WOW! I've had a fantastic weekend, and I'm so happy I can share it with you. First, on Friday I traveled to the Newport Folk Festival to see one of my favorite musicians, Kacey Musgraves. This has been a long time coming: I'd been on the waitlist since February, starting somewhere in the 300's. Finally got tickets in mid-June, after watching our numbers slowly descend to the 19th spot. We woke up at 5am to prepare, and left at 6:45 for the 2 hour trip to Fort Adams. Of course, we listened to my Musgraves mix on the way, to get in the groove. Once there, we waited until 10 for the gates to open (this was agony--it was so hot outside, and so so muggy, even in the morning), and claimed a spot at the main stage with chairs and blankets.
Musgraves' performance was amazing! She performed songs from her newest album, Golden Hour, as well as a few old hits. I was happily surprised when she played my three favorite songs: "Love is a Wild Thing," "Velvet Elvis," and "High Horse." I have some pictures down below from when I squeezed my way to the crowd just downstage.
I also discovered new music: The Highwomen! They are a new group, formed by Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, and Natalie Hemby. I've listened to Morris' and Carlile's solo albums before, and I am a big fan. They sounded amazing, and I can't wait for their album (out September 6), from which they played several songs. What's more, Newport Folk Festival was their first live full set! I'm so glad I was there to listen because I have a feeling there's great things ahead for this quartet.
Second! On Saturday, I went to New York (simultaneously my favorite and least favorite place in the world), and saw Oklahoma! on Broadway! I was absolutely enchanted by Damon Daunno and Rebecca Naomi Jones, but I'll tell you that 50% of the reason I wanted to see the show was Ali Stroker. Her voice and talent as an actress are undeniable (she's a TONY WINNER, y'all!), as are her perseverance and determination to pave a path for kids with disabilities. "I Cain't Say No" has been my favorite song from the show from the very first note I heard on the Tonys.
We got lucky and had fantastic seats, and every aspect of the performance was so visceral. Some shows just make your heart stop, and this was one of them. I 100% recommend seeing it. As a bonus, Oklahoma! is gun-neutral! This means that for every gun featured in the production, a donation will be made to Gun Neutral's non-profit, which works towards destroying firearms that should not be in use. In addition to the guns used in the show, there are many on display on racks in the house, making this program impressive.
Below are some photos I'd like to share with you from this wonderful weekend, and after that, I'd love to hear about your weekend adventures, from couch to coast!
Thank you to Netgalley and Candlewick Press for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review. I apologize immensely for the delay in my review and thank you for your patience.
Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood.
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.
Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival.
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.
Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?
Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud - a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.
I loved The Red Ribbon for its honesty, bravery, and surprisingly? Its beauty. Adlington is a talented writer, giving readers a vivid and heartbreaking insight into life at Birchwood. The novel is well-researched and executed, with the historical atrocities of the Holocaust rendered accurately with the lens of a teenage prisoner who has (and deserves) dreams bigger than Birchwood.
In the first few chapters, two main things struck me about Adlington's writing. First, the significance of colors: Ella sees Birchwood with a dressmaker's eyes, so even in the greyest and muddiest places, she sees shining colors and inspiration for her dream dress shop. I loved how each chapter was linked to a color, which would then be pointed out in thoughtful comparisons and linked thematically to the plot. Secondly, the descriptions of food were particularly striking, and I could tell that the intent was to emphasize the emptiness of Birchwood in contrast to the saturation of Ella's former life. A girl's sharp nose "could've cut cheese." Brown pattern paper, like the kind sausages came in, "plump sausages with bits of chopped onion." A green coat becomes an apple, from the tree in Ella's yard. Baked into "apple crumble flecked with caramelized sugar, flaky pastry apple turnovers, and even apple cider." I was not expecting the novel to make me hungry!
I fell in love with Ella and Rose instantly. Ella's dreams of being a designer and owning a dress shop seemed far-fetched, but I wanted so badly for her to have them. I wished with all my heart that she would find her grandparents again, and I loved her memories of sewing and designing with her grandmother in their house. Her strength and willing to do whatever it takes to survive is a testament to the horrors that went on inside Birchwood.
And Rose. Rose, with her stories and countess palace and the kindest heart in the darkest place. I cried when she went to the Hospital and smiled every time she shared her rations with someone. I loved her friendship with Ella, and how the two girls stuck up for each other even through their incredible obstacles.
