"..he had a dreaminess to his eyes as well, as if he were somehow fundamentally unmoored from the world, perpetually startled by its sharp edges and small cruelties."
'The Chosen and the Beautiful' by Nghi Vo is a faithful re-telling of The Great Gatsby, wrapped lovingly.. and perhaps a little obsessively, within the cool contours of magical realism.
Though I normally like my re-tellings to vary enough that they can be difficult to recognize at first glance, this one is so full of interesting, creative magical elements and interpersonal nuances that I think varying from the original tale too much would have done it a disservice.
Told from the perspective of Jordan Baker, a queer adoptee originally from Tonkin/Vietnam by a wealthy white family, she has access to social tiers others would not have in the 1920's. She's free-spirited and has the money to pretty much do whatever she likes with her time and that just so happens to mean lots of exclusive parties. While it seems she has everything, she's still treated as an almost collectible oddity by her peers and the most important things remain behind sealed doors for her.
"..soul gone and some terrible engine he called love driving him now, I could see that for him, the world was always ending. For him, it was all a wreck and a ruin, and he had no idea why the rest of us weren't screaming."
Gatsby and Daisy, Nick and Tom, even the Wilsons are all still present here. Yet some of the dynamics have changed, modernizing the feel of the atmosphere. I enjoyed the way the reveal at the end was tucked away, marked only by character reactions and small side comments.. never directly addressed. At first pass, the scene just feels a bit off.. like there's something that doesn't quite make sense.. and then it does.
Tinged with Faustian themes, the author gives us a much more visually vibrant world, however. The magic is otherworldly.. life seemingly made of paper, ghosts sharing space with the living, and all sorts of other intrigues.
I loved the infernal twist on the bootlegging business and really enjoyed the way obsession was explored. It went far beyond just two people in this telling and became more of a spiral of obsession instead.. with one always drawn inexorably toward another until all were essentially connected. At times, the book reads like a fever dream.. and disoriented, you wonder if that's real or if it's the character being affected.
"She was half out of her robe like a snowdrop unsheathed after the winter, fragile and more than a little raw."
Vo is a beautifully lyrical writer who does an excellent job of creating an underlying premonition of dread while dazzling the reader with exuberant scenes and imaginative illusions. If you like a bit of mystery or a sense of fatalism in your stories, read this book. I promise you will not make it all the way through without finding at least one surprise waiting.
Continue below to read my revew of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour for 'THE IMMORTAL GAME' brought to you by TBR & BEYOND TOURS, SWOON READS/MACMILLAN, TALIA ROTHSCHILD and A.C. HARVEY!
The Immortal Game
May 25th, 2021
Swoon Reads / Macmillan Children's Publishing Group
Content Warning: Emotional abuse, battle scenes, up-close death
An exiled goddess goes on a quest to clear her name and save Mount Olympus in Talia Rothschild & A. C. Harvey’s action-packed young adult debut, The Immortal Game!
Galene, daughter of Poseidon, desperately wants to earn her place among the gods. But when a violent attack leaves Mount Olympus in chaos and ruins, she is accused of the crime. Banished from Olympus, Galene sets out to prove her innocence and discovers a more deadly plot—one that threatens even the oldest of Immortals.
Fortunately, she has allies who willingly join her in exile:
A lifelong friend who commands the wind.
A defiant warrior with deadly skill.
A fire-wielder with a hero’s heart.
A mastermind who plays life like a game.
All-out war is knocking at the gates. Galene and her friends are the only ones who can tip the scales toward justice, but their choices could save Olympus from total annihilation, or be the doom of them all.
rating: ★ ★ ★ (3/5 stars)
'The Immortal Game' by Talia Rothschild and A.C. Harvey tells the story of Galene, a daughter of Poseidon. When unexpected violence brings death to Mount Olympus, she is exiled for the crime. Separated from the home she loves, Galene's only hope of vindication lies in proving she's not to blame.
