Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A young, street-savvy runaway looking for a place to call home realizes he might have conned his way into the wrong family in this fast-paced and thrilling novel from award-winning author Cristin Terrill.

When ten-year-old Daniel Tate went missing from one of California’s most elite communities, he left no trace. He simply vanished.

Six years later, when he resurfaces on a snowy street in Vancouver, he’s no longer the same boy. His sandy hair is darker, the freckles are gone, and he’s initially too traumatized to speak, but he’s alive. His overjoyed family brings him home to a world of luxury and comfort he can barely remember. In time, they assure him, he’ll recover his memories; all that matters now is they’re together again. 

It’s perfect. A miracle. Except for one thing.

He isn’t Daniel Tate.

He’s a petty con artist who accidentally stumbled into the scam of a lifetime, and he soon learns he’s not the only one in the Tate household with something to hide. The family has as many secrets as they have millions in the bank, and one of them might be ready to kill to keep the worst one buried.

I loved Terrill’s debut All our Yesterdays, so I was looking forward to this when I heard about it coming out.

The structure of this is not very standard, there are no definitive chapters, only breaks after scenes. This style worked really well to enforce the stream of consciousness and varying opinions the protagonist expresses and made this hard to put down.

The Tate family has such a strange dynamic and it’s clear that it’s not as perfect as it looks on the outside, but we are only ever privy to rare glimpses of what’s going on underneath. On top of that, the layers of Danny are so confusing, especially when we start to draw parallels between him and the ‘real’ Danny. His imagination is so vivid that when he starts to superimpose the things he’s thinking onto the real world the lines begin to blur as to who he thinks he is and how he fits.

The relationships he fosters with Nicholas and Ren are what begin to unlock everything for the reader. He feels the most real when he’s with these two, and we get the most honesty from him while he’s with them. I began to see him as an individual, he starts to feel that way about himself, and starts craving the possibility of living out a life in the world of the Tates.

As things begin to unravel with the rest of the family it gets even more twisted. The relationship between Patrick and Lex was something I was suspicious of from the start, and the way Jessica interacts with her family was so hot and cold. The way things unraveled wasn’t necessarily surprising, but shocking none the less. I really liked the ending too, things are left kind of open, letting you imagine the story is one of several options, but I like to think that the one told is the real one. It provides a level of closure for all parties, and there is some sense of justice.

Basically, another solid story from Terrill, I cant’ wait to read what she does next.

 

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Review: When Dimple met Rishi

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

This book was so adorable. I needed something swoony and lighthearted and this fit the bill, with some surprisingly poignant cultural commentary.

I really enjoyed watching these two characters, who are both so sure of who they are and what their priorities are, learn they may not have all the answers at eighteen. They bring out such sweet traits in the other, and while doing so learn to find a balance in their own areas that were a bit intense. Rishi becomes more empathetic towards his brother, while Dimple learns to appreciate her parents a bit more. They both learn that they can follow their passion without leaving behind those they care about. And the most interesting aspect for me, they both find a balance between the culture of their parents and that of their home – the U.S.

Beyond the adorable swoon moments, the times when I was literally laughing out loud (I scared the dog), and the teen drama; there were such deep investigations into the life of Indian immigrants. Not only are we seeing the different views of a similar situation with Rishi and Dimple, but we are getting a completely different and detached perspective from the secondary character Hari. I really appreciated the moments where Hinduism was explained and when Rishi talked about how important his family’s history was to him. Not only did I learn more about a corner of Indian culture, I was reminded of my own families immigrant status and how their cultures have influenced my life.

Menon did a fantastic job of  not only creating a thoroughly enjoyable book, but filling it with meaningful content that triggers discussion – such a critical element I think for any book.

 

Review: The Cursed Queen

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Ansa has always been a fighter.

As a child, she fought the invaders who murdered her parents and snatched her as a raid prize. She fought for her place next to Thyra, the daughter of the Krigere Chieftain. She fought for her status as a warrior in her tribe: blood and victory are her way of life. But the day her Krigere cross the great lake and threaten the witch queen of the Kupari, everything changes.

Cursed by the queen with fire and ice, Ansa is forced to fight against an invisible enemy—the dark magic that has embedded itself deep in her bones. The more she seeks to hide it, the more dangerous it becomes. And with the Krigere numbers decimated and the tribe under threat from the traitorous brother of the dead Chieftain, Ansa is torn between her loyalty to the Krigere, her love for Thyra, and her own survival instincts.

With her world in chaos and each side wanting to claim her for their own, only one thing is certain: unless Ansa can control the terrible magic inside her, everything she’s fought for will be destroyed.

I reread The Impostor Queen to prepare me for this, and it wasn’t really necessary given that this is a companion and not a true sequel. It takes place over the same timeline of the first book, while following the new character Ansa – who we was briefly mentioned in the first book.

