ARC Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

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review

3.5/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Children’s Delacorte

+++On the mature side of YA for violence and sexual situations

I wanted to love this story. Mainly because I am a historian and this area is of particular interest to me. PLUS a gender-bending version of Vlad the Impaler? Come on, who wouldn’t want to read that? This book took me a LONG time to read. It takes place over the span of years and the pacing is fairly slow up until late in the book. Most of what takes place is political maneuvering and everyday life. 

Sweeping depictions of the Ottoman Empire, the diversity there, the role of Islam, and the gorgeous scenery. Everything is painted in painstaking detail. You feel the holy glory in every landscape and sprawling city. For anyone who is interested in what the Ottoman Empire was like in its infancy to establishment, this is definitely for you. It’s informative without being too historical, while sticking to accuracy. Some scenes are brutal and graphic, particularly the ways that treason was punished, etc. BUT historically on par! 

Lada, I wasn’t entirely sold on her. A first, she’s this beastly, violent little thing with so much desire and determination in her heart that it hardens her against true emotion. She believes in tough lessons and pain. To have others fear her is to be respected. When Lada hits puberty, it’s a slap in the face that allows her to realize that she is a woman and she does have limitations in Ottoman society, but she refuses to give into their rules. Lada is fiercely herself and that self is not always likable. Sometimes, you might hate her. However, and take this with a grain of salt, when Lada falls in love and accepts her sexual power (I know), she becomes more human. She’s confused and has no female influence to help her through it. She has feelings and emotions and is totally startled and sickened by them, because she doesn’t know what to make of them. At the same time, Lada becomes so consumed by these feelings that she loses sight of her goals and the second half of the story becomes more like a romance than anything else, and as much as I love romance, I feel like part of the story was lost when that shift in focus happened. Part of Lada, her most defined part, was diminished. I think that we can be more than one thing, that Lada’s goals aren’t all she is, but she needed to learn to balance, and she struggled to do so.    

Radu (the story shifts between Lada and Radu’s perspective) is a fascinating character. There are so many layers to who he is. He wears masks, wears his heart on his sleeve, becomes the Ottoman darling, but hides a secret that could destroy him. Radu’s moment of discovery, when he realized that his love for his best friend was more that pure friendship, wow, just incredibly well written. That epiphany is made of terror and honesty, of repercussions and love. It’s bold and beautiful and laced with feels. Radu’s story is poignant and moving. He is undervalued and easily dismissed. He is seen as weak and less than. Radu is insecure, but he’s smart. He wishes people would really see him and recognize that he has things to offer to the world. Islam becomes a safe haven for him and a place to come into his own. It saves him and is the foundation with which he becomes the amazing person he does. 

Radu and Lada’s sibling relationship is complicated and becomes more so as they mature. Their love is a prickly, violent thing that is not always easy and they often resent each other, but when it counts, they’re there for each other. 

Mehmed was a big letdown for me. I kept waiting for him to become more, to be someone I could respect, could root for, but I struggled to find anything that made me want to follow him as a ruler or even a friend. It astounded me that both Lada and Radu put so much of their faith and focus on him when his personality was kinda blah (sure he was hot but…) and his choices were pretty terrible at times. I feel like more scenes to get at the heart of Mehmed, to see exactly when they loved him so much would have helped build up the emotions and shown what was at stake during battles. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Fierce reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: In the Shadows-Kiersten White & Jim Di Bartolo

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4/5 Stars

Scholastic

Release Date: April 29, 2014

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and Scholastic. 

The words charged through her like lightning, a physical sensation she felt to her fingertips. She stood on her tiptoes and pulled his face down, meeting his lips with her own in a kiss so longed and hoped for it was more an act of desperation than passion.

One of Kiersten White’s many talents is her wonderful ability to find the perfect words and combine them into sentences of such flawless simplicity that it’s almost magical. In the Shadows combines Kiersten’s uncanny ability of straightforward, precise writing with Jim Di Bartolo’s dark and gritty artwork. Reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockheart series, In the Shadows is a time machine into the past, incorporating a brilliant Gothic atmosphere, a Penny Dreadful-esque tale of woe and mystery, and illustrations that transition from the past to present. If you’re looking for something unique, a sublime twist on a graphic novel with intersections of haunting artwork, In the Shadows will immerse you in the old world and chill you to the bone. 

