Hi all! So excited to participate on the Shadow Frost Blog Tour for the Fantastic Flying Book Club! Click here to follow along, and be sure to enter the giveaway down below!
The Book and its Author
IN THE KINGDOM OF AXARIA, a darkness rises.
Some call it a monster, laying waste to the villagers and their homes.
Some say it is an invulnerable demon summoned from the deepest abysses of the Immortal Realm.
Many soldiers from the royal guard are sent out to hunt it down.
Not one has ever returned.
When Asterin Faelenhart, Princess of Axaria and heir to the throne, discovers that she may hold the key to defeating the mysterious demon terrorizing her kingdom, she vows not to rest until the beast is slain. With the help of her friends and the powers she wields — though has yet to fully understand — Asterin sets out to complete a single task. The task that countless, trained soldiers have failed.
To kill it.
But as they hunt for the demon, they unearth a plot to assassinate the Princess herself instead. Asterin and her companions begin to wonder how much of their lives have been lies, especially when they realize that the center of the web of deceit might very well be themselves. With no one else to turn to, they are forced to decide just how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect the only world they have ever known.
That is, of course… if the demon doesn’t get to them first.
Coco Ma is a Canadian-Chinese author and pianist. She wrote her first novel, Shadow Frost, at the age of 15. Since she began playing the piano at the age of five and a half, she has also performed on some of the world's greatest concert stages and graduated with a pre-college diploma in piano performance from The Juilliard School in New York City. Currently, she studies at Yale University. When she isn't practicing piano, writing, or studying, you might find her bingeing Netflix or eating cake. Lots of cake.
Follow Coco on Twitter @shadowfrost2019 and Instagram @CakeForCoco or visit her website at Coco-Ma.com!
Thank you to Blackstone Publishing for sending me a copy!
Shadow Frost is a fun, immersive high fantasy read that’s perfect for a fall evening. I enjoyed the magical elements and reading about the queens, princesses, and warriors adventuring to save their land.
I thought the affinity system of magic was neat to read about. I liked that it was simple to explain and easy for the reader to understand, but that the characters could still produce powerful magic and fight demons just as if in a “raw magic” system. The affinities were elemental (earth, water, and fire being the main trio), but could be used in a variety of ways, including as weapons in combat. One thing I noted is that Asterin isn’t a chosen one, per se, because she isn’t unique in her powers. I liked that her obligation to go on the quest stemmed from a sense of duty to her country, and not because she was the only person who could save her world.
This brings me to the great teamwork also featured in the novel. I enjoy high fantasy stories with a mid-large sized cast, and Shadow Frost absolutely delivered. The interpersonal dynamics of the team were great to read about, and I loved seeing them work together and learn to trust each other, when some of them had expressed differences beforehand. Each of them stepped up with extreme bravery and willingness to sacrifice everything for the realm and each other.
Asterin: Great leader, but has flaws! She was a very well rounded character, and as I mentioned earlier I appreciate how she didn’t have to take on the whole burden of the quest. She was open to the possibility of teamwork and letting other people assist, which I like in a hero. This is also incredibly necessary in a high fantasy—you can’t have a main character who takes on too much, because then the different plot threads begin to feel all the same. I’m so happy none of that happened in Shadow Frost. Though I have all the admiration for Asterin, Luna is probably my favorite character. She never failed to help those she loved and further the quest, and I felt so so hard for her. Her life story is so intriguing, and at some points I kept reading just to find out what happens to her.
The romance was nice but felt fairly average. Asterin and Quin were cute, as were Luna and Eadric. Orion also has a romance, but in the name of no spoilers I won’t say anything else about it.
I found the plot rather predictable until the last quarter, when I was taken by surprise by some unexpected twists. Until then, everything had been straightforward, and though Shadow Frost wasn’t always the most enthralling read, I remained entertained and I was always driven to find out the ending of Asterin’s journey.
The villains were pretty great, but I definitely feel like they could have been deeper. I think the concepts were there, though, and I liked seeing the royal family drama become part of a world-destroying plot.
Overall, definitely pick up Shadow Frost for a light high fantasy read perfect for a fall evening in! 4/5 stars.
There are five types of book reviewers in this blogging world. We are a combination of all of them, but some people fit more with one type than others. Which are you?
