BOOK REVIEW : SPIN THE DAWN

 

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.



review

Normally, the word ‘Mulan’ is enough to tempt me to start a book. But then you add ‘Project Runway’ to it? Color me intrigued. Besides Mulan, I could also find elements from stories of ‘Aladdin’ to ‘Spirited Away’. There are other myths explored in this novel, mainly from Chinese origins. I particularly liked the re-imagination of the silk road.

The beginning was promising. I found myself invested in Maia and her family very fast. Her family slowly descends towards its ruins, after she loses her mother, and her brothers to the war. It’s the same war that forces the emperor to marry the enemy’s daughter as a truce. And to please his bride, he arranges a competition for her to choose her master tailor.

Maia’s father is also summoned to participate in the competition or send his son to represent him. But her father is a mere shadow of his former self from a series of emotional loss, and her brother unskilled in the family business. It had long before fallen upon Maia to take on the reins as the main tailor in the family business.

We move to the castle when Maia goes to the castle disguised as her brother, a capital crime. I enjoyed the competition with all the mysteries, the competitors, the politics, and the details of all the dressmaking. I was also torn between feeling sympathy and suspicion towards the princess who’s forced to wed her enemy and does everything in her capacity to delay the wedding. The best part of the book came at the end of the first part where the author totally subverted my expectations by doing the unexpected.

The pace slowed down a lot in the second part, with Maia going on an unimaginable journey in order to collect the materials to make an impossible wedding gown for the future empress. I found my attention wavering from here on. I also could not find myself invested in the romance between Maia and Edan. It’s probably because I just could not find Edan’s whole character arc to be unconvincing from the start. But my loyalty towards Maia remained constant throughout the book. I loved her courage, vulnerabilities and mostly the conviction of following her heart.

Although the pace picked up in the third and final part, and there were some very unpredictable twists, my interest could not be restored to what it was at the beginning.  I also have qualms about how someof the plot unfolded. Some resolutions felt unearned. I’d really like to vent about them but can’t because of the spoilers. But I’m hoping that the second book will give us better explanations to, though. And I’m certainly interested in reading the sequel because of how the book ended.

It’s interesting if you look at my breakdown of rating for the three parts of the book –
5- stars for the first part, 3-stars for the second part, and 4 stars for the third part. Heh.


ratings

★★★★☆

 

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BOOK REVIEW: THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.


review

I am a big fan of Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series which focuses mostly on the stars from the West End Theater. The Austen Playbook is the fourth in the series and might have narrowly beaten Pretty Face as my favorite of the series. I give the credit mainly to the main couple.

Griff and Freddy (Frederica) make for a compelling pair of main characters. Griff is probably the most brooding and the grumpiest hero of the series, with a marshmallow for a heart. My favorite kind. It also helps that his hair was compared to Lucius Malfoy. He’s a reviewer of theater productions, a television presenter and a producer. Freddy is an actress, forever faced with a big legacy of a late grandmother who was a powerful theater actress herself.

I could relate to Freddy a lot. She is constantly torn between her own happiness and her life-long desire of making others happy. She wants to star in comedies and light-hearted productions, but has always put that behind to please her father who wants her career to be just like that of his mother who was a master at serious acting.

Griff is burdened with a dilapidated estate from his grandfather who was a producer himself. He could easily live his own life, but has time and again sold his own assets to make up for his parents’ lavish expenses, in order to maintain his family’s legacy.

In this way, Griff and Freddy are quite similar. Only been connected through his honest and scathing reviews of her productions, they finally get to explore these similarities when Freddy takes on the role of Lydia in a production of Austenland, a play with all of Austen’s characters, lively broadcast and subject to immediate twist in the plot according to live votes from the audience watching from their homes.

Griff and Freddy have sparks right from the beginning. I loved their chemistry.  It was my favorite part of the book. But there are a lot of secondary plot-lines connected to the their main story. For example, Griff’s grandfather and Freddy’s grandmother had an epic love affair which ended abruptly. Griff is looking for finances to make a film based on that affair, but Freddy’s father will stop at nothing to stop his plans.

Although I initially liked the whole family history, I slowly lost my interest as the story progressed. The climax also could’ve been better. I’d have liked a better resolution to the live play. But I’m ready to forgive it all because of my love for the main couple.


ratings★★★★☆


BOOK REVIEW: EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER

In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.


review

Evvie had an emotionally abusive husband, who never wasted an opportunity to put her down. The night she is about to leave him is the night her husband dies in an accident. She suffers from a weird guilt, and people in the town takes this guilt for grief.

