Book Review: Because You Love to Hate Me

35651100Rating Three Star

Title: Because You Love to Hate Me – 13 Tales of Villainy

Author: Various, all listed below. Edited by Ameriie.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury Australia in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been very curious about this anthology ever since it was announced last year. Generally, the authors in the young adult community have a very strong social media presence, allowing them to interact with readers and bloggers on a daily basis. This collaboration between YA authors and some influential booktubers takes this relationship to a whole new level, and I was excited to see how this partnership would unfold. As with anthologies in general, I found this one a bit of a mixed bag – but it’s centred on villains, and I love to LOVE them. You can find short reviews of each individual story below.

Because You Love to Hate Me

The Blood of Imuriv by Renee Ahdieh, prompt by Christine Riccio

First Line: Everywhere Rhone walked, the nightmares followed.

I’m a fan of Renee Ahdieh’s descriptive writing style, but I felt this story lacked tension and was heavy on info-dump. The short story format does not lend itself well to adequate world-building, and although the story was set in space – the location and period could have changed and I would not have noticed any difference. I also found the story unfolded in a very clunky manner, with the villain’s internal monologue and motivation ringing false, perhaps this due to how restrictive and specific the prompt was. Continue reading “Book Review: Because You Love to Hate Me”

Book Review: Daughter of the Burning City

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Rating Three Star

Title: Daughter of the Burning City

Author: Amanda Foody

Series? No

Rating: 3/5 Stars

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Daughter of the Burning City is an intoxicating murder mystery unfolding in the middle of a dark and mysterious magical circus. At the centre of this novel is Sorina, a girl with no eyes, yet graced with the ability to weave complex and realistic illusions – some of whom serve as her closest companions. Personally, I loved the evocative writing and discovering the dark corners of Gomorrah’s festival. However, the characterisation and plot were a little thin, and I found the book ultimately predictable.

Daughter of the Burning City

Amanda Foody’s writing is immersive and incredibly visual, it’s hard to believe that this is her debut novel. From the very first scene, she captures the reader’s every sense with descriptions of the sights and sounds of the Gomorrah Festival’s Freak Show. The setting and characters were easy to visualise, and like Sorina’s audience, I was captivated. I also appreciated the attention to detail that went into the realisation of Gomorrah, even the taste of kettlecorn are described in a memorable manner. Continue reading “Book Review: Daughter of the Burning City”

Book Review: The Waking Land

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Rating Three Star

Title: The Waking Land

Author: Callie Bates

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Waking Land offset the wonders of magic with human imperfections through the journey of the book’s complicated heroine, Elanna Valtai. Raised by a king who branded her father a traitor to the realm, Elanna grew up believing that her people are ignorant and unworthy. The Waking Land has a lot of potential, but falters at times with its portrayal of Elanna’s characterisation, and with maintaining a consistent pacing. For me, the book ended up being a compelling but unmemorable read.
The Waking Land

One of the largest underlying conflict in The Waking Land is the oppression of the Caerisians by the new ruling class. I am always cautious when I see fantasy races used as a tool to commentate on racism, as when not done in a respectful manner, it can be quite hurtful to marginalised readers. However, The Waking Land takes care to constantly challenge Elanna’s thoughts and the institutionalised racism around her – the text constantly questions the prejudices that drives royalty and noblewomen of Laon to jeer at Elanna’s skin colour and Caerisian parentage. Continue reading “Book Review: The Waking Land”

Book Review: Flame in the Mist

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Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes.

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Hachette Australia/Date A Book in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book as part of the #AsianLitBingo challenge, you can check out my TBR for it here.

While Flame in the Mist was an enjoyable read overall, I felt somewhat let-down because of its immense potential to be remarkable. The premise promised greatness: a fantasy set in an alternate feudal Japan, featuring a cross-dressing noble lady skilled at invention and her time amongst lordless samurai warriors. I expected Flame in the Mist to sweep me off my feet. However, issues with inconsistent character development and pacing meant the book missed the mark for me.

