Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyers (Spoiler-Free)

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king’s marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.

Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Goodreads

Publishing Date: 8th November 2016

*A copy of this book was provided to me to read and review by Pansing. However, all opinions are my own*

Even though I have yet to finish the Lunar Chronicles, I have always thought that Marissa Meyer was a great storyteller. I love how she takes popular fairytales and weaves them into something that is very clearly hers.

So when Pansing reached out and offered to send me this book to read and review, I literally fell over myself to grab it. I started reading it the day it arrived and guys…

Oh. My. God.

This book was everything!!

It broke my little heart into many pieces and it was just amazing and epic and heartbreaking and EVERYTHING!

Plot

This book is based on Alice In Wonderland but Marissa spins it such that the story focuses on the Queen Of Hearts before she became the tyrant queen that she did.

We follow Catherine, a young girl who loves life, her friends and baking. Catherine is a lady of high regard in Hearts and because of her status, her parents have been trying to marry her off to the king.

Catherine, however, wants nothing more then a simple life. She wants to open a bakery with her maid, marry for love and to spend her days elbow deep in flour.

Then one day, Catherine meets Jest. Jest is the new court joker and he introduces her to a whole different side of Hearts. He brings her to eccentric tea parties, sneaks her around and shows her a kind of love that she has never experienced before.

The only problem is that her parents really, really want her to marry the king.

Surrounding this tragic Romeo and Juliet love story lies a whole story about cursed pumpkin seeds, Jabberwocks and trickery beyond anything that you would ever expect.

Characters

Catherine

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Cath was just one of those characters that you will root for from start to finish. No matter what she did, good, bad, utterly horrific, I couldn’t help but just want the very best for her.

Over the course of the book, I found myself wondering at many points, how this sweet kid became the horrific Queen of Hearts that we know and (kinda) love.

However I felt that her character just really grew with the book. And I mean that is something you don’t see very often in books. A character growing with the book. So I really loved Cath despite some of the questionable choices she made.

Not to mention that the book completely let’s you know how sweet little Cath turned into a tyrant.

Jest

Jest. Oh my Jest. Guys I can’t even begin to explain what an amazing character Jest was from start to finish. He was the perfect Romeo to Cath’s Juliet. He was just so perfect. I mean okay yes there were a couple of bits that made me go, “Really Jest? Really”. But overall he was just amazing.

He had amazing chemistry with Cath and even with every other character in the book. He was such a gentleman *swoon* and he was just perfect.

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I loved every bit of his character.

Hatter

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You know, in the original story, Hatter is my favourite character. In fact, one of my favourite quotes in the world is partly by him.

Mad Matter: “Have I gone mad?”
Alice: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

So I have to say that it was very interesting to get to explore his character and to find out where he came from, how he came to be and to watch him slowly dissolve into the mad state that we see him in later on.

Personally, I didn’t appreciate the sane Hatter as much as I did the mad one. I guess it was easier to excuse Hatter’s antics when he was mad. When he was sane, everything he did was just infuriating and rather daft if you ask me.

Overall

Overall I really loved the book. I found the storyline to be epic, the characters to be dynamic and the plot to be just perfect.

Everything was done in a way that made it all believable. I mean you go through the book thinking, “How on earth does all this make sense? It doesn’t fit into Alice in Wonderland.” And then suddenly, at the end, everything wraps up with a neat little bow and all the pieces fall into place and you’re just left there like, “WOAH.”

Okay I’ll stop hyping this book but I’ll leave you with this. You’ll be absolutely mad to not read this book.

My-Rating-5-Stars

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The Art of Book Cover Creation By Kristin Bartley Lenz

Hey guys! Today I have something a little different for you. The author of The Art Of Holding On And Letting Go, Kristin Bartley Lenz is here today to talk about how book covers are designed and created! I’m sure you guys will love learning about how your favourite covers have come about just as much as I enjoyed it. So here’s Kristin!

As a reader who is also a writer, I tend to be as interested in the summary, blurbs, and reviews as much as a book’s cover. But I’ve watched my daughter scan the shelves of bookstores and libraries choosing and rejecting books by their covers alone. Social media has opened up new avenues for publishers to tailor their cover designs, such as Swoon Reads/Macmilllan, which asks readers to vote for their favorite of several cover directions for their debuts. https://www.swoonreads.com/blog/category/cover-creation/
It wasn’t until my own novel entered the publishing process that I truly saw the behind-the-scenes making of a book cover. I was fortunate to be involved in many of the cover decisions, including choosing from four initial cover concepts, all very different.