Everything about this novel was stellar. I would recommend it thoroughly to every reader. 5/5 stars.
Hey y'all! Hope all you East-Coasters survived the HEAT that came last weekend. Oof. An unwelcome reminder (to some) that the dog days of summer will soon be upon us. For my part, I mostly stayed inside.
The one big trip I took was to the MFA in Boston, to see A Faithful Man as part of this year's French Film Festival. I had no idea this existed, but I can't wait to catch another film next year! I love watching movies in French because it's a great way to immerse myself in the language through a story. Do you enjoy watching foreign-language films? What's your favorite?
I'm also currently reading Finale, while I stay indoors. I must admit it's been a bit difficult, since I don't actually remember the plot of Legendary. It's been a couple of months since I've read any of the Caraval series, but I hope I can jump back into Scarlett and Tella's world in this magical conclusion. There's a certain amount of victory I feel when I finish a series, which is soon accompanied by the withdrawal symptoms of being left without any new content for characters I've come to love. The most recent time this happened was with the A Study in Charlotte series by Brittany Cavallaro. They are absolutely some of my favorite mystery novels, and Jamie and Charlotte will always hold a special place in my heart. I loved the ending but I didn't want to let them go, which made finishing A Question of Holmes very hard for me. What are your current reads? How are you beating the heat this week?
Thank you to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.
Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.
Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.
I haven’t read any YA goblin fantasy books, and I think White Stag was a pretty good place to start. I’m not really knowledgeable on goblin mythology, but I like how Barbieri articulated the differences between human and goblin society, and the pull Janneke felt between her found home in the Permafrost and her human self.
During the hunt, Janneke knew that if Soren was killed, she would be bound to Lydian again, the goblin who had tortured her, but she also knew that if she wanted to stay with Soren, she would have to give up her humanity and let go of her past. I loved her growth and every part of her journey. That being said, I think her story would be more impactful if we knew more of what her life would like before she came to the Permafrost. I know Janneke longed to keep her humanity, and I know she was abused and tortured, but we can't feel the loss like she does if we don't know what she misses.
I loved the darker psychological aspects to this story, having to do with humanity and monstrosity, and how we regard ourselves and the choices we make. The whole book was intriguing and I was interested through to the end. Part of Janneke's struggle is her romance, although sometimes I wished it wasn't included. The romance felt contrived at times, and I didn’t love the whole “I own you, but I’ve been nice” aspect. Janneke had a certain amount of agency, but we were always reminded that she was indentured to Soren, which doesn't lead me to think that she had freedom. We also see their relationship beginning at a hundred years, so they are already in love, and we don't see how they came to like and love each other, or why. A lot of their relationship seemed to be previously established.
Some of my favorite scenes were the action scenes. The concept of killing the stag to be king leads to a fierce and ruthless hunt where Janneke must use her best fighting skills. She is human, but she keeps fighting even when she's a lesser fighter than her goblin opponents. Her origin does not hold her back, and I admired that about her.
For anyone seeking a dark fantasy romance, White Stag is for you. 4/5 stars.
I think this might be my last First Impression Friday (at least in this style), so I think I'll break the rules.
I'm cheating here because technically speaking, I've already read The Luxe. But it's been such a long time that I can't even remember whether or not I ever finished it. I do know the following:
I remember: a socialite being murdered or dying, an engagement, a maid who was really a friend (scandalous!), and some jealousy. The keywords sound about right for the tone of the book, but tell us very little about the plot. If we put them all together... maybe the plot goes a little something like this? A socialite gets engaged to another rich person, one of her only true friends happens to be her attendant, in whom she confides her doubts and worries, some other society girl gets jealous of the match (and maybe finds out about the doubts?), and offs our leading lady.
If you've read The Luxe, comment below and let me know how I did on my guesswork! If not, go ahead and take a crack at your own plot summary!
Thank you to Netgalley and Sweet Cherry Publishing for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Lily couldn’t have planned life better herself. She lives in the best house in town and she’s dating the most popular boy in school. Everything else she can fix. Mum’s apathy? On it! The stuffy gala committee? Watch this space!
Tom has enough on his plate without trying to drag Newton St Cuthbert into the 21st Century. His sister is sick and there’s nothing anyone can do. Not doctors, not his parents, and certainly not Lily Hildebrand.
