Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White was a brilliant, dark, and brutal sequel to And I Darken. I always get a bit nervous that a sequel won’t live up to the first book: but this one slayed. Literally and figuratively.  Lada has never had any chill, but in Now I Rise, she basically has less than none. The book is a complex twist of wars and sieges, of triumph and loss, and it has so much character development that it just shines.

The story picks up where And I Darken left off: With Lada charging back to claim the Wallachian throne and become Prince, and Radu is still with Mehmed, pining for a love he will never be given until he ends up in the midst of the siege of Constantinople where he could very well die for his loyalty to Mehmed. It’s full of wars and battle and follows the siblings as they grow apart but severely miss each other, and also realise that Mehmed isn’t the golden perfect boy they always believed.

The characters are really the stand-out for this series! They are both clever and cunning, and Radu goes about it in an intellectual way while Lada uses force and brutality. Lada will cut her way to the throne and she empowers women and refuses to be underestimated, although she has to fight for every grain of respect.

Meanwhile Radu is just over here being small and perfect and pure. I absolutely adore him. He’s the kind of character who is so fiercely loyal and determined, but also hopelessly used by people he trusts — and it breaks your heart! I wanted more for Radu. He deserves better. But also his planning, cunning, and ability to never fail is absolutely astounding. I also thought his character development was stunning and well crafted.

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The book features a lot of the terrors of war and the price you pay to succeed. Either by capturing a city (for Mehmed’s forces) or getting a throne (for Lada and her rogue men). I love how it contrasted two types of battles! It’s not graphic with the gore, but it definitely makes sure you know this isn’t a pretty picnic. I also liked how it contrasted the two religions of Christianity vs Muslim. There’s no “good vs bad” here, as both religions are going to war for their Gods and thinking they’re doing the “right” thing…no matter how many innocents get slain in the way. I think religion is important to talk about in YA, so I’m glad the book focuses so much on them!

One of my favourite things too is how Radu and Lada thought of each other. They’re like half worlds away and they’re so DIFFERENT as people…but the spend a lot of time going: “Oh I miss [insert sibling here] but they don’t need me.” Both of them. Thinking this. They are silly little goats and I wish they’d work together!

I also appreciated the history of the settings! It’s not a 100% accurate historical retelling, but it is about Mehmed II and the fall of Constantinople. There are plenty of actual historical figures in the book, even if a lot of them have had some creative-license changes! So you can go in expecting to learn a bit, but also know this is a loose retelling. (Especially since Vlad the Impaler is actually a gender-swapped Lada.) And the details of the sieges and clothes and the first canons ever made were all stunning and just made the book so lush with details.

Overall, Now I Rise is a stunning sequel of stabbing and the darkness of humankind, all wrapped up in brilliant writing and winning characters! It has the kind of ending that leaves you screaming for the next book (um, how do we wait for next year…) and I’m desperate to see how it’ll all turn out. It’s fantastic and captivating and full of political and emotional intrigue.

Review: Roseblood by AG Howard

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I grew up absolutely in love with the Phantom of the Opera musical, so you can imagine my extreme excitement at finding out Roseblood by AG Howard would be a YA modernised retelling! And it was absolutely beautifully written, with a good dash of creepy and disturbing. A glorious tribute to the original! Except far less singing. And more cats. But I’m not arguing. I’m a big fan of this author and her Splintered series is one of my top favourites of all time, so I’m so glad her new book didn’t disappoint at all!

Roseblood basically follows the tale of Rune, who is possessed with an amazing operatic voice…that she can’t control. It literally forces her to sing and is more than a little disturbing. She’s shipped off to a musical boarding school in Paris (that just so happens to be inside an old abandoned Opera House) where she meets a ghostlike boy in the garden who plays a violin and coaches her singing. But the boy is also the adopted son of the original Phantom…who just happens to want Rune for something decidedly sinister and deadly. It’s absolutely stuffed with aesthetically pleasing scenes and it rekindles theories about the original story and also adds in new and exciting twists! It reads a bit like a “sequel” and a “but what happened next”, which I absolutely loved.

Plus who doesn’t want to go to boarding school in an old opera house, right?!

It’s told in dual point-of-view, with both Rune and Thorn narrating. I loved Rune as she learns to accept her magical abilities, but Thorn absolutely stole my heart. He’s a tortured and haunted sort of boy, hiding in shadows with his brilliant violin playing. He wears a mask as legacy of the Phantom, his adopted father, too. And the two of them together were just the cutest thing of ever.

I’m pleased there was so much music too. As it should be. I’m a complete music fiend and used to play violin myself, so I adored Thorn’s capabilities (lowkey jealous of his Stradivarius) and I love how Rune was a singer.

It also has delightfully creepy elements. There are bleeding roses and ghosts staring at you behind mirrors and weird dreams and dangerous magical powers that may or may not suck all the energy out of those around you when you use it. Rune was very self aware of how creepy the opera house was, too, and I like how she punched typical horror-story cliches by knowing what she was getting into when she walked into abandoned buildings. Very meta. Very nice.

The writing is absolutely lush and detailed and beautiful. Although sometimes the description did get a bit over-the-top and took away from the action of the story. Overall, though, I loved getting swallowed into the vivid and gorgeous scenery. The plot itself wasn’t so face paced, but it kept my attention on every page. I wanted to know about Thorn’s tragic past and I needed more details about the morally grey Phantom’s plans.

Roseblood is a beautifully written retelling that does the original justice! It lacked in the action department, but made up for it with the lush writing and the winning characters and the lovely creepy factor, like roses that bleed all over you and ghostly cats. It may or may not, however, inspire you to run around your house belting out the Phantom of the Opera theme songs. You’ve been warned.