Here’s what my cover designer, Amanda Schwarz, shared about her initial process with my book:

“When designing a book cover I search for a way to visually represent the emotion of the novel while not outright telling the audience what it’s about. After reading the book I realized that the heart of the story is the lead character coming to terms with where her life has taken her and accepting change. In particular the Annie Dillard quote at the end of the novel struck me, “Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will. The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But mountains are home.” To me, this sums up the feelings of the book. Cara, by the end, comes to realize that no matter where she is in her life, the mountains, along with Uncle Max, will always be a part of her. They are inside of her and a life that she can return to one day.

So while not referencing climbing directly, I felt having mountains represented in the covers somewhere is very important as Cara comes to hold on to the important aspects of her previous life, but also learns to let go of others as she grows in the story. It captures the tone but there is also the mystery of what exactly the mountains represent to the story.

While working on the preliminary designs I also decided to use handwritten or script text for the covers. Since we spend the entirety of the book seeing the events from Cara’s perspective, anything that isn’t handwritten felt too impersonal for a very personal story. I chose fonts that have similar characteristics but also contrast to emphasize the emotions of the title especially “Holding On and Letting Go.”

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More layers were added after the initial direction was determined – the images of the mountains, trees, the cityscape, and starry night sky. Later, there were more choices with colors and fonts, and the back cover design as well. Mysterious notes play a role in Cara’s story, so the back cover blurbs are featured on a sheet of wrinkled paper to correspond with this aspect of the plot. If you look closely, you’ll also see the mountains on the back cover carrying over from the front.

I was delighted by other little details right through to the finished design. There’s a small image of a carabiner on the book’s spine, and the inside of the front cover is green to match the trees on the front.

Now that my eyes have been opened to the possibilities, I look at book covers with a new appreciation and notice details I previously overlooked. Even more fun, my publisher is tweaking the cover of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go for a second printing, and this time we get to include a shiny gold sticker thanks to the Junior Library Guild!

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Want to learn more about the art of book covers? By the Cover is an ongoing feature at Book Riot, and Publishers Weekly has a new column devoted to book covers.

How To Love The Broken Girl

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It’s difficult to love someone who has been broken by life. Someone who has never known love. Someone who has spent her whole life believing that she is a second choice. Someone who has had everything they could ever know about love ripped to shreds in front of her. Someone who has had the people that were supposed to be her role model in love shatter her every belief about it.

She’s sworn that her past would never affect her future but the thing is, as much as she will try to deny it and brush it off, she can never run away from the scars that other people left tattooed on her heart.

It’s difficult because you need to work to convince her that she is worth enough that someone would actually stay. You need to make sure that she knows that you aren’t going to jump off the wagon the second something goes wrong.

Because you see, all she has ever known if that when voices are raised, people leave. People start to hate. Everything goes wrong. You need to let her get upset and when it’s over, you need to make damn well sure that she knows that you are still right there on the wagon with her. It’s not her fault that she has grown up with people who fought wrongly. Who constantly remained in a toxic places.

When you love someone who is broken, you have to know that she will do one of two things. She will either immediately retreat the second a red flag presents itself or she will allow herself to brush it off. She will excuse your behaviour or worse, she will blame herself. So you can’t take advantage of her. Not ever.

When you love someone who is broken, you need to know that she will overthink your every move much more then any girl normally would. She will look for red flags and actually find them even when there are none to be found. You need to be prepared to work extra hard to convince her that she was right to let you in and that you will not shatter her.

Because you see, someone who is broken will constantly walk on eggshells. They will constantly second guess their decisions. They will constantly want to throw in the towel and cower under a blanket. They will go through rocky tides of being extremely happy and extremely upset with the relationship.

But when you love someone who is broken in the right way that you should, you have to know that she will love you back with every atom in her being. You have to know that she will fiercely and proudly call you hers. She will place you on a pedestal and she will love you.

So if you plan to love this broken girl, make sure you do it right and make sure that you have no plans to leave her. Because once she’s in, she’s in it for the long run and you better be ready to run alongside her.

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Five Relationship Killers Only You Can Control

 

Hey guys! Today I’ve got something a little special for you. Maria Benson, one of the authors of ‘Driving Me Wild’ is here today to give us some advice about relationships and what we can do to avoid basically killing them.  – Cam

Nearly every person in the dating game has had a relationship fall apart without having a clue where it all started going wrong. Being creatures of habit who fail to identify our role in the faulty foundation of our relationships, we often repeat the behaviors that doomed us in the first place.

