Lilla the Accidental Witch – Eleanor Crewes

It should not be legal for a graphic novel to be so dull. It should not be legal for them to take me such a long time to get through… and eventually discard them. It’s insane how this book has everything I love in fantasy stories: magical coming-of-ages, witches, family secrets, town mysteries and familiars.

And yet, and yet. Somehow, I don’t have the patience for more than 25 pages in one sitting and, somehow, I don’t have the energy it seems to require to finish it. I can probably count on my hand the amount of graphic novels I have DNF’d in all my life—that’s how rarely that happens—so I’m as shocked as you are with the outcome.

It’s possible part of it is me; part of it is probably always us, because I feel very indifferent about the illustrations. They don’t need to WOW me to make them worth looking at, but Eleanor Crewes’ very cartoonish style with soft shadows and lines and bright, unrealistic colours does not appeal to me. I’m not so superficial that the visuals alone could undo a whole entire book for me, but this ‘‘is’’ a graphic novel after all.

And the story is not original enough to add enough ‘‘personality’’ to this work to make it work despite its visual shortcomings. It’s the very usual tale of a young teen who discovers she has powers and tries to learn about them and right some wrongs at the same time. Maybe if it had been Halloween, the atmosphere of the day would have made reading this book more enjoyable, but it’s not and I’m writing this not only because it was sent to me for review, but also because I want to move on from it to another more interesting and engrossing work. Goodbye!

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

‘Frostblood’ by Elly Blake did not get deeper the second time around

Here we go again.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or you remember me from Goodreads as ‘‘Lola’’ perhaps, you know I love YA Fantasy and you know (maybe, if you’re a die-hard fan) that I have read this book before, its advance reader’s copy to be more precise.

Like about 3.5 billion people in this world, I am in awe of Frozen and its world of magic and let it go-ness. So of course I had to give this a try. I decided to give it a second try because sometimes I simply do not want to admit defeat.

There are books and series out there that I feel myself feeling indifferent about and it leaves me gobsmacked, whereas there are books I am reluctant to try and assume I’ll detest them on first sight that actually end up leaving me breathless.

Why is the world of literature so cruel? Anyways, so in my refusal to admit defeat, I picked this one up again… and history repeated itself. The good thing is that now I know better why this author and series do not work for me and, should I insist on creating a bond between us, I can more easily adjust my expectations for the third round.

Yes, there will be a third round sometime, somewhere, some day. So what’s the problem with Frostblood, besides its dramatic title that means little? Well, pretty much the fact that it’s overly dramatic and has little emotional depth. If you’re a shallow reader who gravitates towards shallow works (no judgement here), please do jump right into the frosty shallow waters of this one. If, like me, you need a deeper connection, you will be quite astounded to realize that even though you’ve finished reading it in something like 5 hours, you remember quite little of its content.

It’s like having a conversation with someone who doesn’t know how to navigate deep waters. You certainly remember that you talked about the weather, how they were doing, whether they slept well last night and how early they joke up to drink their orange juice. You know this – or rather, assume this – because it has happened many times before. But you, somehow, can’t remember if the weather was stormy or not, at what time and why they actually went to bed and what brand of orange juice reached their lips.

Bottom line: you can’t attribute or force depth into anyone or anything, if it’s not there for you to harness its potential or recognize, try as you might. So why, pray tell, do you insist on liking this one, Monica?

Because Frozen.

Because Frozen.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

‘Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest’ is simply epic

When I think ‘‘fantasy,’’ I think a world on the brink of darkness, serious characters in dire situations, creatures that spring out of nowhere and delight in making the heroes squirm, as well as a great deal of jumping over metaphorical bridges made of illusionary pink sparkly foam that leads toward promised fatal glory. And you know what, I think A. Lee Martinez and I think similarly because he managed to deliver on my most intense ‘‘fantasy’’ fantasies.

Most people think ‘‘just add water’’ but A. Lee Martinez thinks ‘‘just add humor.’’ A God eating a human? That’s fine, just make sure that the God is in the shape of a burger. A female underdog-type love interest to a God-in-the-making? That’s stellar, just make sure the love interest is a rare creature who radiates wit and insecurities that catapult her into turning her side-kick status into a front-kick one. A. Lee Martinez will gladly make your humorous fantasies come true as well as add some unexpected ones of his own.

