Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars, #1) by Elizabeth Lim

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

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.

Mad Scibrarian’s note: I think the next part of the synopsis is a bit too spoiler-y, so I am inserting a warning. It gives some detail for a part of the book that doesn’t come up until about 40% of the way through it. However, it is also part of the original synopsis from the publisher, and I don’t want to leave it out if you prefer to read the whole thing.

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.

My Review
5 out 5 stars

The blurb of “Mulan meets Project Runway” doesn’t quite do this book justice, though I’m sure it piques your attention. It’s Mulan-inspired in that the main character, Maia, pretends to be a boy in order to compete in a trial to become the Royal Tailor. Maia’s dream is to be a great tailor, and she already has a lot of developed talent from working in her father’s shop. Girls aren’t allowed to be tailors, however, so that’s where the need to disguise oneself as a boy comes in. To compete in this trial is not all just for Maia; it is also so Maia can support her family and compete in her ailing father’s and crippled brother’s place. I liked that Maia wasn’t just in it just for herself. She is willing to take a risk on her dreams to save her family. That’s what really makes the book similar to Mulan. As for Project Runway, well, it’s a competition to become the Royal Tailor, so obviously Maia and the other contestants have to put together some amazing fashion pieces. I can’t comment much else because I’ve never actually have seen Project Runway, but I think this book is probably much better than the terrors of reality TV drama.I actually really enjoyed this book and I am happy to have read it.

The competition plot was a lot of fun to read. The character who comes up with the trials is pretty imaginative and no-nonsense, so the trials really put Maia and the other tailors to a test. While competing, Maia has to overcome the barriers of being from a poorer family (most of the other tailors are quite wealthy) and also hiding the fact that she is a girl. The girl disguising herself as a boy is one of my favorite troupes, but Maia’s struggles are more due to the fact she is poor and also the youngest competitor. Not all of the other tailors play nice. The plot overall moves quickly, so nothing ever becomes stale. Gradually, more magic and worldbuilding is introduced throughout the story, which I think will keep you reading.

As for the characters, I did really like Maia, as I briefly covered above; she is a strong female character fighting for both her dreams and her family. She is determined to prove herself as a tailor, and though she has to pretend to be male in order to do it, she knows it’ll be worth it if she can succeed. It was nice that her family supports her dreams, and that her dad would let her practice tailoring even though she was a girl. The other tailors are mostly there as antagonists. Maia does make a few friends amongst the competition, which is nice to have variety and a little bit of support. Lastly, the court magician, Edan, comes off as pretty mysterious and you’ll probably want to read more about him. He is one of the few enchanters of this world, and maybe has some answers for Maia when she needs it most.

If I have one slight criticism, it would be the romance. It’s only slight because I really just did not feel one way or another toward it. I was not rooting for the pairing nor was I fighting against it. It wasn’t instalove or anything like that. I guess I felt the romance was there because all YA titles seem to need to have a romance, and while it was not a bad execution, it also was not very different or gripping. It’s just the first book of a trilogy (I think), so things could certainly develop or take off in other directions, which could make the romance something that tugs more at my heart.

I recommend if you’re looking for a fast-paced, Chinese-inspired YA fantasy with a strong heroine pretending to be a boy tossed into a tough competition and finding romance and magic along the way.

I received a free eARC via Netgalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

See this review on Goodreads.

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Medievalathon TBR

Medievalathon is the second month long readathon I will be participating in for the month of July (the other being my previous post of The Book Junkie Trials). Medievalathon is hosted by Holly Hearts Books, so go check out her video for more details. Essentially you read books to increase your nobility rank, from peasant up to queen. You need to read 6 books to get to Queen, which I think I can do since I’m also reading 5 books for the Book Junkie Trials. Below are my books that are the prompts for the Medievalathon, which is equipment you can score to look boss. You don’t have to read for the equipment (ie, don’t have to follow the prompts) if you just want to gain a nobility rank.

Crown– a book where a character fights for the throne: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

crane


Helm– a book with a dragon on the cover: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (I have an eARC of this).

gods


Breastplate– a shiny book: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (Double-dip with my Book Junkie Trials TBR, but I think it’s okay 😉 )

sorcery


Leggings– read a thick paperback: Tales of Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare

shadowhunter


Boots– a book that has yellowed over time: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner (published in 2005 and purchased used; it’s very yellow, trust me)

parrots


Cape– a book with a red dust jacket or cover: David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (also have an eARC of this).

