danger, and I simply cannot wait.

OVERALL RATING:

5/5 It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get around to writing this review, but the story itself has remained stuck in my head. There are now only a few short days until its arrival on shelves (and there’s still time to preorder!). Ash & Quill really expands on the world of the Great Library and the characters we have come to love (or hate!). At times, I feel like it lost the pacing I had loved about the first two books, but it ultimately redeems that by setting up the rest of the series for unimaginable twists and turns. It’s a great continuation that has me truly dreading the wait for the next book.

 

Add Ash & Quill to your To Be Read shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order from Fleur Fine Books for a signed copy!

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The signed poster Rachel Caine sent to me for my new office (after one of the coolest Twitter interactions I’ve ever had, thus, reaffirming to me why Twitter is the best place on the web to interact with authors). I like to hang all sorts of memorabilia from authors that inspire me in my office. Advertising The Great Library within a library – Libraryception? XD

Dream Big: My Thoughts on Meeting Cat Winters

Somewhere in the depths of my drafts folder is my original review of The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters. It’s nothing like the review I wrote that was printed in the local newspaper, which detailed many of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but did not discuss the plethora of personal reasons behind those feelings. My original review delved into the severe depression I’d been stuck in for some time and how I’d lost sight of myself and my passions, including reading. It was deeply personal, raw, and in the end, too uncomfortable for me to share with the world. I talked about why I found hope in Olivia Mead’s strength and resilience, her desire to be herself despite the backlash from others. I took in every word of The Cure for Dreaming slowly, carefully, as if it could help piece me back together, and in a way, I believe it did. Reading The Cure for Dreaming was the first time in a long while that I felt like a little piece of myself was restored, and I was able to block out all of the chaos happening in my life at that time and just enjoy reading. It spoke to me, told me not to let the monsters overpower my sense of self worth, and for that reason, it will always remain one of my favorite books. It took some time to put myself back together, but I treasure The Cure for Dreaming as one of the catalysts to that recovery.

The Cure for Dreaming wasn’t my first book read from Cat Winters. I discovered her thanks to her debut young adult novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I fell in love with her haunting and mysterious takes on historical fiction. Her work was inspiring, a style so fresh and unique that my most common remark was that I wished more than anything that I could write like her.

Every two years, my library hosts the Ohio River Festival of Books. When they started planning the 2016 festival, my boss asked for suggestions of authors we might want to try to contact about speaking at the festival. I don’t think she even got to finish her sentence before I was throwing out Cat Winters’s name. In all honesty, I never thought it would happen. I knew Cat lived all the way in Portland, and I didn’t think she’d want to make the trip all the way to little ol’ Huntington, West Virginia, but I thought it was worth a shot. Dreams can come true sometimes, right?

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It happened. It really, REALLY happened. October 1st, I had the pleasure of meeting Cat Winters at the Ohio River Festival of Books. I had already sort of built up in my head what she would be like just from our brief interactions on Twitter and such, but I can tell you this – She is everything I thought she would be, and so much more!

Cat talked at length about how she’d spent her entire life writing, and the struggles she faced in her journey towards publication. She’d fortunately always had the support of her family, and to further illustrate that, she introduced the audience to her parents. They had driven several hours from northern Ohio to be able to see her speak at our book festival. Her mom and dad were just as sweet and kind as their daughter, even asking for a photo of Cat and me together. Her mother was especially beaming with pride as she watched the presentation and when she later spoke with the local news about the festival. Seeing them all together made me very thankful that my family has never discouraged my interest in writing…now, if only I could stop discouraging myself!

Cat read from each of her books, discussed the history behind them, and even bribed some audience members (myself included) with chocolate from Oregon to act out two parallel scenes from Hamlet and The Steep and Thorny Way.

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Photo credit goes to my lovely cousin, Traci, who was in attendance to make sure I didn’t pass out from fangirling too hard.

After her presentation, Cat did a signing. I consider myself a pretty lucky girl because my boyfriend had taken the reviews I wrote for the local paper for The Cure for Dreaming and The Steep and Thorny Way and had them matted and framed. I love that I was able to have Cat sign this, as well as my copy of The Cure for Dreaming, where she wrote, “Dream big”. That phrase has been in my mind since meeting her, which was a big dream of mine in the first place, but now I’m consumed by other big dreams. Mostly, I dream of actually publishing a book of my own, to finally have my name on the cover of something I have created, to have a space on the bookshelf where anyone can find it. These are big dreams, and to make them come true, first I will actually have to finish a project. I know that my life is beyond hectic this year (see the note at the end of this post), but it will also be my fifth year as a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my local region. I love National Novel Writing Month and the motivation and urge to create it sparks. While I know the likelihood of me actually busting out 50,000 words in probably my busiest month so far this year isn’t very high, I currently have two young adult projects that I’ve been going back and forth between. Hopefully, with the extra motivation from all of my local Wrimos, I’ll be able to make a considerable dent in working towards my dream.