Might annotate (or not!). Probably writes in a separate notebook while reading. Very analytical reviews. Actually edits posts before publishing them.
Writes based on memory. Never knows what's going on. Did they even finish the book? Writes a lot of DNF reviews. Mixes up the plots and characters of books.
Graphic design is their forte. So! Many! Colors! Every post has a header. The color scheme of their blog is obvious and delightful. Probably keeps a bullet journal.
Lots of emojis! Bullet point reviews. Short, to the point. Reviews are secondary to their photos. Is an origami expert. Loves rainbows, fall, and/or the color blue. Highly consistent.
Product reviews AND book reviews. Very confident. Shares everything: book hauls, currently reading, and tbr. Well-lit living space. Enthusiastic and bubbly reviews.
I am so so so so so EXCITED to be part of Penguin Teen's Daring Debuts Blog Tour, to introduce some of the hottest books of the Fall 2019 season! These books are all written by debut authors, and they are all shining new voices in YA lit. My post today features a review of The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus, as well as graphics for my favorite quotes. i hope you check out some other tour posts when you have the chance!
Thank you to Penguin Teen for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.
Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.
Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.
In The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, Junauda Petrus introduces readers to lovable characters and a sense of breathless spirituality that will soothe all who pick up the novel. I have a lot of words for how I felt when I finished this story, but I don’t want to use all of them for fear of sounding redundant: most of them are synonyms of amazing.
*note: From here forward I will be abbreviating The Stars and the Blackness Between Them to “The Stars,” for ease and flow in this review.*
The first thing I noticed was the writing. This alone makes The Stars a standout. Mabel and Audre are the two primary narrators of the novel, and each of them has a distinct voice and view of the world around them, which comes across perfectly to the reader. Not only that, but their voices fit together perfectly, which made it so easy to fall into their world. I especially appreciated the moments when Mabel and Audre were sharing the same space, because I was interested in the similarities and differences of what they noticed about their setting and about each other. Petrus’s writing is smooth and flowing. The pacing of the story was gentle, but I was always compelled to turn the page and keep reading. Each page had some sort of revelation, which I would have to stop and wrap my mind around before moving on. I love that. I love that it was impossible to rush through The Stars, and that I was forced to slow down and fully consider what I was reading, and how it made me feel.
One concrete aspect I appreciated were the astrological poems interspersed throughout the book. Two of my favorite quotes down below come from those poems, because I loved the language Petrus used in them to connect themes and history. They went chronologically, from Gemini Season after the Prologue, to Cancer Season in the end.
Since Petrus shared Mabel and Audre’s stories in first person, I grew incredibly attached to them over the course of the novel. Mabel was an absolute sweetheart. She connected with the world through music, and I like that she was so open with Audre immediately. They had beautiful chemistry and watching them become friends and then fall in love was perfect. I found it interesting that Mabel got into astrology, but I liked the parallel of both girls pushing themselves spiritually: Mabel in learning astrology and star charts, and Audre in reading her oracle stones without her grandmother.
Speaking of whom, Queenie is one of my favorite characters in The Stars. I think the most important aspect of the novel is about human connection and relationships, both expected and new. Audre’s bond with Queenie was beautiful to read, and I liked the memories she shared with Mabel, and reading about how the two of them would dance and read stones and go to the beach and explore natural energy to connect with each other. In such a technological world, reading a story about women leaning into nature, feeling their emotions, and exploring natural healing is a breath of fresh air, especially in YA. We need to send the message that not every problem can be solved with Google, and a look into one’s consciousness can go a long way.
Part of this is putting a real face out to family and friends, which is why I liked the parent and friend relationships in the novel as well! Like always, family can be complicated, but reading in Mabel’s perspective how much she loves her parents and shares with them brought me joy. Audre’s family is a bit more complicated, but I liked that her dad made the effort to connect with her and welcome her into his life in the States.
Before I close, I want to mention the fabulous representation The Stars brings. I had so much fun learning about Audre’s life in Trinidad, and what Caribbean culture is like. Her descriptions of the island and the memories associated with her life put me in such a good mood. I also love love love books about queer women of color! There were mentions of homophobia and some of Audre’s narrative featured characters who were bigoted and even violent, but for the most part The Stars honors women who love women.