See how to rid your life of these common mistakes:

1) Giving 90%, Getting 10

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Find yourself constantly dropping everything at a moment’s notice for your latest suitor? Answering the phone at 2am for a booty call? Do you text him throughout the day, only to get a “Out w my friends. Come if u want.” response 6 hours later? Do you respond to “Mystery Man” by re-arranging everything to be at his side? If so, we have a problem. While it’s important to be dedicated and available to your partner, you must also expect them to meet you in the middle. Anything less is an early marker of future catastrophe.

2) Trying to fix the other person

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We have all heard the saying, “you can’t control anyone except yourself.” So, why do we keep trying to control, mold, and shape other people? Look, I’m a believer in the human capacity for positive change. However, nearly a decade as a licensed mental health counselor has show me that if the desire to change does not come from within the individual (notice that I did not say from a girlfriend with great intentions and a beautiful vision for their future together), lasting change ain’t gonna happen.

3) Distancing yourself from family and friends

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We’ve all experienced the captivating desire and obsession that come with the initial stages of love. These stages are beautiful and often form the foundation for long-term relationships. However, too often we let our new love influence us to neglect friends and family who have offered us support, feedback, and reflection for years. They know us better than anyone else. If your partner doesn’t mesh with your closest friends and family, realize there’s a chance they will fail to mesh with you down the line.

4) Avoiding conflict so they will “like” you

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I’m the first to admit that conflict is scary in a new relationship. If you dare to speak your mind about his dog using your laundry pile as an outhouse, or about his snide remarks about your sister, will he still like you? As you try to decide what to do in situations like these, remember: Healthy conflict is healthy. Let’s say it again: HEALTHY CONFLICT IS HEALTHY. This means that you each have to learn to disagree and speak your minds in a way that feels safe for both of you. Unaddressed issues always lead to resentment.

5) Ignoring your non-negotiables

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Every person should have a list of non-negotiables that they want in their partner. If you don’t have this list- I mean an actual, physical list- you need to make one ASAP! These are items that, at your core, you must have or avoid in a future partner. They can be concrete qualities, personality characteristics, or both. Personally, my list included a partner with ambition and compassion for others, someone who wouldn’t be vindictive when arguing, and who had no history of violence. In my experience, deviating from these standards has only led to heartache.

The experiences of Aimee Chase, the protagonist of my new novel Driving Me Wild, are hopefully a humorous reminder that eliminating these “killers” from our behavior patterns doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient with yourself and give it time. In addition to my own work, I recommend you check out Anxious To Please by James Rapson and Craig English as you develop the confidence needed to foster healthy relationship behaviors – before and after you find Mr. Right.

Maria Benson, co-author of the novel Driving Me Wild, is a licensed mental health and addictions therapist in Indianapolis. Maria’s drive for adventure and her dedication to helping women find their identity and voice in the face of adversity motivate her professional pursuits and her writing. Learn more at authormariabenson.com.

 

If This Is What Love Is

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If this is what love is, I both want no part in it but I also want it all.
I don’t know how to tell you how afraid I am of letting you in.
I don’t know how to tell you that I’m already in too deep.

I don’t know how to tell you that I’m scared
and I know you’re scared too but I need you to not be scared.
For my sake I need you to be less scared then I am.

I keep expecting you to leave.
I keep telling myself that if I drop the conversation, you’ll never text me again.
I keep thinking that you probably actually don’t really like me that much.

I keep thinking and thinking
and it’s really not getting me very far.
All that happens is that I just get more and more scared.

Everyone has told me to protect my heart.
But I don’t know how to do that.
I fell fast and hard and now I don’t really know what to do.

I don’t know what I’m doing.
I don’t know what I’m writing.
All I know is that I like you and I hope you like me too.

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Learning To Love Groupon Coupons


*This post was sponsored by Groupon. However all opinions are my own.*

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been the biggest fan of coupons. I’ve always found them inconvenient mainly because I always forget that they exist.

That changed a few weeks ago when I went out with a friend. She invited me out for dinner at this really nice place that had awesome Mookata. So we went and we had an awesome time. The food was amazing. The company was even more amazing and we just had a great time.