David


Sword– a book with something pointy on the cover: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (the top of the tent is pointy).

station


Daggers- a book with assassins: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff (another double-dip with Book Junkie Trials)

kinslayer


I have way too many books, so I am not going to bother attempting to get the rest of these weapons, and I don’t think they overlap with my Book Junkie Trials books. Here they are if you’re interested though:

Bow- a book with elves

Axe- a book with mercenaries

This puts my total TBR at 11 books, and I normally read 5 a month with a high of around 8. This is a lofty goal, but I wanted to participate in both the readathons, plus I realized if I did my best, I would really cull my TBR down. Also, becoming a magi queen sounds like a lot of fun, even if it may interfere with the Book Junkie’s Queendom… I don’t mean to declare treason, I just want to do both readathons! 😉

Thanks for stopping by! What readathons are you doing in July?

The Book Junkie Trials TBR

In the month of July I will be participating in the Book Junkie trials, hosted by Her Royal Highness, Rachael Marie Book Junkie. Check out her video for more info, but in short there are 4 separate teams all taking separate paths to the Bookie Grail. I am a mage, so I am part of team magi, led by Becca, the Marquess of Magi. Below are the books I’ve chosen to complete for the mage trial.

Orc Grove: Some say there is no talking to Orcs, but a good political relationship is needed. Learn some Orc customs by reading a book that is gruesome, gory, or gritty: The The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang (I have an eARC of this).

Ol’ Pirate Cove: Shiver me timbers. You shall be walking the plank if you don’t learn how to sail better. Read a book that takes place, at least in part, on sea: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells

Glimmer: This Isle is alight with gems and crystals, one of the most picturesque spots in The High Queendom. Make sure you fit in with a beautiful or colourful book: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Draconic Isle: Oh My! This island is swarming with wyverns and dragons. Brush up on your draconic knowledge with a book that features dragons: Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff

The Bookie Grail: Here you find a lost manuscript, delivered on this forgotten island by a fallen star. Read the group book: Stardust by Neil Gaiman (This is a reread for me but it’s been years since I’ve originally read it and I think I’ll enjoy a reread)

Each class competing in the trials have an ability and a weakness. Mages can bend time, so they can start 3 days ahead (on June 28). Their weakness, however, is that their spells can go awry, so they must read a book outside their comfort zone. The Island of Doctor Moreau covers that for me, it’s a classic which I don’t read all that often.

I’m just planning on doing the mage path (though you can do all the paths if you want) because I also want to do Medievalathon. I will write up a separate post for that, though, so look out for that soon.

Thanks for stopping by! Are you participating in the Book Junkie Trials next month, and if so, what team are you on? If not, what’s on your July TBR?

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag 2019

This tag is one of my favorites to do and read from others. It provides a good check-in for the year to see how your reading is going and to remind you of any goals you may have established for the year. I will admit it is hard to believe that it is already June, though. Where has time gone?

  1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2019sisters

    The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
    This is my only 5 star read that wasn’t a reread, so it’s for sure the best book thus far. It’s very much a book written for me, a fairy tale retelling with a little magic and a little romance.

  2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2019ninth

    Ninth Key (The Mediator #2) by Meg Cabot
    I actually haven’t read that many sequels– this one, plus 2 Throne of Glass rereads, and then finishing that series with Kingdom of Ash. I don’t really want to count the rereads, and then if I have to choose between KoA and Ninth Key, I gave them both 3 stars, but Ninth Key was a much quicker, easier read. So we have a winner! Also I really need to stop picking up new series and finish the ones I have!

  3. New release you haven’t read but want tosoccerySorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
    I liked Ms. Rogerson’s first novel, An Enchantment of Ravens. The synopsis of this one though sounds amazing and I’d like to get to it soon. An enchanted library full of evil magical books!
  4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the yearstarless

    The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
    Yes, this is a lot of people’s most anticipated book of the year, but I am no exception. The Night Circus (also by Ms. Morgenstern) is one of my favorite books of all time, and it’s great to know her new novel is on the way!

  5. Biggest disappointment
    planet
    The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
    I thought I would love this as I haven’t heard one bad thing about it, but I just couldn’t get behind all the fluffy-goodness of the story.
  6. Biggest Surprise
    saints
    Wicked Saints by Emily A Duncan
    It seems like you either love or hate this one, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’ll admit it’s not perfect, but I really enjoy some of the ideas Ms. Duncan has incorporated into her tale. I think she has great potential as a fantasy writer with rich worldbuilding, and I look forward to reading some more.
  7. Favorite new author (debut or new to you)sisters

    Rena Rossner, the wonderful lady who wrote the best book that I’ve read so far this year. I will definitely pick up more by her!

  8. Newest fictional crush
    shadowland
    Jesse from the Mediator series
    I think I’ve mostly outgrown the whole “fictional crush” but I’ll still get them from time to time. Jesse is probably the best contender from all of the books I’ve read this year. I haven’t been swooning over many YA romances lately and also haven’t read many romance novels.
  9. Newest favorite characterreid_9781524798628_jkt_all_r1.indd

    Camilla from Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    She is just a boss and gets Billy to be the man she needs and loves.

