Review | The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

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The Crown’s Game had been on my radar for a while since its description sounded like a YA version of The Night Circus – a book that is easily in the top ten of my #absolutefavourites list. My love for The Night Circus combined with my love for Russian history gave me very high hopes for The Crown’s Game, and I’m sorry to say that it was not even close to meeting them.

Here are just a few of the ways that The Crown’s Game disappointed me:
The characters lacked depth and never really developed
All the instalove = too many forced love triangles
– A lack of worldbuilding, especially as it relates to the magic system
– There are a few neat magic tricks, but the stakes feel far too low despite the whole “duel to the death” aspect

Its redeeming features were that it was a quick, light read that was (mostly) entertaining. I did enjoy the ending, although since there is a sequel, I’m sure that the finality of only one enchanter being able to survive the Crown’s Game will be modified.

Overall, The Crown’s Game had a promising premise but very poor execution. If you want to read a book about dueling enchanters, pick up The Night Circus instead.

Review | Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy’s best friend, Oliver, reappears after being kidnapped by his father ten years ago. Emmy hopes to pick up their relationship right where it left off. Are they destined to be together? Or has fate irreparably driven them apart?

Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life.

She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart.

He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

Readers who love Sarah Dessen will tear through these pages with hearts in throats as Emmy and Oliver struggle to face the messy, confusing consequences of Oliver’s father’s crime. Full of romance, coming-of-age emotion, and heartache, these two equally compelling characters create an unforgettable story.

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“Well, that’s growing up, isn’t it?” my dad said. “You don’t always have to know. And things aren’t always fair. You just have to keep moving forward. A step in one direction.”

I’ll admit that Emmy & Oliver is a book that I picked up entirely for the cover. I went in expecting a cute romance, and instead got a coming of age story set in a small town. It’s about growing up and finding your path in life, and Benway perfectly balances heartfelt and sweet moments with moments of heartbreak.

Emmy & Oliver explores all kinds of relationships: friendships, family, and romantic. I loved how involved and present the parents were, and the evolution of Emmy’s relationship with her overprotective parents, in particular, was very positively depicted even in the midst of Emmy’s frustrations. I especially enjoyed the friendship dynamic between Emmy, Drew, and Caro – it was honest, authentic, and a lot of fun. And, of course, the tentative friendship turned something more relationship between Emmy and Oliver was very sweet. I appreciated that their relationship took time to form, and was based on mutual understanding and trust.

Overall, Emmy & Oliver is a beautifully written, heartfelt exploration of love in all its forms and the nature of growing up.

Review | Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler

Reagan Forrester wants out—out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in—in to a fashion design program, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn’t go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won’t stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re staying together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective… only to learn she’s set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria runs full-speed toward all the things she thinks she wants… only to realize everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they’ve sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don’t know about each other’s pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they’ll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.

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Is it too early to say that Just Visiting is my favourite contemporary of the year? It perfectly captures the uncertainty that surrounds post-secondary life – there are so many options and possibilities to explore, and it’s kind of overwhelming because what if you make the wrong choice? College is an opportunity to be independent and reinvent yourself – whether it’s changing your name to “Tori” like Vic did, or going from waist-length hair to a pixie cut like 18 year old me did – so I loved how true to my experiences this book rang. Most importantly, though, I loved the emphasis that Adler placed on finding the path that is right for you – that could be college/university, but the traditional choice isn’t the only choice.

Just Visiting is also very much a book about friendship. I loved watching the relationship between Vic and Reagan grow from people who are friends by default to true best friends, as they learned to share their whole selves, without reservations. And I also loved how Vic and her mom were incredibly close – it’s nice to have parents who are present and invested in their children’s lives.

Just Visiting also covers a lot of issues while remaining un-preachy, including poverty and having an unsupportive home life. The characters are very diverse, but they aren’t just there to fill a requirement; all of these characters’ identities are touched upon, even if just briefly. I loved how sex-positive Just Visiting is: it deals with consent, unprotected sex, and birth control, and is very clearly against slut-shaming.

The only aspect of Just Visiting that I didn’t love was the romance. I liked the banter and the love interest, but the way that Reagan treated him made it very hard for me to become fully invested in its success.

Overall, I have a feeling that Just Visiting will be one of my favourite contemporaries of the year. It’s diverse, sex-positive, and has a healthy and positive friendship – all of which are major plusses in my book.

Review | Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

When Rachelle was fifteen, she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as they become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.

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“You always have to choose between the path of needles and the path of pins.”

I wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about Cruel Beauty, but it’s safe to say that I loved Crimson Bound. It borrows elements from Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl Without Hands, creating a dark, captivating story that is a fairytale in its own right. The inclusion of the bloodbound, the forestborn, and the Devourer added a creepy, otherworldly atmosphere to the France setting that was already rich in its own history.