Julie Kagawa tweeted last month saying, “Tell a writer whose book you loved that you loved it. A kind word means the world to us. #EncourageAwriter”. There was an outpouring of author-love all over Twitter, and I took this time to tell a few of my favorites what an inspiration they’ve been to me. Cat Winters was one author who I felt truly needed recognized. Open any of her books and you’ll find a wealth of research, genuine talent, and truly immersive stories. I really encourage anyone and everyone to read her books. It just might change your life. 🙂

You can find out more about Cat Winters by visiting her website: www.catwinters.com

One last thing…

You may have noticed that there’s been a pretty long stretch of time between me getting to meet Cat Winters and finally posting this (not to mention, a long time between this and my last blog post). I promise, there’s a real reason behind it, and it’s not that I’ve just been lazy.
I am incredibly thrilled to say that I’ve accepted a new job as a branch manager for one of the libraries in our system! It’s very exciting and, at the same time, very bittersweet, since I’ll be leaving behind my incredible work family in Youth Services. BUT this is definitely something I’ve dreamed of since beginning my career in libraries, and I will still be working with all of the same wonderful people, just in a different capacity! I’ve been pretty busy transitioning between the two locations and also balancing my life at home, in grad school, and my writing time, so I promise I’ll be getting back to posting regularly. I’ve been granted early access to some popular upcoming YA titles, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them! Until then, dream big!

Off the Shelf: A Review of We Know it was You by Maggie Thrash

I picked up a copy of BookPage this week at the library, and in it, someone had reviewed We Know it was You. You could tell from the review that the author wasn’t such a fan but was trying to spin the review on a positive note. The part that stuck out to me most was that, when reading We Know it was You, you may find that “the satire may not resonate with all readers”. I’m not sure if that was meant to be an understatement, but I can tell you one thing, nothing about this book actually resonated with me, and that’s including the satire.

I received an ARC of We Know it was You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I emphasize “honest” here because as much as I WANTED to like this book, I just didn’t, and I think it’s important to discuss why.

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Release Date: October 4, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
It’s better to know the truth. At least sometimes.

Halfway through Friday night’s football game, beautiful cheerleader Brittany Montague—dressed as the giant Winship Wildcat mascot—hurls herself off a bridge into Atlanta’s surging Chattahoochee River.

Just like that, she’s gone.

Eight days later, Benny Flax and Virginia Leeds will be the only ones who know why.

Things I Liked:
It’s a fast read. Something moderately lighthearted that you can read quickly in a matter of hours. I had a night where I couldn’t get to sleep, so I picked this one up and had it finished well before my alarm for work went off. As much as I didn’t enjoy it, I can say that you will want to follow through to the end, just to solve the mystery.

Things I Didn’t Like:
First off, I didn’t like ANY of the characters. They are so offensively stereotypical that it was just painful to read about them. You’ve got your gossip, your socially awkward Jew, your jocks, your cheerleaders, your strange foreigners, etc. And guess what? None of their actions make any sense whatsoever. Was there a real motivation for any of them? If there was, I couldn’t find it. Perhaps it was buried somewhere under all of the irritatingly pointless plot lines. I really thought at first that I was just irked because they sounded like annoying high schoolers. I thought, well, I sounded pretty annoying when I was in high school. But NO. It’s just that the author is forcing so many cliched tropes down your throat that the whole story is hard to digest.

Second, and this is the part we really need to talk about – I am so grossly offended by the way the topic of rape is treated in this story. If you’re looking for a book that spreads an unhealthy message about rape and sexual assault, well, you’ve found it. I won’t spoil all of the details, but I was actually intrigued that a book finally tackled the subject of a female rapist. That intrigue didn’t last long. Whenever it’s discovered that a character is essentially being raped, it’s like everyone just brushes it off as no big deal. No, we shouldn’t report that to authorities. No, the abuser shouldn’t be punished – she’s so pretty and rich! Let’s just keep her victim in the dark and do nothing about it. I’m sure that will work out just fine. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! No. Just no.

