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ARC Review: Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin

Summary

Years ago, the house at the end of the lane burned down. The townspeople never learned what happened, but Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, were never seen again. Only Mae and her brother Rossa know the truth of what happened that summer—and they’ll never say a word. When they were told they’d be spending their summer with their great aunt, Mae and Rossa were anything but thrilled. But nothing at Rita’s is as it appears. Bevan is enthralled by a dangerous power lurking behind the walls of Rita’s home. The power—known as Sweet James—is hungry, and what he wants most is a taste of the twins. And Bevan wants the magic and escape that Sweet James is offering her. But Sweet James is never satisfied, no matter what Bevan brings him. Mae would give Bevan almost anything—she is in the grip of first love, both dying for Bevan’s attention and worried she’ll get it. But Rossa is learning some of the terrible secrets the house is hiding, secrets that paralyze him with fear. As the summer draws to a close, Bevan tries to free Sweet James from his prison within the walls, but is thwarted by Rita and her cat (who is more than a cat), Bobby Dear.

It’s over for Mae and Rossa, isn’t it? They return home. They don’t talk about the strangeness of that summer. But it never completely abandons them. And things at home only get worse.

And so three years later, Rossa and Mae are sent once again to Rita’s home, as their parents’ marriage finally seems to crumble. At first it seems that the strangeness has dissipated. But Sweet James never left. He has been lurking within the walls, waiting the perfect time to return. He’s been waiting much longer than any of them know—any of them except Rita, who has been keeping secrets of her own. Secrets that bring the house down in flames around them and bring them all to the brink of the things they most want—and what they most fear.

Sarah Maria Griffin is a rare talent with a unique and atmospheric writing style. Fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s All the Crooked Saints and Libba Bray’s The Diviners will devour this dark and unusual novel.

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Review

Hey, fellow readers! Have you started your reading goals for 2019? Let me know if you have and how many books you’re hoping to compete by the end of the year! I’m going for 50! Anyways, today, I’ll be talking about Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin.

First and foremost, I’d like to state the moral of story: don’t have wallpaper in your house. Just use paint to decorate your walls instead. Just kidding! There is no such thing as moral or definitive lesson in complicated stories. And this book was definitely that. Not only are there multiple POVs that aren’t labelled and leave you guessing who it is sometimes, but there are so many mysteries in this novel. Some of them are only meant to be viewed for a moment and never heard of again. Others are more likely to be mentioned later, especially in relation to Sweet James and Bobby Dear. By the way, if a character is named Sweet James, that’s a red flag for disaster!

Anyways, that’s all I have to say about Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin. I would recommend this book for anyone who likes a good thriller, or Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand. Have any questions about Other Words for Smoke? Send them my way via the Comments Section! And for those of you who are interested, this book is in store on March 12th, 2019.

Thanks for reading!

–  Sumaya

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Review: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

Summary

I’ve got seven days to come clean to my new dad. Seven days to tell the truth…

For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters—and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home—or get along with her standoffish sister London. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street. Marcus McKinney has had his own experiences with death, and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them is the only thing that makes her feel grounded.

But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s Tiffany’s real dad—and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realizing that maybe family is in the bonds you make—and that life means sometimes taking risks.

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Review

Hi, wonderful readers! Today, I would like to talk about Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis. Now I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard about it. The only problem is I was so hesitant about starting it. What if it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be? Lately, I’ve been having more of these thoughts when I start a book, so now I give myself full authority to read five chapters and if it isn’t going well, I can put the book down. Obviously I didn’t put this book down since I loved it!

Another reason I was apprehensive about Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now is that I didn’t know what to expect when reading this book. Tiffany’s personality isn’t discernible from the book jacket, so I didn’t have any inkling on if I would like reading in her perspective. But right from the getgo, I loved Tiffany Sly. It was really easy to relate to her as well as side with her opinion. I just got sucked into the story to the point where I audibly gasped on the subway. 😀

Since this was more of a character-driven novel, plot wasn’t as much of a concern in comparison. However, there was the deadline that was given at the start of the novel of a week before Tiffany’s other potential father shows up demanding a paternity test. Other than helping readers determine the chronology of the novel, it sets a tone and creates a tension that keeps both Tiffany and the reader in suspense. This deadline as well as the backstory of Tiffany Sly clashing with her current situation of living with a huge family means a lot to cover in one novel. This is the main reason I’m sympathetic that the author had some loose ends, which she didn’t pursue. All I can say is that the book is well worth the read!