On a self-imposed mission to clear her name, the goddess discovers a far more sinister plot that threatens all she holds dear and could see even the most powerful Olympians lost. With a group of friends who follow her willingly into exile, she just might stand a chance.
This story is basically a classic mythology quest in the vein of the Labours of Hercules. The goddess and her group face a long journey with many trials along the way and it's questionable if all will survive through the end. Somewhat less traditional, it moves a bit more like an Indiana Jones film, whereas it's pretty fast-paced and something is always happening. If they're not trying to escape death or capture, they're trying to work their way through some other challenge.
With the possibility of war looming, there are others moving around on the proverbial board as well and that turns the journey into a bit of a race against time. The book was actually a quick read because it was so easy to get invested in the hopeful outcome for the characters and there's always so much going on.. I didn't really want to put it down.
Complicated relationships between some of the party members made for some intriguing dynamics. There's so much tension at times it seems the group might just implode and never see the quest to its completion.
Galene is a likeable character and a strong, female protagonist. It was nice to see a truly supportive female friendship, rather than having to watch them try to rise above one another amongst the others. Overall, I was a big fan of Kostas and Braxtus, but the latter especially has a lot of layers to him and I always appreciate a good substory.
I will say, the storytelling itself is a little choppy at times, but I feel like that's because the authors were trying to accomplish so much in a relatively short novel. It also suffers a little from conveniences allowing characters to easily know or learn what they need to in every moment and I felt like I got a bit too much of Kostas main ability, but ultimately these are minor criticisms.
Some of the elements employed, particularly within the magic system were very interesting. I absolutely loved the concept of the Decks of Fates, but I won't go into detail.
There's a ton of adventure and betrayal to be had here, so if you're looking for something that will keep your interest and you have a fondness for the Greek pantheon, this will probably do it. If on the other hand, even something like 'Lore' had too much mythology for your liking, you're going to want to pass. This book is very mythology heavy and that worked great for me.
Talia Rothschild, Italian American, is passionate about stories in many forms—music, dance, photography, film and, of course, great novels. She believes in thick hot chocolate and creamer in your tea.
When she’s not happily writing, she’s mothering the sweetest baby girl and making memories with her husband.
Ashleigh Harvey is teaching high school physics and bringing her writing dreams to life. English-born and world-traveled, she loves filling her life with new adventures, such as visiting a new country or exploring the Wild West with her husband.
She also finds escape in movies, music, literature, and yearly comic conventions.
Giveaway (US Only): One winner will receive a finished copy of The Immortal Game. The giveaway starts on May 31st and ends June 7th . Embedded Link: a Rafflecopter giveaway
'Spells Trouble' by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast is book one in the Sisters of Salem series.
After centuries as the Gatekeepers to five ancient underworlds, descendants of the founder of Goodeville face a challenge none of their kind have ever seen before. The integrity of the portals is weakening and if they fail, all manner of walking nightmares would come through.
On the night of their birthday, Hunter and Mercy Goode lose their mother. The first in a string of deaths that the twins must understand before they can find a way to heal the Gates and put a stop to the inevitable. If they don't, their world will not survive.
This book is kind of a welcome surprise. Though the premise sounded interesting, when I first started reading it.. I thought it seemed very light-hearted, which is fine. The girls are high schoolers, one is stereotypically popular and the other is stereotypically shunned, but their twin bond is tight and the love at home with their mom is warm and welcoming.
Initially, I genuinely didn't take any of it too seriously. There's a mention within the book of Sabrina and of course, some of the vibe is definitely similar. But like Sabrina, there's also a surprising darkness kind of strewn throughout.
For me, the difference is that the darkness never feels campy. I'm not disparaging Sabrina, I was surprised to find I enjoyed that too, but even with the dark tones.. it's sort of tongue-in-cheek at times. And this can be, but again.. not really in the campy way. Though.. Xena. Very fun.
Mixed into this high school romp through spell casting, are some distinctively Stephen King-esque textures, some Stranger Things adventure horror, and a fascinating dash of mythology. Now, if you don't know much about mythology, don't worry. The part it plays is all clearly explained, as are any connections of importance.