When it came time to pay however, she simply told the cashier that she had a Groupon coupon, flashed the coupon from her phone and we instantly got a ridiculous discount on our whole meal which was actually a little pricy.


Ever since then, I’ve done some research into Groupon Coupons and I’ve discovered that they are honestly really cool.

First of all, you no longer need to cut coupons out and stick them in your wallet and actually remember to use them. Rather, they are all stored up in your phone. If you are at a store, you just need to whip out your phone and you’ve got discounts at your fingertips. It’s pretty cool no?

And the best part is that you have Groupon Coupons for everything from shoes to food and to clothes. There’s really no reason not to want to use them!

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Budget Pamper Sessions With Groupon

*This post was sponsored by Groupon. However all opinions are my own*

I don’t know about you but I love to be pampered. I love everything from a little thing like having someone wash my hair for me to getting a massage. It’s just so lovely to be able to sit back and let someone else do all the work.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we go to Bali so often. We go because the spas are so cheap that we can go almost every single day (sometimes twice!). I remember last year, in only a week, my mum and I actually went through the entire spa menu at a the spa near our hotel. In fact, we even did some stuff twice and I never felt better.

As you can probably tell at this point, I am a big believer in taking time out to take care of yourself regularly. However, that can get quite expensive after a while. Especially if you live in Singapore where literally everything related to being pampered will cost you some serious cash.

So that’s where Groupon comes in. Groupon is a great site which features loads of opportunities to obtain discounts for pretty much everything. Specifically, they are great with providing you with health, beauty and wellness Groupons.

Groupon will provide you with a whole bunch of options when it comes to getting discounts on pampering yourself. After all, I think everyone should be able to feel like a princess every now and then. And we can’t have that if everything is just so expensive now can we?

So if you’re like me and you desperately need some good old TLC, grab a Groupon today and get started!

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Unboxing: Carpe Librum’s September Book Box


Hey guys! It’s that time of the month again where Carpe Librum releases yet another one of their amazing book subscription boxes!

So if you didn’t know, Carpe Librum is a bi-monthly book subscription service that costs $35 (including local shipping)and comes with a paperback novel and a number of other little bookish goodies.

This month, Carpe Librum’s theme was Wanderlust. A box all about travelling and appreciating the world. It was curated by Azura and it features a total of six items.

Today, I’m going to be unboxing it and reviewing each item for you.

1. Land Of The Midnight Sun by Alexander Armstrong

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In an adventure of a lifetime, Alexander Armstrong wraps up warm and heads ever north to explore the hostile Arctic winter – the glittering landscape of Scandinavia, the isolated islands of Iceland and Greenland, and the final frontier of Canada and Alaska.

Along the way he learns from the Marines how to survive sub-zero temperatures by eating for England, takes a white-knuckle drive along a treacherous 800-mile road that’s a river in summer and, with great reluctance, strips off for a dip in the freezing Arctic waters – and that’s all before wrestling Viking-style with a sporting legend called Eva as part of an Icelandic winter festival.

Goodreads

This is a non-fiction book by Alexander Armstrong in which he takes us to the Arctic on an incredible adventure. This is the first time that Carpe Librum has included a non-fiction book in their box and I’m so excited to get to it because it just sounds like a very fun read.

2. A Wanderlust magnetic bookmark

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Just like last month, Carpe Librum decided to include a bookmark in their box. This is a magnetic book mark that was made by Craftedvan.

I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. However after opening it, I realised that it was actually just cardboard with two magnets glued to it. Terrible quality if I have anything to say about it. However after putting it into one of my books and trying it out, I realised that it actually wasn’t that bad and it was quite durable. So props to them!

Now I don’t usually do this but I’m so glad that Carpe Librum introduced us to Craftedvan this month because I checked them out and they literally have the most adorable selection of bookmarks, cards and magnets ever. I completely recommend that you check them out.

3. A custom leather luggage tag

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You can’t have a travel box without a luggage tag can you? This month, Carpe Librum worked with madebysukma to put in a handmade leather tag. I really love it because you can tell it’s handmade but it’s still so beautiful. I can’t wait to use it!

4. A pair of charms

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This was probably my favourite item this month. We got two little charms. One of an open book and another of a suitcase. They are both so adorable and even though I have yet to figure out where to put it, I’m already in love with it.

5. Four travelling drawstring bags

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We got travels bags! In the box, we were given four travel drawstring bags in different sizes. They are so adorable and practical. I know I will be using it for my next holiday. And till then, I might just use one of them to keep my makeup when I go out because they are just too cute!