Sail away this summer with the unexpected romance of Scotland's most determined teenager.
Lily's Just Fine is a fluffy summer romance starring Lily Hildebrand, the event orchestrator, and Tom Owen, the reluctant follower. At first I loved their banter and I thought I would become invested in the slow-burn romance, but eventually I began to think that if they spoke constantly of how annoying the other was, I would never believe the romance. I think the main storyline suffered from a lack of chemistry between Tom and Lily, and therefore the emotional stakes fell short of expectations.
Where the book shone was its side characters. Gemma, Lily and Tom's best friend, was relatable in her anxiety, and I loved her support of Lily and Tom. I think my favorite character was Sarah, Tom's little sister. She has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I liked that she was included in the group regardless and that she got to be a person outside of her illness. (I would have loved to see representations of the art she drew for the gala as an extra in the back of the book!) Sarah was probably the most well-rounded character, and I read mostly for her scenes. Because she was supposed to be a secondary character, that actually becomes a problem.
The second most developed character was Lily, and I appreciated her can-do attitude and relentless energy, but I also felt that some plot points suffered because of her steam-roller personality, and that some of her actions should realistically have had more consequences, especially when other people had problems with her opinions. I struggled to believe some of the scenes.
Tom felt a bit two-dimensional at times, despite the fact that the POV was split between him and Lily. Many of his chapters were filled with his annoyance at Lily, which wasn't a great start to their romance.
I did like how the book featured mental health and LGBTQ+ advocacy. Lily's mom has depression, and despite how much Lily takes on outside her house, she still wants to help her mom get better. She also campaigns to add a Pride Parade to the gala parade to help her town be more inclusive. I liked the addition of the Gala King and the Queer Gala King and Queen as well as the town's more traditional solo Gala Queen that she proposed.
Despite some of my issues with the romance, Lily's Just Fine is still a fun beach read for those seeking a light summer book. 3/5 stars.
I have something special to share today! I was chosen to participate on the blog tour for War of Mist by Helen Scheuerer. I am here today with a review for the final book as well as some of my favorite quotes. I also invite you to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for audiobook copies of War of Mist and Reign of Mist, open internationally for one lucky winner.
Finally, join Caffeine Book Tours on Twitter for the #CBTTC Twitter Chat on Saturday, July 20 at 10:00 AM EST and 9:00 PM Philippine Time. #CBTTC Twitter chat on Saturday, August 3 at 9:00 AM EST and 9:00 PM Philippine Time.
The Book and its Author
War is here.
Toxic mist drives all life to the brink of destruction and the conqueror queen, Ines, has her talons in the kings of the realm.
Bleak, having discovered her true heritage, must now scour the lands for the one thing that might save them all.
But the search is a treacherous one, one that will push her to the very limits of endurance.
Amidst secrets, lies and the intricacies of battle, Bleak and her companions learn just how far they’ll go for the ones they love. But will it be enough?
As deadly forces grapple for power across the continents; families, friends and allies unite to take one final stand.
Explosive revelations, heart-wrenching betrayals and breathtaking magic soar in the epic conclusion to Helen Scheuerer’s bestselling trilogy, The Oremere Chronicles.
After writing literary fiction for a number of years, Helen Scheuerer was inspired to return to her childhood love of fantasy thanks to novels like Throne of Glass, The Queen’s Poisoner, and The Queen of the Tearling.
Helen is also the Founding Editor of Writer’s Edit, an online learning platform for emerging writers. In its first year, Writer’s Edit reached thousands of new authors, and soon became its own small press, with Helen overseeing the production and publication of three creative writing anthologies. It’s now one of the largest writing websites in the world.
Helen now lives by the mountains of New Zealand and writes full time. She has many more books planned for the future.
Excerpt of the Prologue
"The king’s suite was dark but for a beam of pale moonlight streaming through the window. King Arden lay in the canopied bed, pale-gold beard tipped to the ceiling as he snored softly. Ines gazed at him with distaste from where she stood naked by the glass. He had cost her much in recent months. The fool had failed to detain Henrietta Valia and Alarise Thornton. He’d let the prizes slip right through his manicured fingers, too concerned with boasting of his minor victories to see what was happening beneath his own nose. The woman shook her head and turned to look out onto the dark castle grounds.