Speaking of problematic sexual scenes, I think I almost lost my cool over one scene in particular. *SPOILER WARNING*
At one point, a secondary character…someone who really doesn’t do much in the story overall…sits in his car with a bayonet in one hand and is masturbating with his other hand. Yes, it’s graphic from start to ‘finish’. No, it did not add ANYTHING to the story. I’m still clueless as to why it was included. What purpose did it serve to the story? I don’t think it had one. I feel like the author included it solely for the shock value, thinking that sexually frustrated teenagers are going to think this story is automatically ‘cool’ because it included some detailed masturbation. Trust me though, the descriptions are cringe-worthy at best.

My biggest problem with this book though? Nothing gets resolved. The killer rides off into the sunset, never to be punished. Another victim will never see justice for being raped. Law enforcement is never informed – actually, no, worse than that. Law enforcement is INTENTIONALLY not informed. Not even when one of the main characters sits in a cop’s car just shortly after uncovering a child pornography ring. Does she tell the police about it? Nope! That might somehow impede the work of her teen detective club. I’m sorry, but that was just ridiculous.

Overall Rating:
According to Goodreads, this is going to be a series. I somehow doubt it though, because although nothing was resolved at the end, it had a certain sense of finality to it.  Either way, if there is a sequel, I don’t think I’ll be picking it up.
Some books can make you uncomfortable and challenge you in an exceptionally good way. This is not one of those books. It just leaves you uncomfortable, and that’s it. I’m giving it a 1.5 on the sole fact that I actually wanted to finish it and see how it all turned out. Disappointing as it was, it was a quick (although not painless) distraction.
I’m still not sure if it was really meant to be satire, or if that’s just what people are going to say to defend it. Me? I love satire. I did not love this.

Add We Know it was You to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order We Know it was You via Amazon
Pre-Order We Know it was You via Barnes and Noble

Off the Shelf: A Review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I just could not finish this book. That’s not something I say often. It’s very rare that I can’t even force myself through to the end, but that was absolutely the case with one of my most anticipated books of 2016, Three Dark Crowns. I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I began reading that ARC July 2, and it’s now the end of September. I’ve lost count of how many times I tried to start over and give the book another chance, but it’s just not working for me, so instead of doing my usual kind of review (things I liked, things I didn’t like, overall rating), I’m going to talk about why exactly this book was such a struggle for me.

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Release Date: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

 

Why it Didn’t Work:

I think my biggest problem with this text was the point of view. It’s told in present tense but the POV is third person omniscient. There’s a lot of head hopping, and I don’t just mean between the three sisters. In any given scene, you’re getting insights into the minds of all the secondary characters as well, and trust me, there are a LOT of secondary characters. From a writer’s standpoint, it was all “telling” and not enough “showing”. It’s unfortunate, but I often found myself far more interested in some of the secondary characters rather than any of the sisters. I never really got a true sense of the characters, and they all sort of became interchangeable to me. I worried that the point of view was just something that confusing to only me, but I let a fellow librarian take a look at a small excerpt to see how she’d react, and I believe the exact words were, “How are you even supposed to read that?!” It’s difficult to keep track of where the story is going. I’m sure for some there will be no problem at all, but now that I’ve given up and looked at the reviews from fellow bloggers, I can see I’m not alone in my confusion. I anticipate this being a big reason other readers will have to mark this one DNF.

The premise gives us promises of a bloody battle and deceit between sisters, but really, there’s not much of anything going on. The story bounces around from one training session to the next, which isn’t exactly the dark game of life or death that I had been so looking forward to. Mostly we just get two sisters lamenting about the fact that their powers are nonexistant and the other sister just sitting around making some nasty weather. That’s about it. No real excitement. Nobody getting their hands dirty. Nobody really making me care whether they live or die.

I made it over a quarter of the way through this book before I absolutely had to give up and just mark it as “did not finish”. It’s disappointing, to say the least, because when a book is really, really good, I finish it in a matter of hours. Three months and multiple attempts later, I just couldn’t make this one happen. I think that speaks volumes.

Add Three Dark Crowns to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
Order via Amazon
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Waiting on Wednesday #10

Have you ever read a synopsis of a book and been left not knowing anything about what the book will actually be about? Not in a bad way, but in an utterly mysterious, enchanting way. I have been regularly checking Goodreads over the past few months to see if a new summary will be posted for Strange the Dreamer, something that would give me just a little more of a hint about how incredible this book is going to be, but it’s still the same summary every time. It’s so vague and cryptic that it has me dying to get my hands on this book just so I can know all the depths behind this story.