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Flame in the Mist follows Mariko Hattori, daughter of a prominent daimyou, as she attempts to exact her revenge on The Black Clan. She believes this notorious mountain-based samurai gang is responsible for the death of her servants and foot soldiers, as part of an effort to assassinate her. Mariko infiltrates The Black Clan by disguising as a young male traveler. Before she knows it, Mariko is embroiled in a net of intrigue involving a lost shogun and a struggle for nationwide dominance.

First of all, I just wanted to say that Flame in the Mist is not retelling of Mulan – because it’s something I keep hearing on Twitter. Both stories have a cross-dressing heroine, and that’s where the similarities end. Japan and China are separate countries, and Mulan is not a folklore they share.

One of the things I was glad to see in Flame in the Mist is how different Mariko is from Renee Ahdieh’s previous protagonist, Shazi. Mariko is more of an observer and a thinker, someone who weighs up all of her options before acting. Due to this, at times her narration can seem repetitive and sedate. Despite the her tendency to lapse into long internal monologues, I appreciated that Mariko was the main driver of her story. It’s her actions that continually propelled the plot forwards, in spite of the machinations around her.

I must admit that I found many of the secondary characters to be lacking in dimension. Aside from Okami and Ranmaru, who had development thanks to their many interactions with Mariko – the rest of the cast suffered. I never felt that Mariko formed am authentic or lasting bond with The Black Clan. Similarly, the side story featuring Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, and his love interest fell a little flat. The book did try to address the sexism inherent within Mariko’s society, and I commend it for featuring several key female characters. Towards the end, there are hints that more of these characters will take centre-stage in the sequel – so I look forward to seeing the gender roles explored further.

My main issue with Flame in the Mist came from most of the book’s characterisation being told rather than shown. The book kept telling me about the brilliance of Mariko’s mind, how mysterious Okami is, how Ranmaru’s presence exudes power and command – but I was never convinced as they did little to back these claims up. The primary romance in the novel also suffered due to similar lack of development. One moment, our protagonists were eyeing one another with disinterest and hostility, the next they were utterly consumed by lust. I did like the interactions between them once the romance begun, but I am still perplexed on how it happened.

As for the world building, I admit I was a little disappointed by Flame in the Mist’s vision of Japan. Having read The Wrath and the Dawn, I know the author is capable of ensnaring all of our senses when it comes to setting. The Japan in Flame in the Mist seems a bit like a theme park. Samurai? Check. Emperors? Check. Maiko and geisha? Check. Teahouses? Check. Ninja? Check (you can’t tell me that Mariko’s inventions aren’t directly copied off ninja devices!) Youkai? Check. Lengthy description of kimono? Check. I also found the use of the Japanese vocabulary inconsistent and confusing, as it seems the author could not decide whether she wanted to use the English or the Japanese equivalent of certain words, and constantly fluctuated between them. Mercifully, this was limited to the first few chapters of the novel.

Overall, I am still invested enough in the story to check out the sequel. I would recommend it if you’re looking for a non-Western YA fantasy – especially as it seems I am amongst the minority when it comes to this book.


Have you read Flame in the Mist? What are some of your favourite books set in Japan?

Book Review: This Is Where The World Ends

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Title: This Is Where The World Ends

Author: Amy Zhang

Rating: 3/5 stars

Series? No

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This Is Where The World Ends is filled with beautiful and haunting writing. Part teenage love story, part whodunnit mystery – it’s enthralling and engaging. However, the characters and relationship fell a little flat for me, robbing the book of its full impact.

Everything ends. This is obvious. This is the easy part. This is what I believe in: the inevitable, the catastrophe, the apocalypse.

This-Is-Where-The-World-Ends

Once upon a time, there was twelve princesses. No, wait. There was only one princess, and one prince. They snuck out of the house at night and danced in the moonlight.

