Even the Darkest Stars

Rating: ⭐
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Sep. 2017 (read Jan. 2019)
Series: Even the Darkest Stars #1

I’ve decided to write whole new review about this book because I was only a little baby reviewer when I wrote my first review and I have so many more feelings about this book after the second read-through. You can still read my original review here.

I remember liking, but not loving this book the first time I read it, but I was so impressed with the setting that I decided to round up my rating to 4 stars. I definitely loved this the second time around though and I am now 100% on board with my original 4 star rating. I found the beginning a bit slow on my first read through, but I totally flew through it this time. Kamzin is just so spunky! I definitely didn’t give her enough credit in my first review and I thought she was super funny at the beginning on the book and I loved how much her character grew throughout the course of the novel.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s do a little synopsis of the story. Even the Darkest Stars is set in a fantasy world based very heavily on Nepalese culture and early exploits of the Himalayas and Mount Everest. I have always been really interested in climbing expeditions (as a reader, not a real person – I have to say this because my sister’s partner is like, obsessed with climbing and if he reads this, which I know he never will, but if he did, he would make me go climbing with him and climbing in real life is SCARY. That’s why I prefer to read about it.). I’m going to credit my early interest to Gordon Korman’s Everest series, which I read as a kid, and was totally obsessed with (yay for Canadian authors!). Actually, I was obsessed with most of Korman’s books and would highly recommend to middle graders!

I would sincerely like to meet this author because we both live in Vancouver (she may be one of those rare native born Vancouverites?) and despite not wanting to climb, I’m super obsessed with mountains and hiking and feel like we would both have a lot in common. So Heather if you’re ever looking for some adventure and book loving friends, I’m here.

But back to her book. The story starts in the small village of Azmiri, with our main character Kamzin. Because her father is the village elder, her older sister Lusha is slated to succeed him and Kamzin is expected to become the village shaman. The only problem is that Kamzin has zero interest or natural talent for shamanism. Her friend Tem is a great Shaman, but his talents go unacknowledged because his father is a yak herder and that’s all Tem is ever expected to be as well. But Kamzin wants to be an explorer. She is envious of River Shara, the Emperor’s Royal Explorer and is shocked when he arrives at their village one day.

There is only one thing that would draw the elusive River Shara to Azmiri, the even more elusive Mount Raksha – the tallest and most dangerous mountain in the empire. Kamzin has always aspired to climb Mount Raksha and even participated in an expedition with her mother to Mount Raksha when she was 11. Unfortunately the journey took the lives of the entire expedition, with the exception of Kamzin and Lusha. So when Kamzin learns that River is there to climb the great mountain, she sees it as her big chance to impress the Royal Explorer.

Kamzin, River, and Tem all set off on a journey to climb Mount Raksha, with Kamzin leading the way. Witches have been banished from the empire for many years, their magic stolen from them by a spell placed by the Emperor. But the spell is breaking and they must reclaim a lost talisman from the top of Mount Raksha to re-cast the spell.

I loved everything about this book, but the setting was by far my favourite. Fawcett creates this wonderful atmosphere throughout the story – it’s that lonely, reverent feeling you get when you’re out in the wilderness. An appreciation for the beauty around you and a respect for the destructive power of nature. There are internal and interpersonal conflicts in this book, as well as the threat of the witches, fire demons, and fiangul that call this unforgiving landscape home. But I really liked that this book also had the person vs. nature conflict as well. What Kamzin is really up against is the elements and her own personal competitiveness. She’s repeatedly told to turn around if the consequences become too dire, but she is driven by a need to explore the unknown and to prove her skills to the world. In many ways, she is her worst enemy.

I loved the little triangle action between Kamzin, River, and Tem. Tem has been Kamzin’s best (and really only) friend for her entire life and they share a special bond. But Kamzin also shares something special with River, the first person who truly seems to understand her drive and can keep up with her on the expedition. He’s the first person to really challenge her. But Tem is distrustful of River and Kamzin has to admit that he does seem to be holding back some important information from them. Something is off with River’s shaman, and Tem rises to the occasion, acting as the group’s shaman and setting protections for them.