Best YA Classic Retellings

Retellings might just be my favourite genre of them all. And we all know how popular it is to write retellings on Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Little Red Riding Hood. Been there. Read that a million times. So what about retellings based of classic novels?!? It’s so exciting! And it’s a rising trend which is pleasant to behold (especially if you are me and adore classical retellings). It’s like reliving an old favourite in a new way!

So let’s get to my list of some of the best YA retellings of Classic novels!


9781627792356FIRST & THEN

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This is a retelling on Pride and Prejudice…except it involves footballs and college applications. But the romance between socially awkward teens is perfection. Tennyson basically doesn’t know what she wants with her life, but her Plans didn’t involve her parents semi-adopting her cousin Foster (who is a surprise football protegee) and definitely didn’t involve getting involved with the snobby school jock. Cute hate-to-love romance with beautiful writing and winning characters.


9781743316429Every Breath

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Hello Sherlock Holmes retelling! And to make matters even more awesome, this is set in Australia with a gender-swapped Watson! Rachel Watts and the boy next door, Mycroft Holmes, end up embroiled in a local murder case. The twists are amazing, and the Australian culture is so refreshing and perfect. Plus this kicks off a brilliant trilogy. So if you get addicted, good job. There is more.


9780062280688Dorothy Must Die

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How about a retelling of The Wizard of Oz? And instead of the perky colourful world in the originals…welcome to this new Oz, where everything is twisted and creepy and Dorothy might just be the most evil of them all. We get to travel with Amy on an accidental adventure through a tornado and into Oz where she must learn to be a witch and defeat Dorothy and, you know, not die in the process.


9781442465985Winterspell

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This is a retelling of the Nutcracker ballet! And I do wish there were more ballet retellings out there, because it’s such a stunning idea set in a vividly snow landscape of the world of Cane. Here we meet Clara who ends up on a rescue mission to find her father before it’s too late, with the help of a cursed boy. The writing is very dark and a bit on the steamier side for romance.


9781743315132Man Made Boy

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Or how about Frankenstein retelling? Better yet, let’s talk about Frankenstein’s monster’s son…because that’s a story you definitely want to hear. This is a quirky book, full of wry humour and ridiculously impossible scenarios that will make you laugh. It has an amazing cast of characters that even include some from other classics like Jekyll and Hyde! It’s about roadtrips and friendship and what it means to be considered a “monster”.


9781471116612Lady Midnight

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This might seem a strange one to linclude…but it’s actually a retelling of the poem Annabel Lee by Edgar Allen Poe! It’s part of the Shadowhunter world, but also can stand on it’s own as a new adventure involving Emma Carstairs’ quest to find the culprits behind her parents murder. It’s a magical-focused murder mystery that is seriously creepy in some places and twirls in references to the poem so amazingly. This book is totally addictive. You want to read it, trust me.

Review: Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman took me completely by surprise! I was a bit dubious going in because while it looks like a dark hearted pirate book, I’d been warned it was more of a historical romance. That’s true! While this is the infamous Blackbeard’s origin story, it’s about before he turned to the sea. And yet, despite the lack of pirate action, I was completely in love with the story. I adored it! It had complex and winning characters, excellent writing, a dash of sass, and the promise of pirates in the sequel. So really — I am hooked.9781481432696

The story basically follows two very different people: Anne and Teach. Anne is a maid and because she’s half black, half white, she’s ostracised by everyone around her and she doesn’t feel like she belongs. All she wants to do is take a ship over to the West Indies to find her deceased mother’s people. So she’s kind of stealing from the manor lord to do so. Um, very bad idea. And on the other hand, we have Teach, who dreams of the sea but his father has him set up to marry an insufferable duchess and stay safely behind closed doors all his life. To which Teach says: no. Anne and Teach’s lives get caught up wonderfully because they both want to defy society’s expectations and follow their true dreams.

Hopefully Teach’s true dream involves pirating in the future, because I have expectations.

I loved how complex and interesting both Anne and Teach were! Teach loves books and while he can be an insufferable jerk, he’s really sweet too. Anne is very epically strong and will boss you around and woe to anyone who tries to take advantage or swindle her. She will, literally, thwack them with a bucket. They were both pretty strong-willed characters and yet still complimented each other marvellously.

I was totally onboard with this romance. Okay, but Teach did annoyed me with his supremacy attitude. But I wasn’t a fan of how he wanted to “protect” Anne, which basically entailed controlling her. That was the thinking of the era. Basically “Oh I like this woman, I must make sure she never gets hurt ergo I must make sure she never does anything without my permission first so I can check it’s safe.”  HOW ABOUT NO. Sit down, Teach. But, he did get better as the story went on. And I did adore how they argued so much! It just made me like them so much together. They are pepper and fire.

Yes it’s also the “origin” story of Blackbeard. Which is awesome. I did wish Teach had indicated more piratey tendencies. He honestly was a bit too much of an upstanding citizen, so I do wonder how he’s going to end up joining the dark side. I will find out once the sequel is released!

The writing was very marvellous too. I have a wariness of historical fiction and its usual tendency to be hard to read with stilted language style. But this? It was great! There are plenty of lords and ladies primly shouting, “I SHALL NOT, GOOD SIR!” but otherwise, there was banter and it was easy to devour. I didn’t want to put it down! Plus several scenes had me laughing out loud.

Blackhearts is definitely a book not to be missed! Sure it had cliche moments and I felt any complications towards the characters’ goals always got resolved a bit too fast. But there is a massively exciting cliffhanger finale, and Teach and Anne are amazing and I’m completely hooked on the storyline. Bring on the pirates!

 

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