The characters, are all well done. Some I liked and some I didn't, but as was fitting with the story. Hunter and Jax are probably my favorites, as the latter is a really lovely friend, and the former is the more reasonable of the two MCs. But Mercy is cool too, if a bit misguided at times. They do really love each other and try to look out for each other.
As for the magic system, though it's kind of dressed up and modernized a bit, it's also rooted in a couple of traditional ritual styles.. giving it a sense of believability even in fantasy use.
Admittedly, I really loved the choices that were made as to the mythological connections. I especially enjoyed what little we were shown in relation to the underworlds and the ways and reasons each of the Gates were different.
I definitely added book two in my Goodreads list as soon as I finished reading this one. So, if you like witchy stories with a lot of interesting elements that aren't too atmospheric, give this a try!
'Victories Greater Than Death' by Charlie Jane Anders is a YA space opera in the general vein of Crownchasers and Aurora Rising about the clone of a famed alien hero, left on Earth in a human disguise to give the universe another chance to defeat a villain with one seriously nasty ability.
Tina Mains, seemingly average teenager.. is also the keeper of an interplanetary rescue beacon that she knows will one day switch on, leading her to the heroic life she's always dreamed of among the stars. But when that day finally comes, things don't go at all as planned.
Those who know her secret identity expect her to actually be the legend she was born of.. and she only has limited access to the late Captain's knowledge and skills. War has taken a toll on the Royal Fleet meant to retrieve her when the time came. They're losing badly and resources are already low. They barely escape Earth with Tina and her best friend with the planet intact.
This story is a quick read full of lots of page-turning action and drama, but there are some things I had to adjust to. Initially, I thought the dialogue was incredibly awkward. Stilted in large part by a strange greeting ritual, which.. though I applaud what I perceive as the intent, just felt overly formal.
It becomes more likely, as the social interactions only get stranger from there, that this almost discordant social dance is an intentional representation of just how different things are from what we know. These are people from different worlds, and the most common ground between them is an organizational social structure likely devised by the Royal Fleet itself. Probably the only thing more universal between them is the hope for survival against the odds.
Relatively quickly, the group assembles what can only be called a collection.. of the Earth's best and brightest to be of assistance on their journey. A rag-tag band of talented misfits, who together.. just might have all the skills necessary to save the worlds.
Of course, most of them are prone to melodrama on some level. However, there are a couple of lovely potential love interests and the cast is beautifully diverse. I loved seeing that diversity framed of its strengths as an ideal in societies less concerned with labels and more focused on supreme happiness. Though the story is pretty wild and generally outrageous, it's definitely a lot of fun and well worth the read.
'The Shadow in the Glass' by JJA Harwood has all the classic Gothic atmosphere of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, delivered in the wrappings of an elegant, dark modern fairytale.
Putting a delightfully morbid twist on the age old Cinderella story, the book follows a lowly maid named Eleanor.. 'Ella'.. as she struggles in the wake of loss. Having fallen into service after the passing of the only person who looked out for her after her mother's death, Ella's left with a licentious man who she once called stepfather.
Secreting herself away in the late Mistress' library whenever she can manage, Ella escapes through the stories tucked along the shelves. One night, a fairy godmother hears her pleas and makes her an offer that will change her life immeasurably. Ella gets seven wishes, but each comes at a price.. and the cost is steep.
Honestly, the retelling is such a strong story on its own that it was easy to forget its origins. Though there are obvious connections like the main character's nickname and a distinctive detail at the very end of the book, it just doesn't really read like a Cinderella story unless you go in looking to match things up.
From a presentation standpoint, if I hadn't known the premise.. the fairy godmother and evil stepfather are almost unrecognizable. I was so caught up in the familial logistics and the defining traits of the author's creations.. that for much of the book if the synopsis hadn't told me who these people were, I probably wouldn't have seen the correlation until the end.