Firstly, I would like to say that Amy Zhang can write. I found out that she’s currently in her teens – which is at once astonishing and thrilling, as I can’t wait to read what she pens next. Her proses are simple yet lyrical, cutting you right to the bone with each sentence. With This Is Where The World Ends, Zhang also employs imageries wonderfully – alluding to both fairy tales and apocalypses with poetic ease. Although the book is realistic fiction and strictly confines itself to the contemporary world – the whimsical nature of the writing pushes past these boundaries. At times, it felt like I was reading magical realism, which is one of my favourite genres!

They press and press information, but my brain is liquid. The touch the surface and it ripples and then it goes blank again.

The set up of the plot is also endlessly intriguing. I devoured this book in about two hours in my eagerness to get to the bottom of its mystery. It alternates between two point of views and timeline. Firstly: Micah’s present narrative: desperate to piece together the night of the fire – although his mind has been hopelessly altered by the event. Secondly: Janie’s everyday girl musings of the events leading up to the incident. We also get glimpses of Janie’s fairy tale journal – complete with intricate Skarpie (it’s cheaper than Sharpier!) doodles – and a perfect echo of her chaotic, imaginative and inimitable soul. It was a great analogy for the events in her life – and by the time you finish this book, you’ll understand that metaphors are everything to Janie.

She always kept a marker and a match and at least five rocks in her pocket: the marker to write, the match to wish and burn, and the rock to keep her grounded.

While it should be quite obvious that I was smitten by the writing and the structure of the narrative, the book falters when it comes to characterisation. I truly struggled to relate to Janie – she was a dichotomy: part manic pixie dream girl, part spoilt rich kid caricature. Janie believes in fire and permanent markers and solid rock. Janie believes in art and self-expression. Janie believes that Micah is her soulmate. Yet, Janie is also trapped in the makings of societal expectations. She dates popular jocks and hangs out in what self-stylised ‘convenient friendships’. She refuses to acknowledge Micah’s existence at school. She lives according to the very rules that she despises. Small acts of rebellion aside, Janie was quite the hypocrite. Of course, that was the point and the tragedy of it all – but I just did not find her endearing. I felt that we needed to get into her head space a little more – as I was never truly invested.

She said that we shared a soul. What does that mean? She said that we were an atom. I don’t know, Dewey. I think she’s crazy.

Then there’s Micah, who’s passive personality grates me to no end. He simultaneously assumed to role of childhood love, soulmate, and nice guy – always there for Janie but never having his love reciprocated fully. All he gets are stolen moments in the dead of the night, as they played at being Justice around town. Micah constantly allowed himself to be manipulated by Janie – every time he seems to be free from her influences, he slips right back in. It’s an uncomfortable, almost abusive relationship – with Micah being equally at complicit. He lacked his own identity and was constantly being moulded and lead by Janie.

No one is going to believe me.
No one is going to help because no one is going to listen, because he told his story first and he told it better.

However, just as the book is meandering on about what seems to surmount to a teenage love triangle – the book sucker punches you with its main theme: probably readily apparent to anyone who has looked at the cover in detail. Janie’s tragedy is not confined to an identity crisis or her selfishness – she also becomes a  victim of slut shaming and sexual assault. The book offers no easy way out and solution, instead – we are faced with the full brunt of the ugliest side to high school bullying. It’s difficult and uncomfortable, it gets under your skin. Needless to say, the book is not one for the faint-hearted.

Despite the book’s heavy issues and grand mystery – my conflicting feelings regarding characterisation and relationships meant that I was robbed of the book’s climactic impact. I have the sneaking suspicion the book wanted me at some corner in foetal position by its conclusion – instead, I was dry-eyed and felt somewhat cheated of my emotional catharsis. This book could have been so much more, I wanted it to be so much more!


Aside from my issues with characterisation – I think this is one beautifully written novel. As the issues and character dynamics the novel deal with is so extreme, I think you’ll have to check this one out yourself before passing your verdict.