  10. Book that made me cry
    ashKingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas
    Despite my declining love of this series over time, Mrs. Maas was still able to get me to feel things and make me cry. Not because of the series ending, more so due to certain things that happen in the book.
  11. Book that made me happyfantastic

    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander
    I listened to the audio book narrated by Eddie Redmayne and I just love him and Newt so, so much. I followed along with the fun illustrated version.

  12. Favorite book to film adaptation you saw this yearlouisInterview with the Vampire

    I really feel that this GIF reflects my feelings of the book. It took me forever to get through the audio book version, which was still much better than my attempt to read the physical copy.  I thought the book was pretty boring and creepy. The movie helped take away the creepiness, and the ending was amazing. So much so that it slightly swayed me to pick up the next book in the series. We’ll see if I ever get to it, though. Definitely recommend the movie over the book.

  13. Favorite review you’ve written this yeardinoI tend to write sassy 2 star reviews from time to time; this year it is The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs.
  14. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this yearcirce

    Circe by Madeline Miller
    I went out of my way to buy the UK edition; I just find it so pretty! It has really beautiful orange foiling, the image here just doesn’t do it justice.

  15. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

    I’ve only read TWO books from my Top 12 TBR this year, which is very. very sad. Also, just checking last year’s mid-year freak out list, I have only read 3 of the 6… Boy, I am just terrible. I blame the fact that I am just a very moody reader and pick up almost everything on a whim. Someone get me some more control! The above books are some of those from those 2 lists, plus Nevernight and Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy. Nevernight is one I hope to get to as its finale is coming out this year, so it’d be great to finally catch on. Then Tales from Shadowhunter Academy is one that I’ve never picked up. I am in the middle of a reread of City of Heavenly Fire to then go on to reread the rest of the Dark Artifices books which then allows me to finally complete the trilogy by reading Queen of Air and Darkness. If I squeeze in Shadowhunter Academy during those rereads, it’ll be a true completion of all the books leading up to QoAaD.

These tags are always so fun! How is your reading going so far this year?

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

TW: violence and sexual abuse.

My Review
4 out of 5 stars

There are 3 castes, or classes, that people are born into to determine their social standing. It’s based on the type of being you are. Lei is a human, so she is a member of the paper caste. Higher-up castes are the steel, or half-demon beings, and then the moon caste, which is demons and the highest class. The king is of the moon caste and is known as the demon king. Lei being chosen as a king’s consort is supposed to be an honor for the lowly humans; the king’s paper harem was created to demonstrate his generosity to the lowest caste. While being a paper girl should be an honor, Lei recognizes for what it is, and that is slavery. She is forced to be a paper girl against her will, or her family will be harmed. What makes this book so good is Lei being able to see through all of the charm of the king and the glamour of the court. Other paper girls of the harem fall for the king and see him as kind, which to an extent you can understand as they are poor humans who were taken under the king’s wing for care and attention. But the king does use the harem for mostly his own sexual desires, and though he attempts to be kind, Lei sees him for the demon he is underneath. He truly feels like a real villain you can find in real-life, and that makes him even more terrifying.

There is a romance that develops between Lei and one of the other paper girls, thus making the forbidden romance even more complex. I think it is a fun take on a troupe of a girl being forced to love a king but instead falls for another concubine. I could see Lei’s feelings developing over time, and while the other girl’s may be a bit harder to gauge where her feelings come from, this is mostly due to the book being told only in Lei’s POV.

It was also refreshing to have so many side characters well-developed. All of the paper girls have distinct personalities and interact with each other well.

I do wish the world building was a little bit more developed. We have the castes and the beings that exist between them, but other than the fact that the demon is a demon, we don’t get that much variation between the classes other than social status. How did demons come into power over humans anyway? And what of these half-demons, what impact do they make? Perhaps there will be more of this in later books.

Overall I liked the execution of the authors ideas and enjoyed the book. It is very easy to read with an engaging writing style.

See this review on Goodreads.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

A skilled painter must stand up to the ancient power of the faerie courts—even as she falls in love with a faerie prince—in this gorgeous debut novel.

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

My Review
3 out of 5 stars

I don’t think there is a book in existence with more of a title fitting for me than this book– it just speaks to me so. The cover is also gorgeous, but I put off reading it due to several mixed reviews, and until recently I thought I’d never get to it. But the author’s next book sounded very interesting to me as well, so before picking that one up I decided to go back and give her debut a try. It ended up being a mixed bag for me as well, but I am still glad I read it, and again, let’s face it, with that title and cover I was probably going to eventually one day read this anyway.