The storytelling is gritty and magnificent. From the opening pages, there's an undercurrent of something bad on the horizon. It isn't spelled out right away, but like a classic Poe story.. your instincts pick it up and you can just feel the tension building with dreadful slowness. You can see what lies in the road ahead once things get going and it feels like it just might swallow you whole.
There's something special about an author who can make you feel like you're slowly marching to your own end, while simultaneously keeping your hope alive that just maybe you'll be wrong. That someone or something will avert the crisis in your path.
Harwood has just such a gift. If you're a fan of eerie Gothic tales, don't miss this one. Since it's only her debut novel, I'll be eagerly watching to see what else she might have up her proverbial sleeve.
The Midnight Lie
I feel like I've been waiting for the release of 'Unwritten' by Alicia J. Novo for ages. The beautifully intricate cover design caught my eye late last year and I fell in love with the synopsis.
The story follows sixteen-year-old Beatrix Alba, who has secrets. For one, books talk to her. Sometimes in whispers.. sometimes in shouts, they're a constant companion in a world she doesn't seem to belong in.
Bullied both at home and in school, she could put a stop to it all.. but she doesn't. Taught to keep her dangerous hidden power bound tightly within her, that hard-won control starts to slip with the loss of her beloved grandfather.
When the spell that keeps her and her magic hidden fails, one decision thrusts her into the midst of Zweeshen, a world seemingly made of stories like those tucked safely on the library shelves back home. But that realm isn't the whimsical escape from her own that Beatrix wishes it to be. A character is burning bookworlds in pursuit of a weapon to rule both stories and storytellers.. and Beatrix holds the key.
Even now, just sharing the premise with you.. I get a little swept up in the concepts. Cursed conjurers, Egyptian gods, Regency heroines, there are so many fascinating elements that the very idea of it excites me.
Unfortunately, though the technical aspect of the writing is very smooth, it's just not executed in a very interesting way and it really slowed the reading for me because I kept putting it down. William was intriguing from the get-go with his dark, broody visage and his standoffish nature. He's brusque, but magnetic.. and possibly the character I was most invested in. Beatrix, the main character, has a lot of unique attributes to draw from.. but she just didn't draw me in.
Novo does an excellent job crafting backstory and developing her characters, but the journey itself feels inconsistent in depth. I love the whole 'books as portals to other worlds' trope and there's a test Beatrix goes through which could be really stunning imagery, but that was kind of glossed over for quantity instead.
Early on.. when I found myself facing what was ultimately a Monsters Inc door scene, I became disillusioned by the construction of some of the ideas utilized in this tale. In actuality, it's these last two things that for me are good examples of what didn't work for me with this book.
From a writing standpoint, Novo excels at scene writing. The strength of them still varies dramatically, but as this is her debut, I'm completely willing to give her time. Nonetheless, possibly because she can be so good at them.. it becomes much more obvious when they're weaker, and the paths in between them rather dull.
At this point, I'd think she'd do well with screenwriting, but her approach to the novel just needs more practice. The writing is still intelligent and elegant, she just needs to focus on managing the gap in her skills. That being said, though that lack of consistency made it difficult for me to stay invested, I think she has a ton of potential and I'm eager to see what her future holds as she learns and grows.
'Hurricane Summer' by Asha Bromfield is the story of a girl named Tilla coming of age during a tumultuous visit with her extended family in Jamaica.
Along with her sister.. Mia, Tilla lives in Canada with their mother, while every six months their father returns home to the island. The result of all those fatherly disappearances, is a pretty big disconnect between them.
Though it's supposed to be a safe, happy place for the girls.. the visit is not what's expected. While Tilla's life takes a dark turn, the impending summer storm turns out to be a hurricane to be reckoned with.. but the swell of personal drama she's dealing with might be even more destructive.
This book is Bromfield's debut as an author, but some may know her from her acting roles in Locke and Key, Riverdale, and Josie and the Pussycats. Like her lead character, she lives in Canada and used to spend her summers in Jamaica.. and it's easy to see her love of the island in her writing.