This novel is absolutely a celebration of spirituality and self-recognition, and I love how open and freeing the narrative is. I was one hundred percent in tears by the end because of some particular moments of clarity. Despite being topically heavy, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them folds the reader into the story fully, and I finished the novel with a sense of peace despite my grief at leaving Mabel and Audre. 5/5 stars for a wonderfully written and shaped novel. I recommend this to everyone!
I've had an action packed weekend, culminating in my succumbing to the ragweed allergy I deal with every fall. Ugh. My highlights included: volunteering at my town's all-day field day, and seeing The Purists by the Huntington Theatre Company!
I ate way too much pizza, signed in volunteers, and ran errands all day long, but I also had so much fun being outside and volunteering. I love feeling useful, and I've been involved with this community event for a long time, so it was truly rewarding to return for the day.
On Sunday, I saw The Purists, which was funny and powerful and also DIRECTED BY BILLY PORTER? WHAAAT?? The play centers around these men who sit on a stoop in Queens most days and talk about rap and hip-hop, and whose world changes when two female emcees have an impromptu rap battle one day. I loved the scenic design. Absolutely hats off to Clint Ramos for bringing the stoop to life. Every detail was accounted for, and the levels were insane. The whole thing was properly proportioned to be an apartment building, and I lost my mind when one actor ascended to his third-floor "apartment."
If you're able, go see The Purists before their run ends on October 6!
We've all read and loved The Selection, Red Queen, and Throne of Glass, so what's next for a reader dying to wear a crown? Here are some of my favorite books about royalty!
Thank you to Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
"You cannot have a funeral for your mother without also having a funeral for yourself." This book poses the ever-lingering question: What happens when someone dies before they're able to redeem themselves?
From the bestselling & award-winning poetess, amanda lovelace, comes the finale of her illustrated duology, "things that h(a)unt." In the first installment, to make monsters out of girls, lovelace explored the memory of being in a toxic romantic relationship. In to drink coffee with a ghost, lovelace unravels the memory of the complicated relationship she had with her now-deceased mother.
Lovelace has extraordinary capability with words, a skill which lends itself beautifully to her poetry collections. I especially appreciated her honesty in writing about her relationship with her late mother, with whom she had a complicated relationship. The simple format of Lovelace's poems works in her favor. Bold statements about becoming her own person and unlearning toxic messages are incredibly impactful when they are not buried in swaths of unnecessary phrases. Her poems stand out on each page.
All of Lovelace's poems are drawn from personal experience and memory, yet every reader can understand her questions about life after death and pervasive childhood memories. Every time I read one of her books, I come away with a new outlook on life, and I appreciate her wisdom and perspective that has been so carefully cultivated within this book.
I give To Drink Coffee with a Ghost 5/5 stars, and recommend it (and all of Lovelace's work) to readers everywhere.
Short update today, as I'm quite busy this week. This week, I've got two reviews out and a recommendation post, so check back daily for my updates!
I had my first book club meeting yesterday! We are reading The Lightning Thief in an effort to attract new members, and also to provide opportunities for fun activities. I'm optimistic about this year, but also, running a book club is so much work! I'm glad I'm a co-president, and not shouldering the burden myself. We have a great slate of games and projects this year, and I'm really excited.
This past weekend, I traveled to Connecticut for a family event, and I used the car ride to get some reading done. I worked my way through The Vanishing Stair (book 2 of the Truly Devious trilogy. Fascinating, but not as engrossing as the first), and The Stars and the Blackness Between Them (read for an upcoming Penguin Teen blog tour, lyrical and enchanting), both of which I've been reading for a while.
Thank you to Netgalley and Delacorte Press for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it's kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she's good at it.
And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let's just say she owes some people a new tree.
Enter Cassandra Heaven. She's Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme's babysitters club?
The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra's mother left her: "Find the babysitters. Love, Mom."
Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they're about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.
I remember reading The Baby-Sitters Club books as a kid (I wanted to be Claudia), because of their adventurous yet responsible spirit. The Babysitters Coven revitalizes the series for the 21st century, adding elements of magic and high school life. The main similarity between the two series is the group of girls who form a babysitters club. Other than that, The Babysitters Coven is completely different, and I love it.