6. A postcard from Azura

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This month, we got a beautiful, handwritten postcard from the curator herself. I’ve always loved how Carpe Librum personalises the things in their boxes and I really liked how they went a step further to make this box extra special.

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I mean I’m thinking of how many boxes they had to pack and to think that Azura actually sat down and wrote each of us a message just makes me so happy.

So there you have it! Everything that was in this month’s Carpe Librum Wanderlust book box. If their intent was to want to make us travel, let me tell you that they have completely succeeded.

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I’m always so impressed with Carpe Librum. With how hard they work, how lovely they are if you text them about not being able to receive the package and just how genuine they are.

Thank you once again to the Carpe Librum team for putting together this wonderful book subscription service. If you have yet to try it, follow them on Instagram and keep an eye out because I’m sure they will be announcing their next box really soon!

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Review: It Started With Goodbye by Christina June

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Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client). When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.

A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, Christina June’s IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE shows us that sometimes going after what you want means breaking the rules.

Publication Date: 9th May 2017

Goodreads

Okay so all the early reviews for this one have been absolutely glowing but for some reason, I just didn’t like it very much so here’s me who will very happily trash this insufferable book.

Plot

This book is your basic contemporary Cinderella spin off. We have Tatum, the tragic step daughter. Tilly, the stepsister, Belén the evil stepmother and Blanche the ‘fairy godmother’.

In the book, Tatum gets in trouble with the law for basically doing nothing while someone she barely knew tried to steal some phones.

As a result, she gets into major trouble. With her punishment laid out, Tatum’s father leaves for an extremely long business trip and essentially leaves Tatum at the mercy of her seemingly cruel stepmother, step grandmother and stepsister.

Now firstly, I don’t understand how Tatum managed to get into more trouble then her best friend who was the one actually with the guy who stole the phones in the first place.

Secondly, how are her parents so dumb that they did not see that she basically had next to nothing to do with the whole crime and that her punishment was totally uncalled for an unfair?

I mean seriously. That part could have been so much stronger.

The whole plot just felt unbelievable and weak.

Characters

Tatum

Okay honestly, Tatum wasn’t a horrible character and her down-to-earth self and honest portrayal really salvaged a pretty crappy story line.

I liked hearing Tatum’s voice and I liked her personality. I feel like even though she was in a pretty crappy situation, she just really made the best of it and constantly tried to do her best for everyone in her life which was really great.

Belén

I’m sorry but Belén was literally the worst. I mean okay. You want to portray her as the evil stepmother who is pure evil and stuff, fine. Go ahead. But at least keep it that way. But no. Nope. She had to have a change of heart at the end. I’m just. I can’t.

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Tilly

So you’re telling me that two girls who have lived in the same house for ten years decide automatically that they can’t talk to each other and then one day, one person decides to try to crack the ice and in the next second they are best friends forever? Unrealistic much?

SK

SK is the mystery boy that Tatum starts emailing and then goes off on a whirlwind romance with.

Now I know I only have a little experience with relationships but even I know that an online relationship is very different from a real life one and that upon the first meeting, one does not immediately fall in love and kiss and be perfect. You know what a kiss on the first meeting usually means? It usually means a hookup.

I mean come on. Their ‘relationship’ was so unrealistic. These things don’t happen in real life and I know that for a fact. Where was the awkwardness? Where was the getting to know you bit? No one is immediately that comfortable with someone they just met. Give me a break.

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Overall

The concept was there. The general idea was there. However it was just executed very poorly and with very weak characters.

I hated how at the end everything was tied up with a pretty red bow. I mean come on. These things don’t happen in real life.

However, that said, I did think the story was not completely insufferable. I mean I didn’t DNF it so there’s something right?

I did enjoy certain aspects of the book. Like while I did not like SK and Tatum’s real life relationship, I did enjoy their online one because it reminded me a lot of the friendships I have with people who live in other countries. I also liked how Tatum bonded with Anna and the band. That was sweet and very cosy.

And so somehow, I am giving this book a generous three stars because I can’t bear to give it any less. I’m really just in the middle with it.

*An advanced copy of this book was provided to me to read and review by the publishers. However all opinions are my own.*

My-Rating-3-Stars

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Excerpt: Fish Wielder by Jim Hardison

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Fish Wielder is kind of like Lord of the Rings, set in Narnia, if it was written by the guys who made Monty Python and the Holy Grail while they were listening to the music of They Might Be Giants.