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Sister’s Cora and Minnie live in a seaside town, daughters to the local boarding house owner, Cora and Minnie are constantly looking for adventure and in a town like theirs, quiet and small, it’s hard to come by. Cora and Minnie live through stories, tales of a witch, of haunted caves, and a ghostly church. Starved for fun, the girls are prone to dares and rash behavior. One day, while racing around the witch’s house, Cora is determined to beat her sister. Going where no one has gone before, Cora climbs the witch’s house, never expecting to be met with the woman herself. A horrible incident later, Cora is a changed girl, no longer the carefree, rambunctious dreamer she use to be.When a random supposed relative lands on their doorstep without explanation, Minnie is immediately obsessed with unveiling the truth. Who is Arthur, how are they related, and does his heart beat as quickly as hers does when she looks at him?

Arthur arrives at an address unsure of his purpose with a suitcase full of documents that tore his family to pieces. Shaken, lost, and alone, a green beetle colors his nightmares and his waking hours.

Minnie yearns for the sister she use to know and love but can’t seem to find a way to bring her out of her shell. So, when two new lodgers, boys close to their own age come to stay, Minnie sees this as the perfect opportunity to get Cora to loosen up. 

Charles and Thomas were shipped off by their father to this sleepy seaside town under the pretense of Charles’ health but Thomas knows better. Having overheard a strange conversation between his father and a woman in the dead of night, Thomas is certain their lives are in danger and their father is hiding something from them. 

When the woman who Thomas heard with his father confronts him on the street, Thomas knows that they’re in grave peril. Who are these people, how powerful are they, and what business do they have with Minnie, Cora, and Arthur?


From the remarkable imagination of acclaimed artist Jim Di Bartolo and the exquisite pen of bestselling author Kiersten White comes a spellbinding story of love, mystery, and dark conspiracy, told in an alternating narrative of words and pictures.

Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.

Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it … but they can’t.

-via Goodreads

PROS:

  • Pay attention. Every clue matters, even the smallest. The story is meticulously plotted, each element links with another forming a chain of tidbits that combine to make a shocking and horrific revelation.
  • The story is eerie. The hints of wickedness, the sinister uncertainty of characters, their intentions, and the general atmosphere is enough to put anyone on edge. The secrets and the unknown cross the line between a twisted reality and an even more grotesque supernatural. The fact that you can never be certain puts the reader in a precarious situation, increasing the suspense and the thrill of each new bit of information. Like the characters, the reader won’t know what to believe.
  • The artwork is to die for. It’s creepy, full of cold colors, shadows, and malicious faces. It’s off, like a nightmarish dreamscape in a fiery Hell. The notes are puzzling, adding to the overall mystique of the pictorial storyline. There are some seriously, hideously horrific and beastly images.
  • There are three story lines that intersect and merge into one. Cora and Millie’s story, Thomas and Charles’, and Arthur’s. Each is linked with something so evil and ancient that binds them together in their plight to triumph over their adversaries. The sheer intersectionality of the subplots with the master story is genius. The way they seamlessly merge into one is incredible. You’ll never see the climax coming. When all the cards are played out, the truth is so unexpected and nefarious that it will leave you dazed, struggling to recover. When I finished this book, I had to mull over it for a few days just to process what happened.
  • Arthur’s story is by far the most intriguing. Arthur is that character that you’re not sure if you can trust. He seeps into the shadows, purposely places himself on the sidelines, ever watching, ever listening. Conflicted about his past, guarding terrible secrets, and heart darkened by images that can’t be unseen, Arthur is a complex character. Beneath this hazy outer visage is a heart filled with deep protectiveness for Minnie and Cora, and striking resolve to combat the forces that destroyed his family and threatened these pure souls.
  • The cult-like, malevolent presence of the antagonists is extremely scary. Their ability to randomly appear, to pervert and mar, threatening the main characters and killing on whim, takes away all measure of safety. The hopelessness couples with genuine fear to make a truly frightening enemy.
  • Minnie is a golden burst of sunshine, she’s bold and loveable. She’s flirty and teasing in a charming and endearing way that is sure to win over some hearts. Her fierce heart allows her to make risks and fight without wavering. She’s a firestarter and survivor.
  • Charles’ story is incredibly sad but beautifully done in a soulful, heartwarming way akin to Louisa May Alcott’s style in Little Women. He’s so full of light and laughter, and that quiet resolve to live his life to the fullest and to not be taken down by his circumstances. He’s hardy in his soul.