Esme is a fun narrator: she babysits, she's learning how to drive, she's awkward in front of her crush, and she's got a lot going on at home. Her narration was funny and quirky, which I appreciated. It set the tone for the rest of the novel. I also liked reading about her friendship with Janice, who is the other member of Esme's Babysitters Club. Love female friendships! The girls went thrifting together, planned out outfits, and hung out after school. It’s so refreshing to see characters commit to a friendship and make it work, even when it’s not a main focus of the story.
Cassandra was a great character. She was chaotic to Esme’s rational, which was a good balance. She did get the pair in trouble a couple of times, but I thought she was fun to read about and her actions moved the story along nicely. I don’t necessarily think she’s a good person all the time, but I liked reading about a character in a contemporary setting who makes those same mistakes, and has good intentions that don’t always help everyone.
I had a great reading experience when I stopped taking the plot seriously. It's not a grave high fantasy, but a campy, witchy book about high school demon-fighters that's perfect for Halloween season. Watching Esme and Cassandra learn about their powers was hilarious, because of the specificity of some spells. There’s a spell for everything—even bad hair days!
My main fault with the book is that I wanted to know more about the Sitters: the history and structure of the organization, and to meet other members, for example. Basically, I wanted more world-building.
Overall, The Babysitters Coven is a fun fall fantasy that makes a great read for anyone—even if you’ve never babysat before! 4/5 stars.
I'm super excited to be participating in the blog tour for A Treason of Thorns! I've got a review and some graphics for my favorite quotes, and you can click here to follow along with the tour! At the bottom of my post is a link to a great Rafflecopter giveaway where you can win copies of A Treason of Thorns and The Light Between Worlds, Weymouth’s other book.
The Book and its Author
Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic always kept the countryside well. And as a child, this magic kept Violet happy, draping her in flowers while she slept, fashioning secret hiding places for her, and lighting fires on the coldest nights to keep her warm.
Everything shattered, though, when her father committed high treason trying to free Burleigh from the king’s oppressive control. He was killed, and Vi was forced into hiding.
When she’s given a chance to go back, she discovers Burleigh has run wild with grief. Vines and briars are crumbling the walls. Magic that once enriched the surrounding countryside has turned dark and deadly, twisting lush blooms into thorns, poisoning livestock and destroying crops. Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain.
Vi would do anything to help, and soon she finds herself walking the same deadly path as her father all those years before. Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house—before her house destroys everything she’s ever known.
Content warnings are available via the author's website.
Laura Weymouth is a Canadian living in exile in America, and the sixth consecutive generation of her family to immigrate from one country to another. Born and raised in the Niagara region of Ontario, she now lives at the edge of the woods in western New York, along with her husband, two wild-hearted daughters, a spoiled cat, an old soul of a dog, and an indeterminate number of chickens. She is represented by the inimitable Lauren Spieller of TriadaUS.
Thank you to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for organizing this tour, and to HarperTeen for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
A Treason of Thorns is a standout for its lush world building and excellent characterization. While reading, my most common notes were on the emotions I felt for the lives of Wyn and Violet, and the stunning personification of Burleigh House.
Right from the start, I was hooked. The prologue left me with so many questions, and I wanted to learn more about Violet’s bond with Burleigh and Wyn’s life story. I am happy to report that all of my questions were answered, which raised my level of appreciation for A Treason of Thorns. Thank goodness this book is a standalone—I don’t know if I could wait between books! If you want to be invested in a story but not be tied down to a series, A Treason of Thorns is for you.
Weymouth included great background information about the five Great Houses, and the concept of an alternative Europe felt truly rooted in history. I liked this because it provided precedent and true fear for Violet, because she knew the path she was on. Every detail was carefully thought-out, and I liked that Violet was well-prepared for certain outcomes, but that the plot still included twists and surprises.
Violet has a deeply personal connection to Burleigh, but she also has her own motivations and emotions. I loved the way the two were entwined, and I truly felt Violet’s loss and sadness at the state of her House and childhood. Weymouth’s use of first-person narration was a great choice, and her writing is so clear. The bond between Violet and Burleigh was even more visceral when we could feel first-hand Violet’s connection to the House and her trauma during the story.
