Tuesday, January 23, 2018

By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

Title: By a Charm and a Curse
Author: Jaime Questell
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 300
Source/format: Publisher//e-ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Emmaline King calls Claremore, Oklahoma a circle of hell but for reasons most people don't know about. Her mother abandoned her and her brothers for a year with her father in order to pursue an investigation in Guatemala. Le Grand's Carnival Fantastic visits the outskirts of Claremore and Emma is thrilled to explore the carnival.

Before Emma gets to know Benjamin Singer, she is tricked and is cursed at the carnival. In order for the carnival performers to be charmed with their unnaturally lucky existence, one person is the center of the charm and is ultimately the curse that holds everyone together. The curse lives in the person and that person becomes the Boy in the Box or the Girl in the Box. The charm protects the carnival until recently. Something has changed and the charm is wearing off. People are falling and accidents are occurring. But why?

Jaime Questell writes characters that are vibrant and full of life. Each are unique in their special way.  Although many are sad about Emma's circumstances, the carnival performers and employees do whatever it takes to make Emma feel at home. I love reading about the traveling carnival. Readers don't just experience the magic of the acts but they also experience the grittiness of the lives of the carnival employees.

The novel alternates chapters in the POVs of Emma and Ben. Due to the length of the book, I feel like the character development wasn't fully fleshed out. I have to say that I enjoyed reading about Sidney. Readers get to know more about Sidney's history and his life in a small period of time compared to Emma and some of the other characters. I found it fascinating to learn more about the origins of the the charm and curse. However, I found the ending to be fairly rushed. It was predictable and I wanted read more about everyone's outcomes.

Readers who want to be entranced by the magic of a carnival will enjoy reading By a Charm and a Curse. A bit of romance and bit of intrigue will make this novel a quick, pleasant read.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Pages: 320
Source/format: Publisher//ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT and she has a crush on Darren Takahashi. Because of her parents strict rules for Mei, they disapprove Darren. Her parents want her to graduate MIT and go to medical school to become a doctor. The thing is, Mei has germophobia. In the meantime, she is expected to meet a MIT Taiwanese guy and eventually get married and have kids with the parent approved guy. Mei wants to break way from her stereotypical family and do what makes her happy.

I am glad Mei was able to find her way to express herself through dance. Even though her parents took away dance classes after Mei got accepted to MIT, Mei was still able to teach dance to Chinese adopted children. Even though I haven't been raised by stereotypical Chinese parents, I can connect with Mei and dance. When my parents presented me the choice of taking Chinese language classes or Chinese dance classes, I opted to take Chinese dance classes. I was lucky to have options in my life and I wasn't forced into anything. However, my grandmother always hoped that I would attend MIT or Harvard to become a doctor or a lawyer. I hope other readers will related to Mei in American Panda as well. How does one live a life balancing cultural and traditional expectations with American values?

I am ecstatic Mei was able to reconnect with her other brother, Xing, and realizes that she can pave her own path in life. I am surprised how overbearing her parents are, especially her mother. Mei's mom would call her day and night. Her parents meet her at a Taiwanese restaurant to check in with her every week. No wonder Mei wants to break away from her parents and wants to call the shots to her own life.

Mei is a likable character. She is funny, sincere and thoughtful. Gloria Chao penned a honest journey through the eyes of Mei and how Mei manages to delve into her passions and her happiness. Darren cares about what Mei thinks and how she feels about things. Even though Mei's parents want a certain life for her, Darren encourages Mei to follow what her heart says. And she finally opens up about her desires to her parents. However, only one parent gives in to her passion and honors her wishes.

American Panda is a delightful coming-of-age book; it's about finding yourself. Through cultural values and identity, family expectations and living life to the fullest, Mei is able to follow her dreams even though she has to jump over many hurdles in order to succeed. Mei defines what it means to reach an American Dream. If you enjoyed reading Starfish and/or When Dimple Met Rishi, you will love American Panda!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

Title: Shadow Weaver
Author: MarcyKate Connolly
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Pages: 308
Source/format: Publisher//ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

The first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology, MarcyKate Connolly weaves a tale filled with shadows, danger, and magic that has the feel of a new classic.

M Y  T H O U G H T S 

Emmeline has a gift to control shadows around her ever since she was a baby. Her only friend is her shadow named Dar. The Cerelia Comet passes through the lands every twenty five years and blesses those who are born during that time with a magical gift. All was well until a noble family comes to offer to take away Emmeline and to cure her of her gift. Dar offers to help but at what cost?