This book also had some humour in it. Kamzin is so stubborn, but her stubbornness made me laugh at lot. I also loved that she had what is referred to as a “familiar”, which is an animal that is basically attracted to you from birth and stays with you. Her familiar was a mangy little fox named Ragtooth and besides being really sweet, I thought he made for some great comic relief.

I can see how this book might not be for everyone. Pretty much the entire book is devoted to the journey to the top of Raksha and I know not everyone love journey books. Like I said, I didn’t really love it the first time, I think because I kept waiting for them to get there so I could learn the “so-what” of the story. But knowing the second time that the whole book was going to be devoted to the journey, I enjoyed it a lot more. I think there’s just the right amount of tension between the characters and I liked how much Kamzin grew over the course of the novel.

There are still some unanswered questions and I’m looking forward to see how Fawcett further develops her characters in the next book. Does anyone know if this is a duology or a trilogy? Would love to know going into the second book!

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Tower of Dawn

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Sep. 2017 (read Sep. 2017)

It’s only been a year since I read Tower of Dawn, and it’s my least favourite book of the series, so I decided not to re-read it prior to Kingdom of Ash. Instead I read this recap of the book to remind myself of any major plot points I might have forgotten. But since I did write a review for Tower of Dawn last year that I never published on my blog (only goodreads), I decided to do a few edits and post here prior to Kingdom of Ash! Disclaimer, it is a bit of scathing review… this really wasn’t my favourite book.


Well this book was pretty much exactly what I expected. I was skeptical about the whole novella-turned-novel idea; this story absolutely didn’t fit in Empire of Storms, but it also didn’t need a whole 700 page novel devoted too it.

This book was just straight up too long. I feel like Maas has lost her ability to write 400 page books. She’s had so much success (and deservedly so, I love both her series), but she doesn’t seem to be able to cap things off anymore and understand that sometimes less is actually more. Just because you can write 700 pages, doesn’t mean you should. The book picked up a lot in the second half, but the first half was pretty slow moving and honestly, pretty boring. I think we all knew it was going to take a long time for Chaol to heal physically and emotionally, but god it just dragged on and on.

I absolutely loved Chaol in Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, but I haven’t been that much of a fan in the later books and his character doesn’t improve in Tower of Dawn. I just really don’t like the way Maas wrote him. Chaol had a sorry lot handed to him in Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows, so I sympathized with him, but I didn’t buy into his supposed “growth” in this book. I was happy to see him forgive himself for everything that happened in the series (Nehemia’s death, the death of his men, Dorian) – he blamed himself for a lot of things that really weren’t his fault and I thought Aelin blamed him unfairly too. But despite all his growth, he was really awful to both Nesryn and Yrene.

I wasn’t too sorry or surprised to see things go sideways with Nesryn so quickly because I never really bought their relationship and always thought she was a bit of a rebound for Chaol and a way for Maas to console her readers after immediately hooking Aelin up with Rowan. But Chaol was pretty shitty to both Nesryn and Yrene in Tower of Dawn. I know he was so caught up in feeling sorry for himself, but that was no excuse for the way he treated the only 2 people in his life that cared about him. Am I just supposed to pretend like it doesn’t matter that he broke all of his promises to Nesryn just because she fell in love with someone else too? Hell no! Nesryn knew Chaol was using her to fill a void in his life and yet she still helped him and didn’t pursue anything with Sartaq until after she returned to Antica. She deserved better Chaol! Plus I found his whole relationship with Yrene possessive. I do not dig the whole “She is mine and I am hers” thing Maas has going on with the characters in half her books (Aelin/Rowan, Feyre/Rhys). Honestly, I don’t know how the same author who wrote the feminist, dreamboat of a character that is Rhysand could write Chaol so poorly.

Props for Nesryn and Yrene though. I really liked Nesryn in this book. I found her kind of forgettable in the past and I liked how she really came into herself in this book.