Well, that’s all I have to say for now! I really recommend everyone who likes contemporary to read Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis. If you have any questions or thoughts though, feel free to share in the Comments Section below.

Take care and keep reading!

–  Sumaya

Review: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Summary

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.

He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

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Review

Hey, everyone! It’s been a while since I read Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, but I really wanted to talk about it. There was just something about this book that made me read on, even as I long interest at the end. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good book and want to see what else Claire Legrand has to offer, like Furyborn.

Firstly, I was a big fan of the urban legends surrounding Sawkill Rock and its inhabitants.  Not only was it super creepy, but it was also pretty relevant to the town’s culture as well as the patriarchy. Isn’t that what urban legends spring from? Something true? There was a lot about how girls and women are treated as a whole, from the monsters who haunt their every move to the “heroes” that are supposed to banish these monsters (not talking about our protagonists in this case, but a secret organization that I will say no more about for fear of spoilers). The line is blurred between the two to the point where you don’t know who to trust. And that’s probably the point.

The characters themselves had really great POVs, and there wasn’t a character I wanted to read more than the other. That, in itself, is pretty rare for me, since I usually have a favourite character whose story I’d like to get back to over the others. While these POVs did intertwine, I loved how each character developed and at the end of the novel, there was real change in them versus the beginning of the novel. There was a good moment where I thought that at least two of the protagonists might have been compromised and joined the dark side… But I won’t tell you which ones; you’ll just have to find out on your own! 😉

Well, that’s all I have to say about Sawkill Girls, other than the fact that the cover is super gorgeous! If you have any questions or thoughts about this novel or whether I should read Furyborn, leave a comment in the section below. Thanks for reading!

–  Sumaya

 

Blog Tour: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Summary

In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.

Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.

Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy.

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Review

Hey, everyone! So excited to be a part of this blog tour! It was a real treat to read Emiko Jean’s Empress of All Seasons and I can’t wait to talk more about it. 😉

Firstly, I really did appreciate the different POVs in this book. Whether it was how they were woven together to tell a story or just sharing another character’s view, I was all in! You would also see that same character in the eyes of another main character, which would make the former even more developed. My only qualm with the novel character-wise is that by the end, while the plot seemed rushed, the character development couldn’t catch up enough for my liking. I felt that if the story went on for at least another book, then this sudden shift in a particular character could be explored. But all readers get is a jarring change in a particular character rather than the subtle development of others.

Another really great thing I loved about this book was the world it was set in. It was yokai versus humans with Akira in the middle, not really knowing where he should stand. There are the Animal Wives and Mari’s failure to fit in with them. Taro disagreeing with his father’s views but cannot openly oppose them. All these characters have something in common: they all want more. To pair these wants with rich Japanese mythology makes it even better! Plus, if there are any fans of The Selection, you definitely should give this book a read!

Overall, I was really taken by this book, which is kind of weird since I haven’t been into fantasy lately… but if I got into it, it probably says something good about the book! Anyways, for anyone who is interested, Empress of All Seasons is already in stores near you! And if you have any questions about the book, feel free to leave a comment in the section below.

Q & A from the Author

Sumaya: Out of the three different points of view in the novel, did you have a favourite point of view?

Emiko: Yes. This is difficult to admit because as I writer I’d like to say I love all my characters equally but I loved Akira most. He was the character I developed first. I love his origin story. And I also identified with him the most. He feels that he straddles two worlds, yōkai and human, and as a mixed-race person I am very familiar with that feeling.

Well, that’s all for now. Have a wonderful day!

– Sumaya

I received an advance reader’s copy from Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review.

ARC Review: Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Summary

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . . Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes. Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away. Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs. Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love à la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

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Review

Hey, everyone! Today, I’ll be talking about Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm. Now, I remember first hearing about this book and being really excited. Not only was it about a boarding school set in France, this boarding school is actually a prestigious cooking school as well! I was definitely getting Anna and the French Kiss vibes with some competitive drama to boot! And while it was an okay read, I wouldn’t rank it with my favourite contemporary novels.

Firstly, my main concern was with the main characters. Rosie and Henry were pretty nice together, but alone, they’re kind of boring. While I loved those cute moments between Rosie and Henry, I prefer characters that I could root for based on their personality or empathy for them. Don’t get me wrong: in the beginning, I did like both characters. However, that changes when Rosie becomes a bit bland for me (I think she would have been perfectly fine in the early 2010s, though) and Henry begins to take out his frustrations on Rosie.