Guest Review: Lips Touch

3star

Title: Lips Touch: Three Times

Author: Laini Taylor

Rating: 3/5 stars

Series? No. Anthology.

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NOTE: This is a prescheduled post. I am on holiday, so I will reply to all your comments when I get back mid-December! Take care 😀

This review is brought to you by the fantabulous Jeann of Happy Indulgence. I was crying to Jeann about I am falling way behind on my blogging schedule as I was going on holiday, so she kindly offered to write a review to help me out. THANK YOU JEANN!

LipsTouch

Lips Touch: Three Times shares three dark stories with us, of varying degrees of intricacy.

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I can see why Goblin Fruit was the first one in the book, it slowly eases us into the highly imaginative brain of Laini Taylor. Kizzy is a girl who was plain and just wanted to be loved, so when a goblin posed as a handsome boy at her class, she couldn’t say no even when it was too late. It very much felt like a typical paranormal, but one with a dark and sad twist to it. It definitely felt very Grim, with the message of “be careful what you wish for”.

How then, had her knife come to be on Kizzy’s pillow, and her swan’s wing, torn feather from feather, in Kizzy’s room?

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This was my favourite story of the lot, inspired by Hindi’s version of heaven and hell. There’s black magic here, curses, karma, and Indian mythology which was really fascinating. Ana is a wonderful character who was so sweet and careful, as speaking or singing will result in the immediate death of everyone within earshot. She was probably one of the most relatable characters in the book and I really liked her.

There are other ways of showing someone you love them, such as fetching them out of Hell.

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The longest and most convoluted story of the lot, Hatchling explores the perspective of several characters, including a druj (demon) queen, another druj, a mother, and her daughter. I liked the story behind it, but having multiple point of views and a lot happening was too ambitious for the short story format. There’s a lot of flash backs and multiple perspectives which made it difficult to wrap my head around, especially with all these Eastern terms and mythology I just did not understand.

She was a girl and she was a queen and back in the mists she was a woman who had seized the moon from the sky and drunk its light so that she would never die. And she never had.


Laini Taylor has a whimsical imagination which successfully delivers some wonderful, twisted dark fairy tales all revolving around a kiss. I wish I prepared myself for the dark themes inside though, there’s rape, gore, cussing, kidnapping, death and more. While I’m usually tolerant of these themes, I was quite disturbed when out of the blue I stumbled upon “butterfly rape” and “swollen lips that wanted to eat humans”. Teaches me to think Disney before I read fairy tales….

With the exquisite, rich exploration and even combination of darker themes and different mythologies, this book kind of lost me at several places. Most would find this exciting and intriguing, but I was just confused half the time

Lips Touch: Three Times reflects my difficulty to connect to short stories, but it’s another example of Laini Taylor’s lush, beautiful and exquisite writing. Unfortunately I found it erred on the side of weird rather than whimsical at times, and it’s definitely more of a mature YA read rather than childhood fairy tales. The three fairy tales are incredibly unique and dark, based on mythology, folklore and Laini Taylor’s imagination which is an imaginative artform in itself.


Thank you Jeann for your review! I have to say, I am intrigued by the dark stories in this anthology, I’ll have to check it out.

Loved this review? Find Jeann at:  HAPPY INDULGENCE  //  INSTAGRAM  //  TWITTER  //  GOODREADS  //  YOUTUBE

Book Review: Night Owls

3star
Title: Night Owls (US Title: The Anatomical Shape Of A Heart)

Author: Jenn Bennet

Series? No

Rating: 3/5

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I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Australia in exchange for an honest review.

My opinion of this book changed several times during the read. I alternated between thinking it was adorable and wanting to shake some sense into the characters. Ultimately, the ending of Night Owls placed firm importance on family and love, which means I parted with the book on a happy note.

Book-Review-Night-Owls

I prefer the UK cover, but I like the US title better. I AM TORN.

NightOwlsLikedThe focus on arts!

You’re no HB. You’re like ten Prismacolours all at once.