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Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
Release Date: March 28, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

Why I’m Waiting:

I’m a little sad because when I first discovered this upcoming book, I marked the release date on my calendar as September 27th of this year. Checking on the release date now as I write this post, it appears they’ve pushed it back to March 28, 2017. Maybe it was my mistake, but my hopes and dreams just plummeted. Now, I must wait even longer to know what happens. But who knows? Maybe they held it back for one more revision just so they could pack a little more awesome into its pages. Either way, I can’t wait.

You also have to know by now that any YA story that incorporates a librarian as a character is going to find its way to my shelf. You combine a librarian, war, alchemy, and all kinds of mystical chaos? I’m sold.

Mark this one on your calendars, ladies and gents, and we can ride out this long wait together.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights highly anticipated upcoming releases.

Off the Shelf: A Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

It’s a wondrous feeling when a book burns so brightly in your mind that it’s all you can think about for days and days. I’m especially drawn to books that combine fantasy and magic, and in particular, books that can do so with an exciting and unique premise. A Shadow Bright and Burning is exactly that kind of book. It has a wealth of intriguing characters, hair-raising battles with terrifying monsters, and an abundance of twists and turns which are sure to make this a series you won’t want to miss!

 

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RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

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

Things I Liked:
There are several things about Henrietta Howel that I absolutely admire. She’s strong, passionate, and will do anything to protect her friends. A lot of this book is Henrietta finding herself and coming to terms with who she really is. She also has to deal with a lot of discrimination based on her gender, her magic, and her low birth. Henrietta handles all of these with a head held high and efficiently puts those who look down on her in their place. Her interactions with the other characters are both witty and clever, and I found myself taking a screenshot of quite a few humorous quotes from Henrietta and the other characters just so I could giggle at them again later. I think I fell in love with every scene where Henrietta truly used her power, setting herself ablaze, because you get a sense of how fearsome yet beautiful she is, and you feel the passion behind her desire to save people. She’s obviously one of the only females in a cast of characters that’s mostly male, but while the interactions with her fellow trainees are fun (especially the charming and sarcastic Magnus), I really enjoyed her conversations with the older characters like Master Agrippa, who first discovers her power, and the magician Hargrove, who at first I thought I would dislike but then rapidly became one of my favorite characters.

There’s also what some might call a love triangle. In my opinion, I foresee it being a love square, but we will get to that. The romance doesn’t take a leading role in this book. There’s so many other things going on, that I would have been turned off to the book if Henrietta was solely focused on a boy(s) and his opinion of her. Luckily, the romantic moments take a backseat to the story, and what moments are mentioned actually do a lot to further the plot and Henrietta’s motivations. As for it being a love square, I have to say that there’s one of Henrietta’s fellow sorcerer trainees that stands out above the rest to me –  Blackwell. While the relationship between the two right now might not seem more than just a strained friendship, I picked up on some heavy Pride & Prejudice vibes between the pair. I think this is something that will play out more in the next book (hopefully), and it’s definitely the ship I’ll be rooting for.

The world building is another excellent factor to this book. From the first page to the last, I felt like I was living inside this alternate world in Victorian London, plagued by demons known as the Ancients. The descriptions are vivid, and the author makes clear distinctions between the types of magical people and how those inside/outside the protective ward live. I’m looking forward to exploring this world further in the next book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen a few people complain that this book uses the same old tropes, and if you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all so you may as well forget this one. FALSE. I’ve read so many fantasy novels that take the idea of a “chosen one” and it plays out on repeat across the board. Nothing new or exciting. A Shadow Bright and Burning took that idea and twisted it, something I rather enjoyed, because it shows you don’t have to be “chosen” to do great things.

So, sorry, not going to hear any complaints from me. I loved this book the whole way through.

Overall Rating:

I reserve 5 star ratings for books that truly deserve it, and this book is a well earned 5 star for me. It’s exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, and it’s a magical adventure from start to finish! It’s exciting, empowering, and absolutely enchanting. You’ll race to the finish, be left stunned by the twists in the ending, and then we can all commiserate about how long we have to wait until the next book in the series comes out.  Add this one to your TBR list IMMEDIATELY. Seriously! You don’t want to miss out.

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