I did like the school, though, as well as the experience studying in France. I’ve been a big fan of reading boarding schools since forever, and thought that this book had a fun take on boarding school life. Also, the story really goes into detail about backstory of the school as well as characters within the novel, which I really appreciated. It made things easier to imagine and gave more depth to the story.

Overall, while I didn’t get into Love à la Mode as much as I wanted to, I wouldn’t discourage readers from checking it out if they like cooking or baking. By the way, Love à la Mode can be found in bookstores on November 27th, 2018, for those of you who are interested! Do you have any recommendations for great boarding school books, though? If you do, feel free to leave them in the section below.

Take care, everyone! And keep reading! 🙂

–  Sumaya

I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Summary

Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

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Review

Hey, everyone! Sorry I haven’t been posting lately. You’d think by this point I would learn to give notice for these things, but no! 😀 Hopefully, if I ever decide to take a break again, I’ll be more considerate in the future.

Well, this time around, I want to talk about A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee. Where do I even begin? There’s so much to talk about. First of all, I’d like to say that this is the first historical fiction I’ve read in quite a while; the last one was in 2013 or 2014. I just never got back into it for some reason. But I thought I’d give this one a whirl because of the elusive Agency mentioned in the blurb. I wanted to see how this would fit into the Victorian period. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed with the Agency since it didn’t live up to my standards of what I thought it should be. There was just so much potential for it. But ultimately, I realize that this is the first book and it might set up stuff for the next books instead of giving everything at once, which would just be too much.

While the book was pretty slow in the beginning, it did pick up by about halfway through. Then there were so many different theories about what everyone was up to that I could hardly keep up!

I felt kind of the same way about Mary Quinn. In the beginning, I didn’t really get a sense of character from her; she just seemed flat. Maybe it was her delivery or because she was pretending to be a paid companion at first. Either way, I wasn’t really sure about Mary until much later, like near the end of the book. I’m not saying she isn’t resourceful or clever, because she is. I just didn’t really connect with her as much as I could have, excluding one part in the middle and as the novel was near its end.

Well, that’s all I have to say about A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee. I don’t know if I’ll go on to reading the second book in the series, mainly because of the really slow beginning but also because of the lack of information that was given about the Agency, and now that I think about it, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. At the moment, they seem more like tools used to explain Mary’s purpose within the story rather than being separate entities with entirely developed functions and histories. But hopefully if I ever do continue reading the series, this will change. If you have any questions about A Spy in the House, feel free to share them in the Comments Section below!

Have a nice day!

– Sumaya

ARC Review: Analee, in Real Life by Janelle Milanes

Summary

Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.

Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner-in-crime, Xolkar—aka a teen boy named Harris whom Analee has never actually met in person.

So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.

But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?

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Review

Hey, everyone! It’s been a while since my last review, but I’m back to talk about Analee, in Real Life by Janelle Milanes! From the moment I read the summary, I knew I had to read this book! Not only does it include online gaming, but it also has that fake relationship I love seeing in YA books! But if you think the book met my expectations, I need to tell you something. It didn’t.

It surpassed them!

First of all, I really loved Analee’s perspective. She was honest and relatable, to the point where you could root for her in almost any given scenario, even when you can admit she’s being unreasonable. I think it’s because I knew where she’s coming from since we’re given access to her internal monologue. While she isn’t as open with everyone else, as a reader, you can see the contrast between her personality when she’s more comfortable with people versus when she isn’t as comfortable. To be honest, I liked how this book tackles social anxiety and how it affects both the socially anxious person and the people around them. The book doesn’t magically cure her in the end just because she starts hanging out with a boy, but it does show Analee’s resolve can overcome her anxiety when she really wants to accomplish something, whether it’s reading in front of children to making a toast at her dad’s wedding.

Additionally, I liked the depiction of connections Analee had in the novel, past and present. You see her older relationships through flashbacks while the newer ones are forming within the novel and become more concrete as the novel progresses. Analee doesn’t shy away from the grief she feels since her mother’s funeral, which is a big part of the novel. It did leave me teary a lot of the time, but I also wanted to read those beautiful moments between her and her mother! You could see similar flashbacks in regards to her father and friend as well since the bonds between them changed drastically within two years. It helped convey the tension between them in the present pretty well.

I could say so much more about the novel, like how it was the first RPG book I loved since Gamer Girl, or how I loved that whole fake-boyfriend ordeal, where it really reminded me of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but I’m going to leave it here for now. If anyone wants to talk about it further, feel free to leave a comment in the section below! Ultimately, I admire how Analee handles things, especially at the end of the novel. It wasn’t the ending I expected, but that’s what made it so great! And for those of you who are interested, Analee, in Real Life comes out on September 18th, 2018!