As I mentioned in my review of Cruel Beauty, Rosamund Hodge has a way with words. Her writing is gorgeous and lyrical, and her vivid descriptions served to amplify the dark and imaginative world that she created.

I absolutely loved the cast of characters that make upCrimson Bound. Rachelle, in particular, is fierce, prickly, and haunted by guilt. She’s selfish and self-pitying, yet still desires to stop the Devourer and save the world. I loved that she acknowledged her dark moments, where she admitted that she didn’t believe she deserved to live, but still found reasons to live anyways.

The romance was the one aspect of Crimson Bound that I didn’t love, since it felt forced in the early parts of the novel. That being said, each male balanced a different side of Rachelle so it was well-integrated and didn’t feel like it was thrown in just to create drama. I did prefer the half of the love triangle containing the “bad boy” Erec, though, as it had banter and banter is my weakness when it comes to shipping.

Overall, Crimson Bound was a darkly imaginative fairytale that I devoured in one sitting. It’s beautifully written and home to complex characters, and I highly recommend giving it a read.

Review | Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted…which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily’s life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem – one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian . . . Lily’s identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences.

Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn’t understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected.

But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

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Having heard so many wonderful things about the Starcrossed series, I decided to give Trial by Fire a try; after all, if everyone loved her earlier series, her writing can only have improved from there, right? Well, given how disappointed I was in this one, I kind of hope that isn’t the case…

The first few chapters of Trial by Fire made me consider DNFing the book, mostly due to the fact that Lily prioritized a boy over her health and then decided that her life was no longer worth anything because of that same boy. Unfortunately, Lily wasn’t much better once she entered the parallel universe – she automatically learned how to use magic, despite having no actual training, quickly became the most powerful witch in Salem, and captured the attention ofevery male in the story.

The primary relationship in Trial by Fire, between Lily and Rowan, was your typical instalove ft. brooding boy. It also paved the way for a potentially awkward love triangle (square?) involving the parallel universe version of Lily’s ex-boyfriend (though, admittedly, they were only dating in her mind).

The one aspect that I did enjoy was the parallel universe. I loved the idea of a matriarchal society run by witches, where the magical system is closely tied to science. And the witches hunting scientists (instead of society hunting witches) made for an interesting twist. A lot of the information that readers learn about the world is a result of infodumping, but it was interesting enough that I can forgive that.

Overall, I liked the scientific explanations for magic, but was far less enamoured with the instalove filled romance & potential love triangle, and how Lily immediately became a powerful witch after doing absolutely nothing to earn it.

Review | Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the mountain. When Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she realises that the trolls are relying on her to break the curse.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind: escape. But the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time…

But the more time she spends with the trolls, the more she understands their plight. There is a rebellion brewing. And she just might be the one the trolls were looking for…

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“‘I think it is our nature to believe evil always has an ugly face,’ he said, ignoring my question. ‘Beauty is supposed to be good and kind, and to discover it otherwise is like a betrayal of trust. A violation of the nature of things.'”

Objectively, Stolen Songbird is a very strong debut, and has all the makings of a novel that I would love: the “chosen one” trope is turned on its head when Cecile fails to break the age-old curse; there is no slut-shaming; society doesn’t treat females as “inferior”; and there is no true love triangle (though there is miscommunication that leads to far too much jealousy). Unfortunately, at 469 pages, it is a very long read, and I was prone to mind wandering/having to put the book down due to boredom throughout the few days that it took to read this.

While the characters are not particularly memorable, they are well-developed and even the secondary characters have been given a backstory. Cécile, in particular, is fierce, hopeful, rebellious, and autonomous – exactly what I like in a protagonist. I enjoyed the banter between her and Tristan, though I was never able to form an emotional connection with either character, making it difficult to feel invested in their eventual relationship.

I wish I could say that Stolen Songbird became more enjoyable as it neared the end, but that wasn’t the case; however, I believe that this series will get better with time, and look forward to seeing how the cliffhanger ending is resolved.

Waiting On Wednesday (December 30)


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that are eagerly anticipated.

This week, I’m waiting on This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang, which has an expected publication date of March 22, 2016.

The heart-wrenching new novel about best friends on a collision course with the real world, from the author of Falling into Place.

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivian moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship, as long as no one finds out about it.

But when Janie is date-raped by the most popular guy in school—a guy she’s had a crush on for years—she finds herself ostracized by all the people she thought were her friends. Now only Micah seems to believe she’s telling the truth. But when even Micah expresses doubt about whether or not she was “asking for it,” it leads to disastrous consequences, and Janie Vivian goes missing.

Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang’s astonishing second novel masterfully reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance.

I absolutely loved Falling into Place. It was beautifully written, thought-provoking, and poignant – all of which are important, given the sensitive subject that This Is Where the World Ends deals with.

Which books are you waiting on? Leave me a link or a list to your Waiting on Wednesday post below.