Jenn Bennett mentioned in the author’s note that she wanted to celebrate artists: not just the ones in museums and galleries – but every day people and their attempts at self expressions. Both our protagonists are very much defined by their passion for art – with Bex exploring human anatomy, while Jack practices beautiful yet illegal street art. I enjoyed that they both had an identity outside their mutual attraction, and that they found a kindred spirit in one another.
Continue reading “Book Review: Night Owls”

Book Review: Ice Like Fire

IceLikeFire

3star

Title: Ice Like Fire

Author: Sara Raasch

Series? Yes. 2 of 3.

Rating: 3/5

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I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins Australia in exchange for an honest review.

Contains spoilers for Snow Like Ashes!

This was one of my most anticipated release for the latter half of 2015, as I absolutely loved Snow Like Ashes. Unfortunately, Ice Like Fire suffers from a fierce case of Middle Book Slump, it has little of the spark that initially ignited my love for Meira and the Winterians. Today, I’ll look at why middle books often do not work for me, and how Ice Like Fire fell trap to all these factors.IceLikeFire-Review

The Worldbuilding Lacks Depth

One of the reasons that keeps me reading a fantasy series is the world, and the expansion of the world with every instalment. For example, Harry Potter, I could stay on board every step of the way as there was always new corners of the wizarding world to explore. Whether it be the hidden Room of Requirement or an international Quidditch tournament.

Cordell, with its green and gold and fields of lavender; Yakim, with its brown and brass and gears; Ventralli, with its eclectic styles and colourful buildings..

With Ice Like Fire, we did get to explore numerous new kingdoms: Summer, Yakim and Ventralli. Unfortunately, while we got to see multiple new places, none of the new location had any depth to them. The kingdoms are differentiated by very superficial factors. Summer ruled by an indulgent king, only interested in parties and debauchery. There’s the strict and bookish world of Yakim, seemingly modelled after England during the Industrialisation period. Finally, there’s the dramatic, treasonous Ventralli, whose intentions are hidden behind elegant masks. These separate kingdoms are walking stereotypes, and Meira never gets to learn more about the culture of these places. My understanding of Primoria did not expand, despite the numerous pages we spent extolling on the qualities of Summer’s wine and Yakim’s knowledge. Continue reading “Book Review: Ice Like Fire”

Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

3star

Title: The Heart Goes Last

Author:  Margaret Atwood

Rating: 3/5 stars

Series? No

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Note: I received this book from Allen & Unwin in exchange for an honest review.

It’s been a really long time since my last Margaret Atwood book (The Handmaid’s Tale) – this one is completely different from my previous experience. In fact, the book is so wacky, high on both sex and depraved characters, my poor gray brain could barely compute it. But here goes my attempt at a review.

The Heart Goes Last Margaret Atwood

That didn’t last though. The happiness. The safeness. The now.

The book follows Charmaine and Stan, who inhabits a near-future where social order has collapsed due to some sort of economic crisis. Like many others, Stan is left jobless – while Charmaine’s gig as a waitress is barely covering their coffee bills, let alone rent. When we meet them, the married couple has been living in their cars for months, in constant fear of vandals and rapists and thugs and worse. Needless to say, when they are recruited by Consilience to become test subjects for an outlandish social experiment, the two jump at the chance to sleep in a real bed once more. All they have to do in exchange for their new life is to live in prison every alternate month. Continue reading “Book Review: The Heart Goes Last”

Book Review: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights, E. K. Johnston3star

Title: A Thousand Nights

Author:  E. K. Johnston

Series? No.

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ok, so A Thousand Nights was not nearly as amazing as its perfectly stunning cover.  However, aside from its slow, meandering plot, the books had several merits and I would not hesitate to recommend it if your TBR is looking empty.

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Every time, the story began the same way. Lo-Melkhiin picked one girl and took her back to his qasr to be his wife. Some in his keeping lasted one night, some as many as thirty, but in the end all were food for sand-crows.