Thanks for reading, everyone!

–  Sumaya

I received an advance reader’s copy from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Summary

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

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Review

Hey there, fellow readers! Are you excited for the weekend? Thankful that it’s Friday? I hope so! Today, I’m part of blog tour, reviewing Somaiya Daud’s debut, Mirage. I actually heard about this book from Twitter and was totally stoked to hear about a sci-if book with Moroccan roots. I’ve never seen it done before and was really curious as to how it would turn out. Also, I did find it pretty cool that the author has the same name as me! This has honestly never happened to me before! 😀

Firstly, I really liked the two main characters, Amani and Maram. Even though the book is only in Amani’s perspective, you get a real sense of both characters through their interactions with each other. They have this kind of Prince and Pauper relationship that develops over time, affecting how Amani sees Maram and vice versa. Not only does it affect their perspectives of each other, but their own individual growth as well. I honestly preferred reading their conversations over all others, such as the ones Amani has with Idris, Maram’s fiancé. The only thing that would have loved to see from this is if Maram had her own POV, especially at the end. But maybe that’ll happen in the next book!

Secondly, I appreciated the world building that went into this novel. Even within the first few pages, the author paints us a picture of both the world Amani lives in and the past world that was lost long ago. While reading this book, I find it incorporates the struggles of diaspora and refugees as well as the Moroccan roots her novel is based on. There’s a lot of hatred between the Vathek and Andalaan people, boiling to the surface as the novel progresses. It just made me of today’s political climate and how it’s almost interchangeable with the one in Mirage, which is really scary.

But that ending! The ending both strengthens Amani as a character and gives readers an idea of the second book’s plot. I just wish that I had an explanation for spares and where they came from. Again, there might be an explanation for this all in the next few books. Until then, I’m just going to have to speculate on my own, which can be kind of fun, too! 😉

Well, that’s all I have to say about Mirage by Somaiya Daud. It was a pretty good read with an enticing ending that makes me want to read the sequel! And for those of you who don’t know, Mirage comes out on August 28th, 2018! Oh, also, feel free to comment on the book in the section below, or check out some other reviews from this blog tour!

Have a nice day, everyone!

–  Sumaya

I received an advance reader’s copy from Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review.

ARC Review: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Summary

The first time the Nightmares came, it nearly cost Alice her life. Now she’s trained to battle monstrous creatures in the dark dream realm known as Wonderland with magic weapons and hardcore fighting skills. Yet even warriors have a curfew.

Life in real-world Atlanta isn’t always so simple, as Alice juggles an overprotective mom, a high-maintenance best friend, and a slipping GPA. Keeping the Nightmares at bay is turning into a full-time job. But when Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor is poisoned, she has to find the antidote by venturing deeper into Wonderland than she’s ever gone before. And she’ll need to use everything she’s learned in both worlds to keep from losing her head . . . literally.

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Review

Hi, everybody! I’m back with another review. But first, I’d like to apologize to anyone wanting to comment on Monday’s blog post and found that they couldn’t. I didn’t realize the Comments Section was closed until the next day. I love hearing what people think and will make sure to double-check to see if the Comments Section is open.

Anyways, back to today’s review, which is on L.L. McKinney’s debut, A Blade So Black. It starts off with some action, setting the stage for two of the main characters and their dynamic. This relationship between Alice and her mentor, Addison, was one of the main reasons that I liked the book. They cared for one another on a really deep and emotional level. However, readers only get to see the result of spending months together, so who knows? It might have not been the best teacher-student relationship in the beginning. 😄

I also appreciated how the author adapted Alice in Wonderland to fit into her retelling. I honestly loved all the changes she made, and thought that it made the story more enriched and engaging. One of my major hang-ups on retellings is when the retelling could be exactly the same as the story, with the exception of setting or something like that. It’s always nice to see what authors add on to an older story, you know?

The only thing I that I didn’t like when reading the book was that sometimes I’d go from really invested to looking around the room in semi-boredom. Thankfully, the ending was interesting enough to redeem the novel overall, but I doesn’t erase how I fell in and out of reading at times.

Well, that’s all I have to say about A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney today. I liked what it brought to the table as a retelling, even though it had its slow moments. If you have any questions or comments about this book, though, feel free to leave them in the Comments Section below! And remember, if you’re interested in reading A Blade So Black, the book comes out on September 25th, 2018!

And as always, thanks for reading everyone!

– Sumaya

I received an advance reader’s copy from Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review.

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