CONS:

  • At first, the pictures are really confusing, they don’t seem to make sense or have anything to do with the story at all. Be patient. It will make sense at the end.
  • The alternating perspectives and character voices can be a little overwhelming and easy to mix up so that the story feels a bit scattered at times but the pieces are woven closer together as the story progresses. Think of them like pieces in the same puzzle that when complete make a clearer picture.
  • Some sections are slow. If you’re not used to Gothic this might frustrate you.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

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Pleasant reading, 

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Review: Mind Games- Kiersten White

3.5/5 Stars

Mind Games (Mind Games, #1)- Kiersten White

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I look at our hands again and I know my hand doesn’t fit in his like it should. Someone else’s will. Someone else whose hands aren’t impossibly broken. Someone else whose soul isn’t impossibly broken. But I want to pretend to be her.

We are a matched set of perfect liars, perfectly destroyed people, perfect for destruction. 

There’s something so beautifully simple about Kiersten White’s writing that it’s almost poetic. It’s clean, uncomplicated, and yet so full of depth. Kiersten also writes about love unlike any other YA writer I’ve come across. It’s never clear cut, there are always complications but there’s never a doubt that when two characters are perfect for each other, they’ll end up together but it’s sure one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

Plot: Sofia and Annie are special. They both have unique abilities that earn them a spot at the prestigious Keane school. Sofia (Fia) has an uncanny way of knowing what the best decision is in any situation because she can sense the level of wrongness. Annie is blind but she has visions of the future. At first the Keane school seems like the ideal place for Annie, they offer her all the latest technology for blind people and even run state of the art tests in hopes of curing her specific form of blindness. Fia is hesitant to attend the school because her instincts tell her it’s wrong but Annie is so hopeful and after their parents death, it’s been a long time since Annie has been happy. Fia is willing to sacrifice everything for her sister, her love is boundless, and she puts her sister’s happiness above her own. As Fia gets deeper and deeper in the Keane system she discovers that the school is not what it seems to be. The Keane school is made up of women like Annie and Fia who have special mental abilities. As Annie and Fia become more entwined in the inner system of the school, Keane recognizes Fia as the more useful sister, she can pick stocks, has excellent reflexes, and is so sneaky she can steal anything. Mr. Keane threatens Annie’s life she that Fia will do his bidding and Fia learns what it’s like to take innocent lives. Fia doesn’t know how to deal with the guilt and starts to hate herself and what she is capable of, and Annie can never understand her predicament so they drift farther apart. Mr. Keane’s son James is Fia’s greatest source of bliss and anguish. Fia wants to escape but with mind readers she can never plan. Everything is going relatively well until the day Fia is told to assassinate Adam. Adam is everything good in the world. Fia knows she has to kill him but can’t bring herself to do it. Fia knows that Annie’s life is in danger and she has to lie better than she ever has to save her sister and protect Adam against all odds.

PROS:

  • James is a sexy, sarcastic, twisted bad boy with a dark past and a lot of bitterness towards his father. He knows he’s broken, and destined for evil but will fight to destroy his father from the inside out, and do anything in his power to save Fia from self-destruction. Beneath his hard exterior, James is a caring, loving, beautifully scarred character who will win your heart even when you yearn to hate him.
  • Adam. Perfect, hopeful, sweet, adorable Adam. Adam is a beacon of hope, and represents all the wonderful possibilities of love, and goodness for the future, he is the simple, joyful love that Fia could have had if she’d only let herself forgive the sins of her past.
  • Fia is like a rare, gorgeous butterfly with a broken wing. Fia is constantly trying to rise above her circumstances but is dragged down by her loyalty to her sister and goal to keep Annie innocent of the evils she’s had to commit. Fia is a multidimensional, unique character who is so authentic and easy to identify with the you are swept away by her strength.

CONS:

  • Annie is so selfish, and makes various assumptions that only further complicate Fia’s life and damage her psychologically. You get the impression that she thinks of herself before her sister’s emotional, and physical wellness, and that even though she knows Fia is messed up, her benefits outweigh Fia’s trauma.
  • The jumping from past to present and between perspectives was a little daunting so that the story felt jumbled, and not so much mysterious as confused.

Overall, it was okay.

I’ve been very lax on my review writing as of late because of school and then a communion, a funeral, and a variety of other unexpected events. However, my work paid off and I got straight A’s 🙂 Now that all of this chaos is finally simmering down I aim to get reviews out regularly like I have in the past. I still have Until I Die- Amy Plum, Through the Ever Night- Veronica Rossi, and Vesper- Jeff Sampson to get out. I also have an upcoming YA Shades update with review links.

Pleasant reading friends,

-BB