‘If you want something done right, do it yourself,’ she muttered under her breath. Her fingers toyed with the layered necklace resting against her collarbone, a pretty gift from the infatuated king. She was fond of this piece in particular, adorned with rare jewels from lands long forgotten. It reminded her of something her mother had worn so many years before. A piece she was meant to inherit, before they’d taken her and stripped her of all her rights and belongings. The order of the high priestesses allowed no effects, no personal property, but now … now she had many things to call her own.
Below, the castle maze sprawled across the grounds, and beyond the walls and gatehouse, the whole of Ellest bent to her will. It was all hers. She had taken it easily, as was her destiny. The instinct of the magic in her veins drove her to take and take, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to add to her kingdom, her collection. The need to do so raged within her, a demand, a drive to fill the gaping hole in her chest.
Then, there were those who threatened to take away all she held dear now. Tonight, along with all the other nights, the thought of them, and what they were searching for, kept her from sleep. She had begun her own search for the item they planned to use against her. The maze, the armoury, the jewel vault had all proved fruitless, but earlier in the week, she’d had a breakthrough. The old library. She had felt its presence. Demanding solitude, she had locked herself away and combed through every volume the damn room held. Nothing. But she knew it was in there. And she would find it. Rheyah help the realm when she did."
Thank you to Helen Scheuerer for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review as part of this blog tour.
What a stunning conclusion to The Oremere Chronicles. I was blown away by this book, and I wholeheartedly recommend this series to anyone looking for their next great fantasy read. Incredible magic flourished alongside fierce warriors, making this action-packed novel a must-read.
I was especially impressed by the development of the characters alongside the plot. While I was reading, I never felt like the plot lagged behind while I was getting to know this massive cast of characters. They all had equal page time and the plot moved at a steady clip regardless.
Although I am partial to a good battle, of which there were plenty, the stars of the story truly are the characters. My favorites (no spoilers, promise!) are Henri, Bleak, and surprisingly, Swinton! Henri remains my favorite character and I still want to be part of her Valian Kindred. (in my defense, they're just so cool!) She was a fierce warrior, and yet learned from her mistakes and was a great leader to her people. When I met her, I thought she would be another manifestation of the standard "warrior princess" archetype, but I was entirely wrong. Henri had so much emotional depth and every time I opened a new chapter, I hoped I would read about the Valian Queen.
Everyone knows that I'm always on the side of the first POV character, and that here would be Bleak. Her progress through this series was remarkable, and I'm glad Scheuerer touched on her path as a recovering alcoholic who could fight and use magic and who wasn't cast aside. I also loved the bond between Bleak and Rion. Their almost-telepathy and emotional senses were awesome, and I loved reading the scenes where they journeyed together. I'm always a sucker for a good human-big cat friendship.
Swinton is more likable than I ever imagined. He has so much depth in him, and by the end I felt like I really knew him. His path in this last book included several very powerful moments, especially between him and his father, that were very touching. I couldn't believe that I liked him this much after how I felt during the first book. As his view of the realms changed, so did my view of him.
Speaking of the realms, my only wish for this book would be that we got to explore more. My favorite parts of the books were when characters would arrive in a new land and get used to the environment and adapt to its demands. All of the continents in the realm had distinguishing qualities, and my reader dream is to see more historical details about the kingdoms, such as their different strengths, and how their peoples adapt to challenge. However, none of this was a problem, and I definitely knew the kingdoms well enough for the story to progress, so it remains a pipe dream.
Overall, I give War of Mist 5/5 stars for its beautiful story and characters. Below, I have created graphics for some of my favorite quotes from the book. I didn't provide context, so I hope you all read the series to find out! Enjoy!
The Maasai Mara Sleeping Syndrome has returned after a six-month hiatus. This time, it's popped up in New York, and it's wiped out an entire homeless shelter.
The same night of the outbreak, Harper, a seventeen-year-old girl, stumbles across a glowing figure in the desert outskirts of her neighborhood. As her suburb goes on lockdown, Harper finds herself isolated from her friends and family, and soon begins to suspect that the events — though thousands of miles apart — may have something in common.
Harper must find her bravery and embark on a plot-twisting adventure that will have her looking for answers in unexpected places... and worlds.