Helen and Troy don’t have much time. They are on a quest, which sounds all fun and exciting, but if they don’t accomplish it, they die. They might also die while accomplishing it. They might also die just for the hell of it, because the Gods were bored or something. Or because they’re being followed by killer orcs. Regardless, they are on a road trip—pardon, road quest, as per the title—and stumble upon a ton of helpful-malevolent beings that simultaneously want to exterminate them and cheer them on. If you sense that there is a lot of contradiction in this story, don’t let it discourage you. Or let it, if your mind is so weak.

I’m just saying, how often do you get the chance to witness a written scene involving a gladiator-type fight between a respected, professional Cyclops and a Minotaur girl, afraid of her own power? Thank you, A. Lee Martinez, for the honour.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Beyond the Ruby Veil – Mara Fitzgerald

I love unlikeable female characters. The truth is that, most of the time, they are only unlikeable because they are women, and if a man displayed the same cunningness he would be worshipped, not ostracized. Unfortunately, Emanuela is not all that cunning and bad. She is not the type of heroine you love to hate, because she is actually pretty likeable and human at different moments of the story.

I think that one thing a character needs to be unlikeable or simply villainous, is to be single-minded. To have this one specific goal and try to achieve it in any way possible, regardless of the consequences their actions produce and regardless of who gets in their way. In Emanuela’s case, she cannot become that single-minded character who does as she pleases, to whomever she pleases, to achieve her goals because she cares. She cares about her childhood friend and almost-husband Alessandro and she cares very much about her city and people.

The moment you start caring for something or someone other than yourself, you kind of become human. And Emanuela is pretty human, despite her, at times, careless behaviour. As I read about her, I kept thinking of the main character from Winning by Lara Deloza, because that is one story about a character who has one very specific goal – get the crown! – and is not afraid to be hated and to screw people over to get what she wants, even the ones closest to her.

But that’s okay. It’s okay for a character to not be who you expected them to be. I did not get this book only so that I can enjoy Emanuela’s promised badassery. As always when I pick up a fantasy, I am curious about the world. Unfortunately, again, here the world-building is quite confusing and under-developed. You have these ‘‘veils’’ and these ‘‘watercreas’’ who turn people’s blood into water (euh, seriously) and it’s just so basic, and odd, and 2002.

The good thing about this book – yes, there is one good thing! – is that because it is under-developed and not very complex and doesn’t take itself too seriously, it can be read fast and without investing too much energy into it. Also, when you put it aside, you don’t think about it much so it takes little mental space. Basically, it’s unmemorable. If that’s something you’re looking for right now, because you have trouble concentrating anyways, maybe you’ll enjoy your experience with Emanuela’s journey. Sadly, I was looking for more. I know, how dare I?

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Silver Arrow – Lev Grossman

If I had a daughter or son or non-binary child, I would immediately find a perfect warm moment to read this book with them. And I mean ‘‘with them.’’ I would totally make them read a couple of passages and I’d pause on all the images, which are quite heart-warming and beautifully done.

This is the kind of story that feels like a classic. You’ve never read it before, and it doesn’t feel like you have necessarily when you do, but it does feel right. Like this was a story that was meant to be written and told and that belongs in the world of children’s literature. Certainly some aspects have been explored before, and of course talking animals are quite popular in kids’ stories, but there is still a lot about it that is different and surprising. It made me think that trains should be more present in these books, as they can surprisingly be very enchanting.

This is the kind of writing style that is completely engaging. There’s actually something I really like about it and simultaneously dislike: It seems so casual, as though the narrator is telling a story that is coming to their mind, in a very natural way. On the other hand, it seems so natural that it doesn’t feel edited at times. Charlotte’s Web is, I think, one of the best edited children’s books of all times, and it still reads ‘‘natural’’ and works for its audience, engages it. So yes, at times I did wish it had felt less ‘‘casual’’ and more, well, professional. But the story is so interesting and the characters so memorable that, in most cases, it’s easy to overlook and just go with it.

I want to congratulate the author, who is best known for his adult bestselling books, for giving children literature a try, and doing a pretty fantastic job at it, too. I am already looking forward to the sequel, supposedly coming out in May 2022.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the title in exchange for a review.

Creatures of the Night – Grace Collins

I have diaries. I’ve been writing them since middle school, on and off, and I took a 5-year break from sharing my most personal everyday thoughts on paper. But I got back to it a year ago and it’s been helpful. A few days ago, I started writing about things that I’m grateful for every single day. When I started this book, I wrote this: ‘‘I’m grateful for stories that I think I won’t enjoy but that end up surprising me.’’