I know fairies/faeries/fae are really popular right now in YA fantasy. I’m not actually a big fan of fairies in general, they are hard to pull off correctly in my opinion. I like fairies that are tricky, clever, and mean; those who hate humans/other beings, and cannot tell lies thus must be clever with their phrasing (like Holly Black’s interpretation). Ms. Rogerson’s fairies aren’t quite as scary or cunning as I may want them to be, but humans of her world know not to mess with fairies, and the fairies themselves like to play tricks on humans. They also must be careful with their phrasing as they also cannot lie and will completely be unable to speak if they attempt to do so.  The biggest problem with her fairies is just her main character, Rook, as he is just a big softie for our heroine, Isobel. It’s due to the instalove between the two; Rook is just head over heels for the girl after day one of meeting. There was no buildup to it at all, and obviously his feelings come out of nowhere. He still has some very interesting abilities as an autumn prince, such as being able to transform into various creatures and sprout beautiful autumn trees in their colorful fall-bloom.

Ms. Rogerson is very good at describing her world and her scenes. It was very easy to get immersed in her world and picture it within my head. She was able to create a magical world scene by scene and place to place, making her version of a fairy world more enchanting. If it wasn’t for her imaginative descriptions I don’t think I would’ve been willing to finish it, as the book itself lacks a lot of direction. It’s more character focused, but when the character’s feelings and intentions are pretty clear, it makes it hard to develop more intrigue.

I think for a debut novel it’s a good first step, and I appreciated that it was very easy to read and follow. I have been in quite a reading slump for some time, so it’s nice to have a light yet enchanting fantasy to try and get me out of it. I am still looking forward to picking up her next book, which is about a magical, evil library, need I say more?

See this review on Goodreads.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

My Review
3 out of 5 stars

When I write 3 star reviews, I tend to start with and focus on the negatives of the book, and I am making a concerted effort in this review to avoid that. 3 stars from me means “I liked it”; generally I am happy I read it and enjoyed aspects but it wasn’t super strong, standing out in any areas, and/or just ever so slightly disappointing. There are just some flaws somewhere and I can’t say I “really liked it” (4 stars). With that said, lets get into what I liked about Priory:

The lore and the history built into the world here is just very lush and rich. I enjoyed learning about historical royal figures and about the Priory itself. A lot of the past is connected among various kingdoms, and that past even matters to the characters in the present. I enjoyed that it was meaningful on top of just being purely interesting.

I also really loved two of the main characters, Queen Sabran of Inys and Ead Duryan. Ead was sent by the Priory to watch over Sabran from assassination threats and serves as one of her handmaidens. Sabran is from the long-ruling house Berethnet, which was prophesized to always keep the evil force, The Nameless One, at bay as long as her house remains in ruling power. Sabran is in her mid-twenties and has yet to wed to thus produce an heir, and so she must start to get on that to maintain the peace and beat the threat of assassins. House Berethnet has always been ruled by Queens as the family’s oldest child is always female. Sabran is no weak link to be added to the long list of ruling Queens, and balances what she wants vs. what she must do with grace. Ead is a powerful mage who is willing to stand by Sabran’s side and support her in any way she can while also remaining true to her own wishes. They just make a great pair, and I loved reading their chapters.

Where the book starts to lose a higher rating for me is that it just was too long. Part of this was due to the variety of other characters’ stories told in this book, particularly Tané from the Eastern Kingdom. I know that a large aspect of this novel is to tell the stories of two kingdoms and weave them together by the end, but Tané just did not grow on me at all. She’s a very stereotypical want-to-be a dragon rider (like many other fantasy lead-characters who want to join the army or want to be a wizard, etc.). And when her character isn’t growing me, I found it hard to care much at all about her kingdom’s side of the story, which is sad. The Eastern Kingdom should’ve been interesting to me because they are actually the ones who ride dragons. I think there definitely could’ve been a larger focus on the dragons of the Eastern Kingdom; this book strongly marketed the dragon aspect of its story and it’s not truly a large component. I did find interactions of Tané and her dragon rather endearing, but again, wished there was more. Some of the other characters whose POVs we get in this book are out at sea, and I am slowing finding out I am not a huge fan of reading about ships and sea fare. Maybe I just haven’t found the right book either, but this book isn’t it.

Lastly, the book doesn’t end up being super original by the end. It is a very typical fantasy story, and I’ve read a lot like it before. The end happens very quickly and in not many pages. After reading 800 pages, it would’ve been nice if the buildup to it left me shocked or satisfied, but the end seemed to be inserted there to fit the story within a page limit instead. Also, the enemy is called “The Nameless One” for goodness sake. I’m sure you’ve encountered an evil force named similar before.

I recommend it if you’re new to epic fantasy and want to avoid starting with a long series (but wouldn’t mind this large tome). Also, if you just read a lot of fantasy and you still want to pick it up, it’s not at all a terrible read, just a little long. 🙂

See this review on Goodreads.