This was a difficult read for me. I enjoyed Impostor, even though the beginning was a bit slow for me, but I could not get into this and only finished because I want to read the last book in the series and knew I’d need this information. I could not relate to Ansa at all, I found her hypocritical, lovesick (in the worst way), selfish, and incredibly destructive.

The whole structure of this installment just felt messy. It’s choppy and confusing, I’m having trouble following, and none of these are issues I had with the first book, it feels like Fine struggled more with Ansa. On top of the issues with Ansa as a character, I didn’t really buy into attraction between Ansa and Thyra. Ansa is so adamant about ‘strength’ (her version at least) and bloodthirsty. But Thyra is merciful and moral. Those seem like too major of differences to be able to maintain a relationship, especially if you don’t secretly harbor them yourself.

I had such a hard time slogging my way through this, it has serious case of second book syndrome. When we did finally have some progress and she gets over herself it’s so abrupt that I don’t think I really believe it. And with Sig joining the crew and not giving the whole story behind Elli, and knowing how single minded and volatile he can be (like Ansa.  . . ) it’s obviously not going to go well when they meet up with Elli and Oskar.

Revisiting: The Impostor Queen

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Goodreads Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Elli was only a child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic in service of her people. The only life Elli has known has been in the temple, surrounded by luxury, tutored by magic-wielding priests, preparing for the day when the queen perishes—and the ice and fire find a new home in Elli, who is prophesied to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between her love for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must choose the right side before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

This book took me a little while to get invested in, but by about chapter nine I was there. The slow start has a lot of necessary information, establishes an understanding of the life Elli was raised to believe in, and draws clear character traits in Elli. We can see from the beginning that she in inquisitive, fast to love others, and has a fierce belief in herself. It was really interesting watching those elements grow when she was in the outlands and to see how her faith in herself altered and matured.

I enjoyed the new take on ‘the chosen one.’ She is still unique, but she is not at all what she expected to be, and still has to grapple with that revelation to find out how she can still serve her country and her people, while also maintaining a semblance of the life she created for herself outside of the temple.

The romantic entanglements I think are also going to draw a lot of people to this story. When we enter the book Elli is in love with her handmaiden, bringing some diverse relationships into the mix. While it’s never really developed past infatuation, I think it is still a nice element and shows how the YA genre is continuing to try and become more diverse and inclusive. Enter Oskar, who is definitely swoon worthy.  I felt like their relationship was much more real than the one with her handmaiden, and I’m really interested to see what happens with them given the circumstances we left them dealing with.

Overall, I was impressed by the original take on ‘the chosen one,’ the intricacies of the magic in the world, the political backdrop, and the darkness that permeated the conflict of the story. Definitely a series I plan to continue.

Revisiting: The Bitter Kingdom

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Goodreads Summary:

The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.

Oh, this book, this series! It was so much more than I expected and I loved it.

This finale was amazing. At first I was a little worried about the new adventure for this one, with so much going on in the capital was Elisa really going to be able to achieve all she was going after without loosing something? But oh man, Elisa just continued to show how smart and strategic she is and how determined she was to fulfill all of her goals.

One of the things I really loved about this too, was the fact that Elisa is fighting for the ‘big picture’. She wasn’t fighting for a crown she thought only she deserved, she was fighting for her people, for what she knew was the best opportunity for peace and growth within the kingdom and the continent. On top of that she’s fighting for the man she loves, for the friends who have stood by her side, and for understanding of her Godstone and her ‘mission’ as its bearer.

She grew so much in this series and I think it’s a testament to Carson’s writing that it was done in such an organic way. The Elisa we are introduced to in the first book and the one we leave on the last pages of this one are completely different people, but it’s not hard to believe how one became the other. Elisa is an all out warrior by the end of this and I think it’s so amazing that not only is she whip smart, but now physically capable.

Oh Hector. I loved the addition of his POV in this book. It’s the first time in the series we’ve had any voice besides Elisa’s narrating, but it worked really well. His chapters were sparingly placed, and only ever added to the plot progression and character development. It was so much fun getting a look inside his head after getting to know him better in the second book.

I also loved that everyone got their happy ending. It wasn’t easy though, and I think that’s what makes the best happy endings. They all had to fight for what they wanted, and they all come to their conclusions a little broken and a little changed, but also with a better understanding of themselves and a new appreciation for what they are able to keep.

Overall, Loved it! Loved it all! Go read it now if you haven’t already!

My second read of this book left me with many of the same feelings from the first read through. I will again point to the alternating POV, Carson did such a good job creating two distinct voices. It’s very easy to tell when we are reading Hector. And I know I rave about how much I love the relationship between Elisa and Hector, but it’s so rare to find such a strong relationship in this genre. I really loved the involvement of Storm in this, he’s truly become a part of the group and his adaptation to the Joyans plays such a large part into what Elisa is trying to achieve. All the characters go through so many changes, and I loved seeing older characters, like Elisa’s sister, showing up and giving light to just how far they have all come since the first book.