That said, Tower of Dawn had some fun elements to it. The whole creeping around the library was reminiscent of the first book and I liked the mystery aspect. It’s hard to keep up though, every time I think I have all these ancient kings and queens figured out and think I might know where the book is going, Maas throws me for a total loop. I don’t know if things might be a little too convoluted? We’ll have to wait and see how she clues things up in the final book.

Anyways, there were definitely aspects of the book that I liked, but overall, TOO LONG. I won’t be sorry to return to Aelin in Kingdom of Ash.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Balli Kaur Jaswal
Genres: Fiction
Pub date: Jun. 2017 (read Oct. 2018 on Audible)

Whoa! This was WAY more intense than I was expecting and had a lot more depth. I’ve been seeing this book going around for a while nice since it was featured by Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and my book club decided to pick it for our October read.

I really didn’t know what the book was about, but based on the title I was expecting a light-hearted story and a few laughs. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows definitely delivered on the laughs, as well as copious amounts of blushing! I wasn’t actually expecting erotic stories, but I definitely got them.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is about the Sikh community living in Southall, London. It features 22 year old Nikki, who dropped out of law school, moved out of her parents house, and has been making ends meet by bartending at her local pub. She considers herself a “modern girl”, scoffing at her older sister for seeking an arranged marriage. When she sees a posting for a creative writing teacher at the temple, she applies, seeing it as a great opportunity to make some extra money and to help women. But due to a miscommunication, it turns out to be a basic English literacy class, attended primarily by Punjabi widows.

The widows aren’t enthused about learning to write and roll their eyes at Nikki’s learning exercises. But they are interested in storytelling, and in their loneliness as widows, they have a particular interest in sharing erotic stories.

There was a lot that I liked about this book. First off, the widows are hilarious and I love that Jaswal breathed such life into these (mostly) elderly characters. Society forgets about widows and seniors, especially in Southall where the women are seen as irrelevant without their husbands. There’s a limited amount of literature about elderly people and I loved how the author created these smart and dynamic characters. Sure, they couldn’t read and they were afraid of Nikki’s “modern” ways, but they were also funny, clever, and kind. They were very much mired in tradition, but the sharing of their stories was incredibly empowering for them. Reminding them of their commonalities, and the power of community, of standing up and supporting one another.

I also liked that the book had a lot more depth than I expected. Jaswal explores the challenges of breaking free of traditional, cultural beliefs, but she also explores the merits of those beliefs as well. Nikki’s feminism felt radical to the widows, and their conservatism was frustrating to Nikki, but the more they all got to know each other, they were able to realize they weren’t so different. Nikki discovered there are merits to having strong community values and a support network, and the widows discovered their own brand of feminism.

Believe it or not, this book also has a mystery element to it, as well as a romance. I liked that Jaswal kept adding additional layers to the story. While the story is mostly narrated by Nikki, some parts are narrated by Kulwinder, Nikki’s boss at the temple who recently lost her daughter. It was hard to relate to Kulwinder initially, but I enjoyed learning more of her story and where she was coming from.

While I mostly loved this book, there were a few things I didn’t like about it. I found it dragged a lot in the middle. There were a lot of erotic stories shared by the widows, but after a while I didn’t think it really added that much to the story. It also got really intense, really fast at the end, which I had trouble buying. It was a little too dramatic for this type of story and I didn’t think it fit that well with the tone of the rest of the book. I also would have liked to see a better resolution of Mindy’s attempts at arranged marriage and more growth from the brotherhood. They cast a foreboding shadow over a good part of the book, but ended up seeming not that relevant to the story. I wanted the characters to shake the brotherhood up a little bit more, although that might not have been the most realistic.

But overall I really liked this book. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narrator was fantastic! It provided some fascinating insight into Sikh culture and I really liked the dichotomy between conservative traditionalism and feminist awakening!

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Rating: 
Author: Jessica Townsend
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Aug. 2018)

I’ve been seeing Nevermoor pop up on Booktube and for some reason decided I didn’t have an interest in it. But I recently heard it labelled as the “next Harry Potter” and that there were a lot of comparisons that could be made between the two, so of course I finally had to pick up a copy. Best decision ever because this book was so much fun from start to finish!