Honestly, I think I expected a little light-hearted familial drama. I blame the beautiful cover that seems to be filled with.. an unabashed longing.. and there is some of that present, just not entirely in the way I thought there would be.
They say that fathers are especially important to daughters. They say that in an ideal situation, the love between the two.. gives daughters confidence and high self-esteem.. and without that, they have a tendency to undersell themselves. Personally, in my experience.. I find this more applicable to relationships than life paths and it's really apparent in Tilla's story.
She seems to spend the majority of her energy trying to please those around her. Don't get me wrong, it's always more pleasant when those around you like you.. but she really fights hard to be liked. There is not a lot of time for love and understanding amongst those she finds herself staying with. Just a ton of judgement, bitterness, and jealousy.. manifesting in some of the nastiest ways.
I really felt for Tilla throughout her journey. She's a good person, still carrying a bit of optimism even when it's difficult to maintain, but those around her seem determined to crush it into dust. Moments of astonishing beauty and tenderness make it even worse when they're ripped away by the harsh realities of her situation.
Frankly, I wasn't expecting to be so affected by this story emotionally.. but it really shook me. Though I might make little tweaks here and there to the way Tilla sometimes almost rewrites reality based on what others have said, I get what the author was trying to do.. and ultimately, it moved me all the same. What a heart-wrenching read.. well done.
I'm just going to get right to the point. 'Witches Steeped in Gold' by Ciannon Smart is the most enjoyable witchy fantasy book I've ever read. There is depth and texture here that's decidedly uncommon in similarly marketed titles.
I know there's been a lot of hype surrounding this title for months. I, myself, have been just as much a part of that hype engine as any other reader I know.. because it sounded so good. However, it absolutely blew the doors off the genre for me.
A Jamaican-inspired fantasy, the story is about a pair of witches from rival orders who have little choice but to make a pact in order to take down a common enemy. Told in a split-narrative, it follows Iraya.. who has spent her life in captivity plotting her vengeance and Jazmyne, the Queen's daughter.. with her own brand of retribution on her mind.
Both women have endured heavy losses at the Queen's hand and neither of them is apt to forgive or forget, but their paths are ever-shifting and the only thing that's certain is they will do anything to achieve their goals.
Honestly, I cannot possibly convey exactly how much I loved this book. From a pure writing quality perspective, it's quite likely sitting in my top two releases so far this year and it would take a truly groundbreaking read to dislodge it. I fully expect to be giving my 2021 year-end recap with Smart's debut novel sitting right where it is today.
The magic system is complex, seemingly based largely in the ritual magics of the Caribbean. Primarily focusing on blood and herb magics, the story reads almost like a folktale at times. As my personal experiences are with a different variation, I cannot theorize too much about the actual source other than to reiterate that the author herself has said much of her inspiration came from stories told by family on a trip to Jamaica.
Everything is detailed ideally throughout the world-building and delivered naturally. From the political structure of the court to the social-ecological models both within and between Aiyca and the neighboring cultures, it's all crafted so perfectly. The result is an incredibly immersive tale.
Challenges rise up to meet the women everywhere and I found myself conflicted throughout, unable to fully commit to some of my choices until late in the story. There are twists strewn about all the way to the end of the tale, but never so many that they feel overused.
Besides Iraya and Jazmyne, there's a whole cadre of supporting players in the game. Some of whom I enjoyed as much as the main characters. Kirdan, Anya, and Roje are all spectacular in their own ways, as are those in the small group of friends amongst the Obeah.
Admittedly, I did have favorites from the start. Kirdan is intriguing and Iraya is my kind of female lead. She's not infallible, but she is determined. She doesn't back down easily and she's not afraid to get her hands dirty. In fact, she rather likes them dirty. Bloodied.. whenever possible.
I'm already eagerly awaiting book two and if this isn't on your TBR list yet, it should be. In fact, you could probably brush aside most of whatever else is there and push it towards the top because if you haven't read it yet, you're missing out.