A fairy tale retelling of 1001 Nights, this story follows an unnamed narrator, who volunteered as tribute when Lo-Melkhiin visits her village to save her ‘sister’.  Like Scheherazade before her, she finds herself surviving the ordeal beyond the first night, and begins to work at ending the cycle of violence.

The Writing:  An Abundance In Purple Proses

I think the most memorable thing about this book is its writing, for better or for worse. The writing in A Thousand Nights is very descriptive, sometimes excessively so.  I understand that the author was going for the whimsical feel of an old tale, but I felt the writing missed the mark on several occasions.  There are times when I think the similes or writing conventions used bordered on pretentious.  This is coming from someone who unabashedly love a bit of purple prose – so if you already have an aversion to these kinds of writing, I think it’s best you stay away.  Here’s the most ridiculous passage in this book:

In the fire of our twelfth summer, before we were proficient enough with our needles to stitch the purple cloth, but after we had come in from the herds, my mother and my sister’s mother told us the story of our father’s father’s father, and how he had become our smallgod.

*dies a little*  Aside from the antagonist, Lo-Melkhiin, barely anyone else in this book has a name.  So we have crazy things like father’s father’s father and mother’s mother’s mother flying around.  Again, I know the effect the book was trying to achieve, but I couldn’t helo feeling it was so contrived.  I do have to admit that on occasions when the writing does pull off its ambitious and luscious proses, the effect is quite gorgeous, here are some of my favourite examples:

Where our skin touched, there was a fire of a different kind.  I thought I could see it, threads of gold and blue, desert sand and desert sky, bleeding from my body into his.

No single tale that I could draw from would save my sister from a short and cruel marriage, but I had pieces aplenty. I held them in my hands like so many grains of sand, and they slipped from me, running through my fingers, even as I tried to gather more. But I knew sand… I knew that I had only to hold it for long enough, to find the right kind of fire, and the sand would harden into glass- into something I could use.

2. The Scheherazade:  A Female Centric Tale

I had long ago resigned to a life in the shadow of my sister, my elder by ten moons and my year-twin. She was the beauty, I was the spare.

Instead of being focused on the romantic aspect of the story, like The Wrath and The Dawn, this book highlight the friendship between the narrator and her sister.  Even when she is taken to Lo-Melkhiin’s qsar, the narrator’s thoughts remain on her sister and how to keep her safe.  I love that the stories she tells Lo-Melkhiin are ones of her sister, of how beautiful and bright she burns, and of how he shall never have her.  There’s in fact no real focus on romance at all, which is refreshing to see – but fresh off the high of The Wrath and The Dawn, it did make me mourn for what could have been.

I enjoyed the mythology hinted at in the novel, especially one involving the devotion of friends or family turning someone into a smallgod, capable of small miracles.  Demons also make an appearance in the novel, though I felt that the supernatural element of the story was never fully fleshed out.  We see the narrator hallucinate, literally weaving visions out of cloth, but we are never quite told how it happens.  I wish the book wasn’t so wishy-washy about the magical aspect of the story, as it took up quite a bit of the text.

3.  The Pacing:  Slow and Directionless

Honestly, the most disappointing aspect of this novel is the turtle pacing of the plot.  As soon as the narrator reaches the qasr, all kind of action stagnated.  She spends her day shuffling from gardens, to weaving room, to servant’s quarter, all relatively uneventful.  Aside from her seemingly random vision, nothing was driving the story forward.  We were made aware there’s a menacing presence lurking within Lo-Melkhiin, however neither it nor the narrator made any real effort to challenge the other person.  I was bored to tears in between the long winded descriptions and the stasis of the plot.  Hence, despite the GORGEOUS cover and palatable writing, I can’t rate it higher than a 3 stars out of 5.


If you’re looking for an excellent 1001 Nights retelling, go read In The Night Garden by Catherynne Valente instead.  If you’re looking for a romantic story in s similar setting, just go read The Wrath and The Dawn.  I’d save this one for a rainy day.