MarcyKate Connolly creates a whole new fairytale that entices your curiosity. She threads together a wonderful story about Emmeline and Dar who are on two different sides of the spectrum personality wise. The symbiotic relationship morphs into more of a parasitic relationship. Old world charm shines through the book with a a dash of magic.

When Emmeline befriended Lucas, she is not afraid of magic he wields since she also wields magic. Lucas is the Yang to Emmelin's Yin. He is light as day and she is dark as night. Together their friendship becomes strong. Lucas's parents are very accepting of him while Emmeline's parents are not. The two parenting styles contrast each other within the novel.

Emmeline shows character development throughout the entire book. She has always confided with Dar but finally takes a stand and lets Dar know who's in control. Emmeline always thought she needed Dar but in fact she was using Dar like a security blanket. Dar, on the other hand, would persuade Emmeline that she is her friend but little does Emmeline know that Dar had her own agenda. Oh, that twist at the end of the book! I didn't see it coming but it works seamlessly with the plot.

I highly recommend Shadow Weaver to those who love a dark and twisted middle grade fantasy. The novel teaches children to stand up for themselves but to also embrace the gifts they are born with. It sheds light on those who are willing to help others even if they are not blood related. The meaning of friendship and trust are important themes that readers will appreciate.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 2, 2018
Pages: 384
Source/format: From Nicole of The BookBandit Blog // ARC

Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from goodreads.com):

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Jude lives with her parents and her twin sister, Taryn, and her older sister, Vivienne until that one day when a man came to their house. In a swift minute, Jude and her sisters become parentless and forced to leave what they called home.

What Jude doesn't know is that Vivienne has a different father than her and Taryn. In fact, Vivienne's father is Madoc the Redcap. Off the children go to live in the faerie world with Madoc. They are raised among the faerie royal court and they learn more abut the faerie customs They are introduced to the important faeries of the land. One of them is a cruel prince named Cardan.

Holly Black starts off The Cruel Prince strong. Usually I have a hard time getting into her faerie books but this time she hooked me from the first page. She describes characters and scenery with so much detail.You can feel the emotions so well! Holly's beautiful writing is exuberant!

The writing builds up slowly and it's worth the wait to find out what's going to happen next. I love Jude! You can really relate to her. She is a flawed character wanting to belong among the faeries. Unlike Vivienne, Jude enjoys living in the faerie land. It was a little bit hard for me to remember the names of all the faeries but it didn't take away from the plot of the book.

With faerie politics, manipulation and a twisty plot, The Cruel Prince is a novel for those who love to read about faeries but also for those who love a good fantasy read. There is romance, action, mystery and a bit of darkness in this novel which makes it an intoxicating read.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best Things About the Holiday Season

Happy end of December! I hope you are enjoying the wonderful holiday season with a lot of holiday cheer. December is one of my favorite times of the year because everyone gets into the holiday spirit. Some of my favorite things I look forward to in December includes the following:

1. Outdoor lights - How gorgeous are the houses are buildings decked out with whites lights, colorful lights and all the cool glowing blowups?

2. Hot Chocolate and Tea - I look forward to a nice steaming cup of hot cocoa with a candy cane in it. Don't forgot to use a favorite mug! However, I also love having a nice warm cup of tea during the colder months. I find tea very calming.

3. Snuggling under a blanket with a book - There is something comforting about snuggling with a soft blanket while reading. I love sitting next to the Christmas tree curled up reading while drinking hot chocolate or tea.

4. Fuzzy socks - Socks are the best to keep the feet warm while snuggling with that blanket with a book near the Christmas treat while drinking hot chocolate or tea. I love fuzzy, warm socks especially during the cold days and nights.

5. "Ugly" Christmas Sweaters - Yes! I have a Harry Potter sweater that has a Deathly Hallows symbol, Potter glasses and also a lighting bolt on it. Another sweater I have is a light up French Bulldog one. The dog has a cute santa hat. I find it fun to wear the sweaters to holiday gatherings or just because I want to get into the holiday cheer.

6. Cookies - You can't beat yummy cookies around the holidays! My favorite cookies to make are snickerdoodles but I love eating sugar cookies, Italian cookies and chocolate chip cookies. Don't forget the milk!

7. Decorations - You can't enjoy the holidays without the festive decorations in the house, outside of the house, at the mall, etc. It's fun to add some color and lights to room.