There’s little very enticing about this book. I almost didn’t request it, because come on. Look at that unoriginal title, cover and premise. Hunters. Creatures. Secrets. Been there, read that about a hundred times.  The more I looked at it, the more I considered getting rid of my copy without even finishing the first page. But then I remembered that I’m a book blogger and that nothing and no one can force me to love a book or even finish it, so I opened it with the idea in mind that I would read enough of it to be able to review its negative aspects and then donate it.

Talk about pre-reading judgement. But admit it, we’re all guilty of it. Skipping over a cover that isn’t attractive enough or reading a premise and finding it too similar to past stories we’ve read and deciding that this thing is not worth our time. Well, I’m grateful for this book because it has reminded me that some people are able to surprise me and that sometimes the content of a book is much, much better than the way it is presented, marketed, publicized.

Grace Collins writes with a lot of intensity. This is as much a character-driven story as it is an action-driven one, my favourite combination in the entire world and something Sarah J. Maas excels at. Grace Collins may not be Miss Maas but she has delivered here a sympathetic and relatable heroine whose character-development is felt and makes me want to see what she’ll do next. The world-building she has created relies on its creatures – hollowers, wispers and shifters, oh and humans – more than its environment. The politics of the world are not heavily nuanced, but what Collins does share about the world is accessible. There is a war brewing between the hollowers and the others, who have been in conflict for a long time, mainly because hollowers kill stuff to stay alive. They ‘‘hollow’’ people out.

Milena thought they were the good guys, but she had no idea who she was living with until her 20th birthday, when her family and friends decided to murder her. She was rescued by shifters who enlightened her on the world she lives in and its real ‘‘creatures of the night.’’ What I like most about this story is that there is a lot going on. Milena doesn’t spend 5 chapters not doing anything. She’s constantly thinking, planning and moving forward. At first on her own, then with friends she’s made. The worst element is the romance, which confused the hell out of Milena. Her love interest is dealing with some stuff and does not have the capacity to be open and honest – two important qualities if you want a long-lasting and healthy relationship. But if you just want something dramatic to entertain the reader, sure, let your heroine and her love interest enter in some unhealthy push-pull type of dynamic.

So in some ways it is a cliché story, but in other ways it is surprising, super entertaining and simply a decent addition to the YA fantasy genre with a heroine who has a lot of growing up and learning to do.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Blood Like Magic – Liselle Sambury

I am so proud of Liselle Sambury. Not just because she wrote a wonderful dark debut novel here, but also because it’s so nice and motivating to see Canadian authors publishing fantastic stories. I’m Romanian-Canadian and one of my dreams if to one day publish a story that is meaningful to me as well. So reading this and taking in Liselle’s words felt particularly important to me.

This is not a commercial book. I think of those as stories that are written to be sold, written because that’s what’s trending and that’s what readers want to read. Though there is more emphasis on diversity in YA and stories with POC do sell more than 10 years ago from my understanding, everything in this book felt like it came from a place that truly believes that this content is worth sharing and has a place in the world.

It’s a big book—close to 500 pages—and it is slower than most fantasy books I read. I won’t deny that there is too much description for my usual liking. However, and this is important, Liselle does take the time to lay down the foundation for our understanding of the world-building, magic system and characters themselves. It quickly became clear to me that the author spent a lot of time thinking of and developing her characters—bringing them to life. They are each peculiar and human in their own way, even the magic-wielding ones. I especially enjoyed Voya’s interactions with her cousin Keis, whose magical ability is to read thoughts, and Luc (the love interest) certainly intrigued me.

Voya will only earn her powers if she completes a task given to her by one of her ancestors. The problem is that there is more at stake than just her power ascension, and she is not used to making decisions on her own. She must learn to trust herself better and embrace the path that her instincts direct her towards. It’s hard not to feel for Voya, since she is vulnerable and insecure but also caring and determined. She does not exist to entertain or please the reader. She really does have a story to tell, and I for one felt honoured to be privy to her storytelling.

Thank you Simon & Schuster for the copy in exchange for a review.