Thank you to Netgalley and Ruby & Topaz Publishing for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
A fun read as long as you have time for a commitment and are ready to process the worldbuilding. 3/5 stars for the story and creativity, docking 2 for the length and repetition. I would read the second book in the series, but I know where to put my expectations for the time commitment after having read Potency.
Fall in love, break the curse.
Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.
Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she's pulled into a magical world.
Break the curse, save the kingdom.
Harper doesn't know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? 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. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.
All right! Here we GO! My first backlist review in... several months? I could not be happier to review A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, as it is one of my new favorite fantasies.
cover: Firstly, that COVER! Oh my goodness. The brambles, and that font reminiscent of swords and knives, and the beautiful blue. I especially love how "Dark" is highlighted with a colored shimmer. I know this is hardly relevant to the review, but everyone needs to know that THIS is how you design a text-centered fantasy book cover. This is the standard from here on out.
Anyways. A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a Beauty and the Beast retelling that I flew through despite it being nearly 500 pages long. Kemmerer's writing was so lovely and I never wanted to put the book down. A refreshing take on the original tale, this novel contains lovable characters, an intriguing plot, and plenty of tension and romance. Curse (as I will be calling the novel from here on out, due to its six-word title) truly has it all. It is at the top of my list of Beauty and the Beast retellings, because there were so many twists on the circumstances of the story that reading it felt like reading a version of BatB, but with so many new and interesting layers. The story is complex and emotional but also easy to follow and oh-so-addictive. Part of that stems from the inherent likability of the characters.
I didn't even need to try in order to like Harper, Rhen, and Grey. Harper was so relatable... her reaction to being thrown into Emberfall from DC felt so real. She reacted just as I think I would, except a hundred times braver. Also, that cerebral palsy representation?! I love it! I don't have CP, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the rep, but I will say that we need more fantasy novel characters with disabilities who, like Harper, don't let their abilities define them. More characters who are well-rounded and bold and courageous and willing to fight and work around their limitations. When training with the guard, Harper said something that stuck out to me: "They believe her limp is the result of a war injury, but Harper is quick to correct them. 'I was born this way,' she'll snap, 'and I'm going to die this way, so teach me to work around it.'" That's so powerful to me. Harper's grit and resilience are refreshing: she is Beauty in this story, but she is often referred to as a warrior princess, and she never backs down. She's not wispy or weak, she's eager and strong.
Rhen and Grey are so interesting to me because of the circumstances of their friendship: Grey is the commander of the Royal Guard, as well as the only Guardsman left after the monster's attacks. Their relationship is based on the oath that Grey has sworn, to always protect the Prince's life, but they become true friends despite this. Rhen is protective of Grey, who thinks highly of Rhen even when he thinks of himself as a pitiable monster. It was an honor to watch their bromance develop.
On their own, Rhen and Grey are pretty cool as well. Grey warms to Harper fairly quickly, and I liked that he was her first friend in Emberfall. I like it when characters are honest with each other, because I get stressed with dramatic irony and miscommunication, so I appreciated that Grey did his best to help Harper learn about life in the palace.
Underneath his arrogant, princely exterior, Rhen was a total sweetheart, and I loved him for it. Men in novels showing emotion and vulnerability? I'm here for it! Even though he wanted his curse to be broken, he didn't manipulate Harper and gave her absolutely everything she needed. When she decided to save his kingdom, feed his people, or pay those who needed help, he was right behind her. Harper was exactly the motivation Rhen needed to go out and directly fix problems in his kingdom, and he knew it and acknowledged it. We love supportive and caring men in 2019!
I'll be the first to admit that I was hoping for a relationship between Rhen and Grey at the beginning of the book, but I warmed up to Harper + Rhen pretty quickly. Watching them come to trust each other despite numerous setbacks was truly magical, if you'll pardon the phrase. Like I said earlier, Harper was exactly what Rhen needed, and the circumstances under which they met allowed Harper to explore her fierce nature and fight for a goal. That's a power couple if I've ever seen one.
Overall, A Curse So Dark and Lonely earns 5/5 stars from me, as it is CLEARLY a retelling masterpiece that should be read for years to come. I eagerly anticipate the release of the sequel, A Heart So Fierce and Broken (1/7/20).
Hey, I'm Shreya! I love to read, write, travel, and drink coffee.