Dean has loved baseball all his life. It’s given him everything until he just could not for mysterious reasons pitch straight anymore. It forces him to retire from the game that has been his life. He has tried everything to recover from his ‘Yips’ and nothing works. So he decides to take off for a year and leave all the conjectures of the media and fans in New York.

Andy is Evvie’s best friend. He’s a divorcee with two daughters. What they share is purely platonic, with Evvie being a big source of comfort and help to him in getting his life back since his wife left him. He’s also good friends with Dean and so when Dean decides to come to Andy’s town to take a break, Andy suggests him renting the downstairs apartment of Evvie’s place.

Dean and Evvie are quite similar. They are damaged in certain ways and are unwilling to face their own demons. Evvie uses Dean’s problems as a new mission in life, in Andy’s words ‘Dean is another project for her to save, like she took on Andy’. But Dean doesn’t want her to encourage him to go back to baseball.

I found Evvie to be a very flawed, complicated and yet interesting character. She never shared about her own problems with anyone, not even the issues in her marital life. She is non-confrontational in a way. She’s more intent on changing other people’s lives rather than her own.

Dean, on the other hand, is aggressively on denial about what he wants and wishes for. But thankfully his denial does not extend to his feelings for Evvie. The progress from friendship to a relationship is perhaps not too smooth, but it certainly felt organic. The romance was not too romantic. But it was a nice little story.

While the story has its charms and warmth, it suffers from a slowness of pace. It could use more energy and passion. I also think that the ending could have been better. But the overall journey of Evvie was satisfying to read.


ratings

★★★★☆

ARC REVIEW : SENECA LAKE


It’s 1944, and high school senior Meg Michaels has always obeyed her grandparents’ wishes, till now. They’re urging her to give up her dream of Cornell University and accept a ring from wealthy Hank Wickham before he deploys overseas.

But Meg has studied hard and yearns for something better than life in the rural Finger Lakes. Plus Meg’s suddenly fascinated with her childhood friend, Arthur Young, a handsome Seneca Indian farm worker. When Meg and Arthur nurse a sick puppy to health, their friendship transforms into love.

But locals look down on “injuns” and resent the fact that Arthur’s farm job exempts him from military duty. While the war rages in Europe, Meg and Arthur must fight their own battles at home…


review

This one was a short and fast read. I flew through the pages.

Meg is a teenager living with her grandparents. She grows a sudden interest towards Arthur who she claims has been like a brother all her life. Then there’s Hank, a guy she knows she should be interested in instead.

I liked Meg. She’s cute if not a little boring. But I liked Arthur more. It’s easy to feel for him when you have half the town looking down on him. But I feel that there was so much more to him that could be explored. I liked Meg and Arthur’s interactions. But I thought the whole love story happened too fast. I’d have liked more details and backstory.

I think this books started and ended too abruptly. It felt like this was part of a story than a whole story by itself. By the end, I wanted more from the story. More character development, more descriptions, more depth, more story-building, more backstory. Just more.

I felt the whole time that I was seeing the world through a lens. It lacked the depth that could get me invested in the story. And what was with that ending? I was just left hanging with that. There was no closure. It wasn’t even a cliffhanger. Just a weird way to end the story.

The writing was pretty straight-forward, without much pomp. And that’s necessarily not a bad thing. But it was also slightly bland. And I honestly felt that there was no rhyme or reason to many of the things that happened. I felt like I was missing out parts of the story. It certainly had a lot of potential. I think the debut author missed a trick here.


ratings

BOOK REVIEW : EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD

Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold is a story of family conflicts set in Colorado in 1885. Anne Wells has embarrassed her rigidly proper family since she was a child with occasional but grievous lapses from ladylike behavior. They blame those lapses for the disgraceful fact that she is a spinster at 28. Cord Bennett, the son of his father’s second marriage to a Cheyenne woman, is more than an embarrassment to his well-to-do family of ranchers and lawyers – they are ashamed and afraid of their black sheep. When Anne and Cord are found alone together, her father’s fury leads to violence. Cord’s family is more than willing to believe that the fault is his. Can Anne and Cord use the freedom of being condemned for sins they didn’t commit to make a life together? Or will their disapproving, interfering families tear them apart?


review

My love for historical romance + My love for Ellen O’Connell’s previous book Dancing on Coals + My love for “forced/arranged marriage” trope = My love for Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold.