Morrigan Crow is eleven years old and has the unfortunate bad luck of being born on Eventide. As a result, she’s considered a cursed child in the Wintersea Republic and is blamed for every bad thing that happens in her village. But her real bad luck is that cursed children always die on the eve of the next Eventide, which happens to be the day after Morrigan’s eleventh birthday.

Morrigan just wants to be remembered, but when the next Eventide is announced, it’s obvious her family is already preparing to move on and forget about her. However, before death can catch her, Morrigan is whisked away to Nevermoor, the free state, by the enigmatic Jupiter North, who selects Morrigan to be his first ever candidate for the Wundrous Society. But in order to be admitted to the Society, Morrigan must complete her trials and be selected by the judges.

What made this book fantastic was that it had so many layers. It’s been a long time since I read a book like this and it made me realize how much I miss clever fantasy stories with a strong mystery element. This has obvious parallels to Harry Potter with the 11 year old being whisked away to another world, the magical elements, her wise mentor figure, the foreboding unnamed villain, and the humourous moments woven throughout the story. But it’s the larger mystery of this story and the complex world building that made this such a good book and worthy of being compared to Harry Potter.

This was a 450 page book and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of this world. It was a brilliant debut with just the right balance of world-building, character development, and whimsy. Townsend doesn’t give up all her secrets and I know there’s so many more surprises and quirks to be developed in this series. I don’t really know where the author plans to take the plot, but I get the feeling that it will have a lot more depth than what we’ve been introduced to in the first book.

I really wouldn’t change anything about this book. I have so many questions, yet I was still satisfied by the ending. I can’t wait to find out more about the Wundrous Society and what mischief Morrigan and Hawthorne will get up to in the next book. There were so many intriguing characters in this book and I can’t wait to learn more about Jupiter, Jack, Fen, Cadence, Noelle, and of course, the Wundersmith.

Book 2 can’t come soon enough! Everyone should read this!

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Jul. 2017)

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns seems to have some pretty mixed reviews. Some people seem to love it, while others are not enjoying it at all. To be honest, I thought I would probably be in the latter category since I listened to it as an audiobook (and I find audiobooks pretty hit or miss) and fairytale retellings aren’t really my favourite.

But damn, I did actually really like this, even as an audiobook. I didn’t properly read the synopsis and I went into this thinking it was a snow white retelling, but it’s actually an origin story of the evil queen, set in an East Asian fantasy world! A much more enthralling concept in my opinion!

I admit that I didn’t love this at first – the first few chapters nearly put me and my friend to sleep on a road trip, but it picks up pretty quickly and there is some really engaging nastiness later in the plot and I loved watching Xifeng navigate down an increasingly dubious path.

To give a bit of background, Xifeng has grown up in a tiny village in the empire of Feng Lu. For the first 18 years of her life she has been under the tyranny of her Aunt Guma. Guma reads in the cards that Xifeng’s destiny is to become the Empress of Feng Lu, so she educates her and teaches her the ways of blood magic in order to toughen her up. At the hands of her aunt’s abuse, Xifeng learns that her beauty is her most important asset and that it must be protected at all times.

Guma wants to help Xifeng succeed, but after a disturbing vision, Xifeng decides its time to leave her aunt and her village behind in order to seek her fortune. She escapes the village with her childhood friend and lover, Wei. Wei wants nothing more than to marry and protect Xifeng, but she believes in a different destiny for herself, and though she loves Wei, she keeps him at an arms length as they make their way towards the imperial city.

Like I said, this book has a lot of blood and nastiness in it, but I loved it. Xifeng makes some questionable decisions to protect her beauty and find her way into the imperial palace. But she is super determined and I admired her for continuing to chase after her fortune, even though it meant many sacrifices along the way and a blind faith that her circumstances would improve. The drama within the palace walls was thrilling and I’m really interested to see where Dao takes this in the next book.