WolfWalkers: The Graphic Novel

I am not normally a fan of movie novelizations. I like original works. If a book came first, I like to start with that and if I really, really enjoyed it or want to know more about the characters and world, then I watch the movie and vice-versa. But in this case, I tried to watch the movie and that did not work out. While the graphics were absolutely stunning and unique besides, I simply could not take the slow-pacing. Perhaps it does pick up, as it does in the graphic novel, but I had to force myself to watch it and that never feels quite good. All of that to say that I was very pleased to learn that the movie was turned into a graphic novel, as I did genuinely want to know more about the story.

This is a very beautiful graphic novel. Unsurprisingly, the illustrations are gorgeous. Because I did watch a bit of the movie, I was already a little acquainted with the characters and was able to imagine their voices while I read, but it still felt very nice to learn more about them through paper. It’s quite convenient, I’d say, because with books you can generally read slower or faster. Of course, every story has its own pacing, but you can cheat a little if that allows you to have a better reading experience. With movies, not so much. I guess, in some cases, one can change the speed but it doesn’t feel that good or natural to me. So I absolutely loved being able to follow the story at a pacing more suited for me. It allowed me to feel comfortable reading this graphic novel and get through the storyline much quicker and easier.

To briefly summarize, this is the story of two girls – one human and one half-wolf. One lives in town and the other in the forest near the town. The new ‘‘protector’’ of the town wants to eradicate the forest and the wolves in it, but this puts the half-wolf and her family in danger. Robyn, the human girl, decides to help Mebh, the werewolf, be safe from human danger. The two are quite the pair. Robyn’s goal proves itself to be particularly challenging, since people of the town are scared and angry and think that they will only feel safe if they kill the wolves. Also, Robyn’s father is a hunter and he is especially hard to convince that wolves must be protected. It’s an emotional story with a touching beginning, middle and end. I do admit that I did not find the ending all that realistic, even for a fantasy story, and it was pretty quick besides, but the rest as they say in French chapeau!

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

DNF Review: For the Wolf – Hannah Whitten

I’m going to be honest with all of you. I haven’t DNF’d a book in about 8 months. It’s not because I haven’t read any that have rubbed me the wrong way or whose reading experiences were negative. It’s because, with the pandemic and my mental health taking a toll, I’ve felt pretty bad about not forcing myself to find the good in every book I read and to adapt to its pacing and not-so-fun elements.

Before the pandemic, I would DNF a book out of ten, sometimes more, without giving it a second thought. But although I’m struggling with that right now, I do tend to put some books aside, weakly thinking I’ll pick them up another time. All of that to say that me choosing to not finish FOR THE WOLF is a little hard, and even now part of me wishes to find a way to finish it because I actually have nothing against these characters.

Red is the main one, the young woman who is sent to the woods, to the wolf, in hopes of being a good enough sacrifice that the old kings, who are believed to be prisoners of the woods, will be released. It’s a pretty dark tradition and these people don’t necessarily have a reason to believe that the woods will hear their prayers. It’s pretty much blind fate and unnecessary sacrifices, since the woods have made no promises, and besides, there’s something trickier going on.

It’s a perfectly intriguing premise, one that certainly drew me in. The problem with this book lies in the fact that the idea is better than the execution. It is quite unfortunate when that happens, because I can feel the potential of this story in every page, and yet it never truly morphs into the greatness that I know it can be. In other words, I think Red is a strong heroine, and if I was into the writing, I would have been quite excited about her and Wolf’s evolving relationship and somewhat curious about her sister’s plan to do something about Red’s disappearance. But the writing is not very enjoyable. It is thick. There is too much description for its own good. Not even very good one… There is too much emphasis on description of action and the world around, and too little on emotion and connection between people. Little to no lyricism. Because of that, I would not mind being summarized this story/book instead of reading it myself from start to finish, whereas I would NEVER want anyone to summarize and spoil, say, HURRICANE SUMMER which I’m also currently reading. (I was going to say HARRY POTTER or THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, but that would not have been very fair.)

So I regret that I don’t have enough patience? interest? dopamine? inside of me to get through this one. I don’t recommend it, unless you’re a die-hard fantasy lover or you are not turned off by anything I mentioned above.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review!

The Winter Duke – Claire Eliza Bartlett

51201758. sx318 sy475 The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Received: Hachette Book Group Canada
Published: March 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, Fantasy, Politics, LGBTQIA+


REVIEW:

Better step back, because there’s nothing to see here.

Unless you like bland heroines that few people respect in positions of power, whose character developments are almost nonexistent or forced. Unless you like to see romantic pairs have little conversation and almost no romantic moments. Unless you like to hear conversations repeated over and over again. Continue reading