8. Chance of snow - Although I live in MA, it hardly snows on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I always hope for a white Christmas. It doesn't have to be a blizzard but a light coating of snow would be picture perfect and very fitting. I was super excited that we got a White Christmas this year.

9. Family and Friend Time - The holiday season isn't the same without spending time with loved ones. Enjoy this special time with people you cherish.

10. Holiday Cheer - Get into the spirit whether it's decorating the house, watching holiday films, listening to holiday music or even decorating gingerbread houses. Make those traditions and enjoy them with others.

Image from eekologie.com

What are you favorite things to do in December for the holidays?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's Top Ten Tuesday asks bloggers to blog about their top ten books they are looking forward to in 2018. There are so many novels that I am looking forward to reading but I picked a variety of different genres to showcase. The following books are in no particular order.

1. Heart of Ash by Kim Liggett is the second book in the Blood and Salt series and I cannot wait to read more about Ash and Dane. Will love vanquish Coronado for good?

2. Escaping From Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco is the third novel in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I cannot wait to see Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell in action traveling to America. With the Moonlight Carnival occurring and young privileged women go missing, the duo is back to solve the mystery!

3. Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare is a wonderful debut novel about a young lady who is talented in scriptology. With a mixture of fantasy and historical fiction, this novel sounds intriguing!

4. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli is a companion novel to Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah is first introduced as a good friend of Simon's in the first novel and now she comes back with a novel of her own! It's senior year and there is a lot on Leah's mind and even Simon doesn't know everything about Leah.

5. The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw is a paranormal novel that is Hocus Pocus meets Practical Magic. I am looking forward to this paranormal witchy book

6. Legendary by Stephanie Garber is the sequel to Caraval. Scarlett learns of the secrets Tella and Julian have been hiding from her. Can anyone be trusted?

7. The Forest Queen by Betsy Cornwell is a retelling of Robin Hood but it's more female centric. The retelling will explore topics like economic justice, love, gender, the healing power of nature and family.

8. Dear Miss Sweetie by Stacey Lee is a historical novel about a Chinese teenager living in the 1980's in Atlanta. This young lady is a pseudonymous author for a popular newspaper column and comes across a controversial incident that involves race.

9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan is about a young woman who is half Asian and half white. She travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents after her mother's death. This novel is about love, grief, family, hope and so much more.

10. Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed is an important book to read. The main character is an Indian-American Muslim teen who confronts Islamophobia. A horrific crime occurred and the culprit shares the same last name as her. She realizes how people can turn against her just because of her name, her religion and because of her heritage.

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2018? Do we share any of the same titles?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Bookish Gift Guide 2017: Horror/Thriller Reads

This is the week where everyone is hustling and bustling trying to finish their holiday shopping. If you need a few quick gifts for family or a friend, check out my Bookish Gift Guide series. For those who love YA horror novels or thrillers, I have a few ecommendations below.

1. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco is definitely a mystery and thriller book in one. Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell investigate the White Chapel mysteries in the late 1800's. I highly recommend this novel for those who support females in the STEM field. Audrey takes interest in forensics despite her being a female during an age where it was look down upon for females to do more than look pretty and to stay at home.

2. Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco is the second book in the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. After discovering the culprit in London, Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell travel to Romania to a forensics school only to find out that "Prince Dracula" is out for blood! The duo once again solves the gruesome mystery. Warning: this novel is more gory that the first.

3. Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett is a captivating and compelling horror romance. Ash and Rhys are twins and undercover their mother's deepest secret. Leaving NYC, the twins head to their mother's spiritual commune of Quivira, Kansas. If you are a big fan of the Vampire Diaires TV series story arc with Silas, Amara, and Qetsiyah and if you like the film The Village, you will love this novel!

4. The Last Harvest by Kim Liggett is set in Oklahoma where Clay had to give up football in order to take care of his mother and siblings after his father passed away. However, Clay never forgot the last words his father said. His father was trying to prevent something and Clay is trying to figure out what it is. This novel is terrifying yet gruesome and will permeate deep into your core!

5. How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather will capture those who love everything Salem. The novel is one part Mean Girls, one part Sleepy Hollow (the film) and one part Hocus Pocus. The eerieness, the mystery and the ambience makes this novel a wonderful read.

6. The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman is not a YA novel but yet a fantastic sequential illustrated novel. The book intertwines Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into one enchanting contemporary tale. The dark thrilling twist to the mashup retelling is chilling and slightly morbid. Chris Riddell's illustrations are beautiful! The usage of gold and positive and negative space is superb. I highly recommend this novel for anyone who loves fairytales.