Revisiting: The Crown of Embers

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Goodreads Summary:

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy’s gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she’s lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, much more than I had expected, and this book was simply amazing. We all know I am fan of the squeal, and this book is exactly why.

Elisa goes through a ton of growth in the first book, but this one just keeps pushing her. She’s faced with so many tough decisions, as well as personal issues. She’s being forced to choose her country over herself and it’s taking a tole on her self-esteem. She’s facing push-back from her court, she’s still learning about her Godstone and its meaning, and ultimately she’s growing up. By the end of this book she is truly a woman, no longer giving into old friends or advisers, and learning to trust herself more than she ever has.

While the majority of this book takes place in her palace, the political elements are so action filled that there is never a dull moment. On top of that, we see Elisa developing deeper and more trusting relationships with those around her. She and Mara are beginning to bond, she is learning that she can make decisions without consulting her faithful nurse, and the members of her court like little Rosario, Tristan, and her old cohorts from the East highlight facets of her new growth and ownership of her role as the bearer and queen.

Ultimately though, I think the relationship we all love most is the one that develops between she and Hector. I loved Hector from the start, but watching them work together, seeing them develop deeper emotions for one another, and the strength they imbue in each other is amazing. It’s one of those book romances that you can’t help but get swoony over. I can’t wait to see how they navigate their tenuous relationship in the final installment.

Beyond the amazing relationships that develop in this, there are also some new characters that I really like and can’t wait to see more of. The continuing discoveries about the Godstone are also really interesting and I don’t even know what to expect with that anymore. What I am most excited for though is how Elisa takes her new idea of forming her own destiny – not letting it be formed by those around her and old pieces of parchment – and executes that in this last book. This is definitely one of my new favorite series.

On my second read I had forgotten how quickly Elisa started to resent her nurse Ximena, especially when she begins to meddle in Elisa’s life. Elisa has truly come into her own, but her uncertainty of the new role has her being rash and mercurial – but that’s her growth in this one. She learns how to balance council from others with her personal beliefs and need to appear strong.

The swoon hit me hard again in this, I love the slow burn of Elisa and Hector, and how they trust and respect each other with her decisions and role as queen. As she gains confidence in her role to make decisions, his support is something that I think exacerbates Ximena’s transition from protector and confidant to inhibitor. Elisa outgrows her need for that relationship. I also loved getting old characters from the desert back in this one still, and their friendships help her find a comfort zone in her new role. As well as the new role of Tristain, who becomes a fast favorite, and adds a nice element of diversity to this series.

 

Revisiting: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

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Goodreads Summary:

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king–a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior, and he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young. Most of the chosen do.

I like Carson, I read her most recent book, Walk on Earth a Stranger, before I even really thought about this series. She’s great at world building, and it’s now clear to me now how she got so good at it.

I did not like Elisa, the MC, for about the first third of this book; she was deep in a pit of self pity, naive, and ate her feelings instead of confronting them. However, I did like that even though she knew she was overweight, and she knew (to some level) that she ate to fill a hole in herself, she never really cared all that much about her body. She eventually loses all the weight, but again, I like that it didn’t focus on outward appearance when she did, but reflected her new sense of purpose, she was being active, she was living hard, and she was so mentally stimulated that food was no longer her main priority or source of comfort.

Elisa does go through a lot of growth in this book. She takes on her role as some sort of savior as best she can, finding ways to use her natural talents to be helpful and finding something to fight for. I was not a huge fan of the romance in this one, the guy was nice and all, but there really wasn’t a depth to it. I understand why it happened though, he was the first guy who looked past her weight and her title and gave her a support system that she had never had outside her two attendants.

On a much deeper level, Carson was able to bring some pretty serious religious debates into this novel, and I can see this as being something of a turn off to some readers. I was a bit skeptical when I started getting into the story, but it never becomes preachy or fighting for one interpretation over another, which I thought was a great achievement and was very interesting. One of the things that really struck me was between taking the “word of God” literally or analyzing it. Now, as a Catholic married into a Baptist family, this is a debate I am very familiar with, so it was really interesting to see the different ways that Carson played it out. Overall, the various views of one religion was interesting in general. I could easily get into a pretty intense intellectual discussion about all the ideas and interpretations she highlights in this book, and that alone I think makes this a fantastic read.

On my second read through of this I found myself not having the same distaste for Elisa in the beginning. Elisa’s still insecure and a little naive, but when her mind is set to something she is able to put it behind her. It sets up nicely for how confident and commanding she becomes. I loved the brief but deep interactions with Hector, you can see the foundation of their future relationship forming.  I also really appreciated the role Cosme fills.  She is an intriguing character, and I appreciate her complexity. She’s more then just the female companion, and more than just the mean girl.