Continue below to read my review of the book and be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on the 'AOFIE'S QUEST' blog tour brought to you by LITERARY BOUND TOURS and ANGELA J. FORD!
Angela J. Ford
March 26th, 2021
Upper YA, Coming of Age, Epic Fantasy
A warrior princess with a dire future embarks on a perilous quest to regain her fallen kingdom.
Eighteen-year-old Aofie’s Mor is an outcast princess, hiding in the sacred forest of the centaurs. She’s spent her life training for one purpose: to take back her kingdom from the angel of death. When she comes of age, the centaurs prepare her to reunite with the humans. However, on the morning of her departure, she learns a horrific truth that leaves her questioning her true identity.
Frustrated, but taught not to question the will of the gods, Aofie travels deep into perilous lands in search of her birth mother. Along the way she accidentally frees a dangerous goddess, befriends a mysterious iceman, and meets a magic-wielding nymph. But threads of betrayal and corruption run deeper than Aofie imagined. As she faces trials and tribulations, she begins to question everything she’s assumed to be true. Caught in the ultimate war between good and evil, Aofie must make a choice about her future.
Will she have the strength and courage to take back her kingdom? Or will she turn her back on fate and choose her own destiny? Welcome to the land of Labraid, a war-torn world where demons rise and the gods and goddesses toy with the desires of humans.
Aofie’s Quest is a dark and exciting fantasy adventure. If you like fierce heroines, treacherous royals, mischievous immortals, wild plot twists and Celtic Mythology, buy Aofie’s Quest today.
rating: ★ ★ ★ (3/5 stars)
'Aofie's Quest' by Angela J. Ford is about an outcast princess who is raised in the centaur's forest, enabling her to hide from those who would see her dead while she trains to take back her kingdom from the angel of death.
When she comes of age, her caregivers prepare her to reunite with the humans, but reveal something to her that has her reeling. Journeying out in search of her birth mother, she crosses paths with a goddess, an iceman, and a magic-wielding nymph.
The story moves along quickly, throwing lots of adventures and difficulties into the main character's path. There are diverse elements at play, in fact.. the book seems to be a mixture of magic and mythos from across the fantasy genre, all brought together.
Ford does a good job of combining a lot of popular fantasy concepts, likely making the world-building exciting for a novice fantasy reader. There are plenty of interesting magical creatures here and it's a good choice to start Aofie out lacking knowledge in some very specific areas due to her unusual upbringing.
Though it's light fare, the path still has touches of epic saga styling with new characters being introduced and explored a little along the way and distinctive challenges rising up to interrupt Aofie's progress.
While the writing is solid enough, there's a lot of information download through conversation right up front and the pattern only continues as you make your way through the tale.
From a technical standpoint, the book is fine.. it just isn't for me. I feel the narrative just comes across in a bit of a drone and Aofie seems whiny for someone I'm supposed to connect with as a 'fierce heroine' and 'trained warrior.' I assume it's meant to give her a touch of that spoiled princess appearance, but that isn't the way it came through.
Upon doing a bit of research, I am definitely in the minority here. So, if you like a 'chosen one'/coming of age/off to regain what's theirs.. sort of read.. give this one a try.
Angela J. Ford is a bestselling author who writes epic fantasy and steamy fantasy romance with vivid worlds, gray characters and endings you just can’t guess. She has published 14 novels, 6 short stories and sold over 32,000 copies.
Angela is also a Co-Founder of Booksniffer. A new app for book lovers, plus an effective way for authors to market their books to new readers.
She enjoys traveling, hiking, and playing World of Warcraft with her husband. First and foremost, Angela is a reader and can often be found with her nose in a book.
Aside from writing she enjoys the challenge of working with marketing technology and builds websites for authors.
Angela is passionate about helping indie authors succeed and co-hosts a podcast called Indie Author Lifestyle.
If you happen to be in Nashville, you’ll most likely find her enjoying a white chocolate mocha and daydreaming about her next book.