This was one of the most satisfying reads for me this year. My heart is actually full.

I’ve rarely ever read a “Arranged/Forced marriage” trope done so beautifully and organically. There was a perfect balance between action and romance that did enough to make it to the top of my favorite reads of the year.

28 year old Anne has run from her parents to escape a forced marriage to a man twice her age. In the night of storm, she seeks refuge in a barn only to wake up to find out the owner staring at her. It’s Cord, a man considered almost a pariah by her town, for his half-Indian blood and infamous temper. But Anne isn’t scared of him. Before she can convince him to help her escape the town, her father along with a mob finds her in what they believe is an compromising situation. They leave after beating them up until Cord is half-dead and Anne bleeding, with the local priest forcibly marrying them off.

After Anne nurses Cord back to health, they decide to make their sham of a marriage real. Nobody is happy. Anne’s father and the people in the mob thought Cord would be dead and Anne would go crawling back to her father. The townspeople including Cord’s own family are led to easily believe that Cord forced himself on her. Cord himself doesn’t believe that this marriage will last and is mentally prepared for Anne to leave him for a king she deserves. But Anne finds herself happy being a wife of Cord, and tending to his household and barn. 

Anne and Cord’s relationship progress was organic and delightful to read about. Anne is probably the first woman who doesn’t fear him, and he’s the first person who respects her. The way they slowly grow to understand, support and stand up for each other was delightful. We’re talking about a relationship that progresses from an expressionless Cord reminding Anne that she’ll probably leave him soon, to teasing her about having enough money to escape to Paris without him. I loved every step of it. My heart melted right with Anne’s when Cord calls her Annie for the first time.

Anne’s my favorite kind of heroine with the perfect blend of warmth and strength. Even when the mob is forcing her to repeat wedding vows in distress, she omits ‘to disobey’. From her fear of spiders, to her belief that horses can be cured of any aliment with oodles of sugar and sweet-talking, I found everything about her endearing.

But my heart bled a little more for Cord. This is a man who’s resigned to his own family’s mistrust of him, because of his Indian blood. Who can blame him for thinking Anne to be too good for him? He is a kind and gentle soul, with a brittle exterior. I loved every moment of his layers being peeled off.

Cord’s brothers love him. But some past events have forced them to believe the worst of him. Cord is the child of a second marriage of his white father to an Indian marriage. After his parents’ death, his elder half-brothers raised him as their own. But they could never understand his plight, being white themselves. I was so annoyed by Ephraim and Frank’s mistrust of his brother at first. But I also respected how they never lost a chance to let Anne know that she could always come to them if she wanted to escape what they felt was a marriage of abuse. Eventually, my annoyance turned into amusement over their refusal to see Cord’s love for Anne.

I also love how the author can so masterfully paint a perfect portrait of the racial prejudice that people of Indian blood had to face, that even the thought of having a child with Indian blood is unacceptable.

You know how much I loved this novel by the length of my review. I would wax poetry about this heartwarming romance if I could!


ratings★★★★★

TOP TEN TUESDAY : FAVORITE CHARACTER REDEMPTION ARCS

Happy Tuesday everyone! I’m doing a Top Ten Tuesday after a while. This week’s topic is a Character Freebie. I’m gonna list my favorite characters with redemption arcs. Now, I’ve read more character redemption arcs than I can count. But these are the ones which I loved more than the others.

FYI, the brilliant fanarts featured here are certainly not mine!

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018.


1. Boromir (Lord Of The Rings) : How can any list about redemption be complete without Boromir? He’s one of my most favorite characters from the series.

2. Scar (Full Metal Alchemist) : Boromir could be considered harmless when compared to scar. He killed too many good people for that. But empathizing with him becomes easier once you get to know his story.

3. Minya (Strange The Dreamer) : For a large part of the duology, I felt an immense hatred for Minya. I knew why she became the way she did, but it just could not justify what she did. But by the end, she made a solid place in my heart.

4. Thyon (Strange The Dreamer) : Is it cheating if I list two characters from the same series? But how can I help it? They had the most satisfying character arcs and I couldn’t just chose between these two.

