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Month: May 2018

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Title: Smoke in the Sun

Author: Renée Ahdieh

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pub date: June 7th 2018

‘After Okami is captured in the Jukai forest, Mariko has no choice – to rescue him, she must return to Inako and face the dangers that have been waiting for her in the Heian Castle. She tricks her brother, Kenshin, and betrothed, Raiden, into thinking she was being held by the Black Clan against her will, playing the part of the dutiful bride-to-be to infiltrate the emperor’s ranks and uncover the truth behind the betrayal that almost left her dead.

With the wedding plans already underway, Mariko pretends to be consumed with her upcoming nuptials, all the while using her royal standing to peel back the layers of lies and deception surrounding the imperial court. But each secret she unfurls gives way to the next, ensnaring Mariko and Okami in a political scheme that threatens their honor, their love and very the safety of the empire.’

Flame in the Mist was one of my most favourite reads of last year and I was not disappointed by its follow-up, Smoke in the Sun. What I love about Mariko is that she picks and chooses her moments, deciding which version of herself she needs to present to the right people to endure what she must, while being unapologetically herself with those she trusts and have become important to her. So many young adult novels feature female characters who start out strong and independent and gradually get their agency taken away from them by various male characters in the name of ‘love’, and while Mariko by no means has her freedom for much of the narrative, for the most part the men who matter most to her encourage her not to compromise and not to be bound by typical expectations. It’s refreshing to see male characters who don’t use love and affection as tools to manipulate the women they care about into becoming less than they are.

The worldbuilding and description in Smoke in the Sun is just as gorgeous as in Flame in the Mist and the author’s other works. You can’t help but be drawn into Mariko’s world and pulled along on her journey with her, to the extent that I was most of the way through the story before I knew it and simply didn’t want it to end. A book well worth waiting for and thoroughly enjoyable.

Also available digitally (for free) are two Flame in the Mist short stories: Okami and Yumi. Each bridges some of the gap between the events in Flame in the Mist and where the narrative picks up again in Smoke in the Sun, focusing on the characters named in their respective titles. As can be expected from Ahdieh, these insights into already well developed characters showcase facets hinted at in the main narrative and delve into elements of thier lives that the reader can appreciate here in more detail, revealing the motives and experiences that drive them without giving away every scrap of the character’s soul, thus keeping them engaging and interesting. I recommend reading Okami and Yumi before Smoke in the Sun, but they can be enjoyed just as much after!

I received an ARC of Smoke in the Sun from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Title: From Twinkle, With Love

Author: Sandhya Menon

Publisher: Hodder & Staughton

Pub date: May 22nd 2018

‘Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories to tell and universes to explore – if only the world would listen. So when nerdy classmate and fellow film-obsessive Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a film for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle can’t wait.

The chance to showcase her artistic voice?

Dream come true.

The opportunity to get closer to longtime crush, Neil Roy-aka Sahil’s twin brother?

Dream come even truer.

When Twinkle receives an email from a secret admirer – the mysterious ‘N’ – she is sure it’s Neil, finally ready for their happy ending.

The only problem is that, in the course of their movie-making, she has found herself falling for Sahil – the wrong brother.

Twinkle soon realises that resistance is futile:

The romance she’s got isn’t the one she scripted…

But will it be enough?’

I intended to read From Twinkle, With Love for an hour or so… and ended up not being able to put it down. I confess that I don’t tend to read a huge amount of contemporary YA fiction, but I had heard good things about this novel and the author and knew the book was one that I had to try.

Twinkle initially reads as quite young for her sixteen years compared to other characters in the story, though it’s acknowledged that she is younger than her peers and it’s true that often the younger students in a year reach some senses of emotional maturity later than others. This seems very much the case with Twinkle, who is clearly clever but lacking some of the maturity of the various social groups in the story. This is not to say that the others necessarily are truly more grown-up, as we see the majority of the narrative through Twinkle’s eyes and are subject to her insecurities and uncertainties more than anyone else’s. She’s a likeable character, who has clear goals and good intentions, but she also seems to have little understanding of the emotions of people around her, leading her to make assumptions and mistakes that end up hurting her and those she cares about. It’s easy to become frustrated with her as the story unfolds, yet she is not intentionally nasty and eventually learns from her mistakes, keeping the reader on her side for much of the time.

What I loved most about the novel was Twinkle’s family and how her understanding of them develops as she learns more about the choices they have made so that she is in a position to have her dreams within reach.

An enjoyable read!

I received an ARC of From Twinkle, With Love from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga

Review: Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga

Title: Kiss of the Royal

Author: Lindsey Duga

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Pub date: July 3rd 2018

‘Princess Ivy has one goal—end the war against the Forces of Darkness.

Ivy’s magic is more powerful than any other Royal’s, but she needs a battle partner who can help her harness it. Prince Zach’s unparalleled skill with a sword should make them an unstoppable pair—if only they could agree on…well, just about anything.

But Ivy’s magic can only fully unlock with Zach’s help, and he’s not exactly cooperating.

Zach believes Ivy’s magic is dangerous. Ivy believes they’ll never win the war without it. Two warriors, one goal, and the fate of their world on the line. But the more they argue, the more they fall for each other. And only one of them can be right…’

I very much enjoyed Kiss of the Royal. The world and the mechanics of the magic exploited in the novel are unique enough to set it apart from other fantasy YA books and, though it shares some of the same common features of narrative, it never felt as if the story were surrendering to tropes, despite the somewhat predictable turn as regards the romantic component.

I love novels that frequently reference a world’s history, myths and legends, so that such a large part of the narrative hinged on how history has been retold and retold – and so morphed along the way – was one of the main factors that kept me reading. That I had multiple theories as to the ‘truth’ of things along the way and still didn’t get it exactly right was something I was glad of and kept the story from feeling cliché. Though frequently referenced as powerful, Ivy doesn’t read as overpowered and able to take on the world alone – and is in-fact shown just how she shouldn’t several times before the story is over. Her faults and flaws keep her relatable and her vulnerabilities keep the reader rooting for her. Her moments of arrogance are balanced by what is revealed of her personal life and what drives and has built her.

At first, Zach felt like something of a weaker link, but as more and more of his story is revealed, he becomes a much more well-rounded character. Given how other characters react to him at first, that the reader may have a similar reaction may well be intentional. It’s nice to see a male lead who isn’t out to seduce his love interest because he immediately finds himself attracted to them and refreshing to see facets of both characters that keep their relationship from becoming a sudden and unbelievable romance.

On the whole, I think the novel is well-paced, though the ending felt rather rushed. I would have liked the final scenes of the main narrative to be a little longer and not quite as easily wrapped up as it seemed, but that might be because I wanted the book to go on for longer! Overall, Kiss of the Royal is an enjoyable read with many charming elements to the narrative. It seems that it’s a stand-alone novel, but I wish there were more!

I received an ARC of Kiss of the Royal from NetGalley and the publisher.