Wyn! I decided from the moment I met him that he must. Be. Protected. I love Wyn. He’s so angsty and complicated and sweet in a very heart-wrenching way. I cannot even begin to imagine the amounts of pain Wyn has felt while trapped in Burleigh, but I loved getting to know the person he had become and reading about the ways he and Violet spent time together, both as children and in the present. Love a good childhood friendship reunion. If you want to preview Wyn and Violet’s relationship before reading the book, listen to Outnumberedby Dermot Kennedy.
Burleigh House is a character unto itself. Able to feel, think, and communicate, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading the personification of the House. It grows flowers at Violet’s feet, changes the weather based on its mood, and protects those it loves. One of the coolest parts is that Burleigh can show past memories that happened on its grounds as ghosts. In this way, Violet can relive her childhood and recall her father. I think this is a great way to provide exposition without info-dumping, and I enjoyed the scenes where Violet watched her younger self explore the House.
I enjoyed the pacing for the first half of the book, but in the second part I started to feel as though the novel could have been shorter. Some parts felt like filler, and there was repetition about how Violet felt Burleigh’s pain. The same part I loved in the beginning began to feel muted because of the sheer amount of it, and the emphasis was lost. Not all hope is lost, though, because around the climax the pace started to pick up again and I found the book unputdownable! That and the resolution were thrilling, and sticking through the middle was totally worth it.
Overall, A Treason of Thorns is a must-read standalone fantasy with amazing magical elements and very lovable characters. 4/5 stars!
I'm so excited to be part of the Blog Tour for Tiger Queen by Annie Sullivan! Today I'm sharing my review, as well as a fun quiz: would you survive your Achran trial? Click here to follow along with the tour!
The Book and its Author
In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.
But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.
Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram (@annsulliva).
I think the best word for Tiger Queen is “unexpected.” I went in with some idea of what my reading experience would be like, found something different, and ended up liking it! This story is an action-packed, exploratory read, with plenty of tension and an excellent training montage. I kid you not, that was one of my favorite parts of the whole book.
As I mentioned, I loved the action and training scenes. Sullivan has a knack for writing the quick motions of swordplay, and I liked the realistic descriptions of the moves and techniques Kateri learned. Her trainer taught her to focus on instinct and trusting her body more than her sight, which was all very intuitive. Even just reading some of the scenes kept me on my toes! In certain moments, I had no idea whether or not Kateri would win, and those were the scenes in which I realized how much I actually wanted her to beat her opponent.
I came around to the romance and love interest: at first I thought there wouldn’t be any, and I didn’t mind that because we need more books sans romance, but eventually I came around. Tiger Queen has a great premise for an enemies-to-lovers romance, and I can always support that. Plus, the love interest himself was a pretty good guy—he wanted to help his people, and risked a lot in doing so. I liked seeing Kateri come around to trust him, and both of them learning to support one another.
I liked the last half of the story a lot more than the beginning. It was quick and snappy, and I liked Kateri’s growth. She needed to come to some major realizations before I could support her actions, and I’m happy she was interested in learning and being open-minded. The climax was so thrilling, and it had great emotional impact as well.
My main issue is the lack of female characters, and the addition of unnecessary patriarchal ideas. Kateri was the only notable female character for most of the story, and even she did not have that much agency. She is forced into many of her actions, and much of her character relies on being controlled by the men in her life. The first half of the book didn’t give me much of the fierce feminist vibe that had been touted in the blurb, but as I mentioned, that did change.
As for the unchallenged patriarchy: royal women (princesses) are the only ones who have to prove they’re worthy of the crown. If a man beats them in a fight, he gets to rule. As per my understanding, princes do not have to do this and inherit the crown by birthright. Many noble women also wear gold neck cuffs and heavy engagement bracelets, which are compared in-text to shackles. Men do not have to wear either. I honestly do not believe any of these gendered specifications were crucial to the storyline, and I’m not sure why they were included.
Overall, Tiger Queen is a great read for those seeking a light fantasy. I do wish some topics were further addressed, but I would give it 4/5 stars as it is.
Hey, I'm Shreya! I love to read, write, travel, and drink coffee.