5. Akiva (Daughter of Smoke and Bones) : I know. I used three characters by one author. Am I lazy or what? But, she just writes redemptive arcs so well! And Akiva more than redeemed himself for the chaos he struck out of vengeance for losing his love.

6. Hugh d’Ambray (Kate Daniels & Iron Covenant) : Hugh d’Ambray had a satisfying redemption in his own series Iron Covenant after being abandoned by the man he considered everything. He was a grade A evil a’hole initially and it was great to see his fall from grace and find his feet.

7. Froi (Lumatere Chronicles) : We’re talking about a character who tries to force himself on the protagonist in the first book and then goes on to have his own book. He doesn’t go through an overnight transformation. It’s not an easy journey. He doesn’t become perfect. But he goes on to make you care for him. So freaking much.

8. Rhysand (A Court of Thorns and Roses) : Is it a redemption arc when a character is not a misguided evil to start with? Rhys was a misunderstood hero, to be honest. But when you think about it, this is a character that does a lot of evil things just to keep his people alive and safe, for the greater good. And Sara Mass does a brilliant job in crafting the journey of his extremely flawed and yet well-meaning character. In the end, it’s clear that he’s a marshmallow.

9. Severus Snape (Harry Potter) : Another character without whom any redemption list is incomplete. Snape wasn’t perfect. He was a bully. But he protected a lot of people over the series, even all the while treating then like crap. I don’t love him as much as certain Potterheads do. But he’s definitely one of the best written characters I’ve personally read.

10. Regulas Black (Harry Potter) : Regulas Black is such an underrated character! His arc was so minor and unacknowledged in the books. He died without the world knowing his redemption. It still makes me sob thinking how even to his last breath, he would rather sacrifice his own life than have his servant – a house-elf – be hurt, unknown to the world.

BOOK REVIEW : NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.


review

Even after all the raving reviews about the book, I felt a little reluctant in starting it. Mostly because I’ve read more stories with present storyline with granddaugther and past storyline with grandmother, and they’ve disappointed.

Next Year in Havana definitely didn’t disappoint me. It however gave me bittersweet feelings. It left me feeling a little forlorn, to be honest.

I was invested in the story right from the beginning. The author takes very little time to set up the story both in the present and the past timeline. In 2017, Marisol is visiting Cuba for the first time in her life, only ever having heard stories about it from her grandmother Elisa. She’s there to spread the ashes of the grandmother who could not have her wish of returning to her homeland fulfilled. But once in Cuba, she finds that there was more to the grandmother who raised her as a daughter, than she knew.

In 1958, Marisol is experiencing her first love with revolution engulfing her country. A sugar heiress, she could pretend until recently that there weren’t big changes happening outside the walls of her high society life. But then her brother decided to become a revolutionary, and she herself fell drawn to a man who himself is a revolutionary.

I am not a fan of the ‘love at first sight’ trope. But I am a sucker for ‘the sparks at first sight’ as long as it’s not all elementary physical lust that many contemporary romances have reduced it to. I like my romances to have some slow burn and longing. Both the love stories in this one had them in spades. While Marisol thinks Luis is off-limits, Elisa’s feelings for Pablo have barely any future. Her father is a sympathizer of the ruling president, Pablo is a friend and a supporter of Castro, the revolutionary.

I was more invested in the past timeline with Elisa. I also liked her romance with Pablo. Both of them are as opposites as can be. And yet, these two managed to make it work. It had tragedy written all over it, and I guess that made me even more invested in them. The author managed to keep me curious and wondering about their fate. Which isn’t an easy thing to do. The mystery only made the story even more enjoyable. I also enjoyed Marisol and Luis’s parts but by the end I felt that there was more to tell as far as these two are concerned.

The author does really well to paint a beautiful and nostalgic portrait of Cuba then and now. I have very few ideas about Cuba’s history so I can’t judge about the accuracy, though. But this book certainly made me more curious to find more on this fascinating piece of history.

The last third of the book was not satisfactory to read, to be honest. The twists, and the reveals only left me feeling frustrated over the “what ifs”. It makes me even sadder that things like these could’ve easily been a reality for many Cubans back then.

I am not ready to read the sequel yet. I need to read a cute story before I can go back to this world. I would also like a sequel on Luis and Marisol. Even a novella would be welcome.


ratings★★★★☆