In ancient times, the Dark Lord Mauron cooked the most powerful magic chocolate dessert ever made, the Pudding of Power. One thousand and two years later, the evil leader of the Bad Religion, the Heartless One, is trying to recover the lost pudding in order to enslave the peoples of Grome. Only the depressed barbarian warrior Thoral Might Fist and his best friend, Brad the talking Koi fish, have a chance to save the world of Grome from destruction, but that’s going to take a ridiculous amount of magic and mayhem. Thus begins the epically silly epic fantasy of epic proportions, Fish Wielder–book one of the Fish Wielder Trilogy.

Goodreads

Chapter 1

It was the anniversary of something bad.

Thoral Mighty Fist, perhaps the toughest, most mysterious and manly fighter in all the mystical world of Grome, sat in the Inn of the Gruesomely Gashed Gnome in a dark corner,

weeping into his tankard of warm ale. He hated ale, especially when it was warm, although he’d been swilling the stuff since before breakfast. Now it was well after dinner, and all he’d eaten the entire day was a piece of dry toast and a couple of olives as black as his mood. He raised his mug for another bitter sip and the jeweled hilt of the magic broadsword, Blurmflard, poked him in the side like a reminder of past mistakes. It was awkward to sit at a table with a broadsword at your belt, but the mighty barbarian had kept Blurmflard with him at all times ever since the blade was lent to him by his wizard mentor, Yiz. He even slept with it.

As Thoral sat brooding and trying to adjust his position to more comfortably accommodate the blade, a twelve-inch-long orange koi fish walked into the bar on his tail fins. Standing in the entryway, the koi peered around the crowded, dim interior until his bulging eyes fell on Thoral. The fish frowned.

At six feet, Thoral was a head taller than most other human inhabitants of the world of Grome and was so powerfully built that he barely fit at the heavy wooden table at which he sat. He was dressed pirate-style, with a black leather vest buttoned over his otherwise bare chest, tight, plum-colored breeches and knee-high, iron-toed boots. A wide crimson belt bore the magic sword as well as an assortment of leather and velvet pouches. A less attractive or more effeminate man would never have been able to pull off such an outfit, but for Thoral it was no

problem. He had chiseled features and a head of thick, golden hair that curled to his massive shoulders. The few strands of gray made him even more handsome–in a seasoned and mature

way, of course. His glorious hair notwithstanding, his most striking feature was his piercing gaze. So intense, so smoldering was his stare, that those on the receiving end often felt the need

to look away for fear that they would catch fire. There was no word in Gromish for the vibrant purple color of his eyes, but they were violet.

The koi contemplated the warrior. Given his charisma, strength and fighting abilities, Thoral could easily have conquered his own kingdom. But Thoral didn’t seem to care about that

kind of thing. He mostly liked to drink and fight and brood and wander around in forests looking at trees. As the fish watched, the mighty warrior burped. The hot gas seemed to sear his manly nostrils so that he blinked as his striking violet eyes watered.

Thoral looked up from his drink and squinted around the bar to see if anyone had noticed his tears and if there was anyone worth fighting. He failed to detect the fish, who was hidden behind the legs of a passing barmaid. The other patrons were humans, except a few half-elves and a handful of drunken gnomes. He could take them all on single-handedly, but he knew from experience that he’d feel even worse after beating them. Especially the gnomes. It was better to do nothing, to sit and drink and wish things were different.

Thoral closed his eyes and hunched forward to lay his tawny-maned head on the table. The rough-hewn planks, though, smelled as if they had been wiped with a mildew-y rag, so he

sat back up. He fumbled in one of his many belt pouches for the last of his dried herbs, crushed them between his long, calloused fingers and inhaled their fading minty fragrance. It wasn’t quite strong enough to clear the lingering scent of the mildew.

As Thoral sniffled at his mint leaves, the fish sighed. Shaking his head, he stalked across the sticky floor on his tail fins. The barbarian noticed him with a wince.

“This is the end, Bradfast,” Thoral grumbled at the fish in his outlandish accent, his rough voice heavy with melancholy. Thoral tended to transpose the sounds of v and w and to pronounce th at the beginning of words as z because he was foreign.

“Here we go again,” Brad commented dryly, leaping up onto the bench and then the table. He picked his way across the tabletop and stopped before the warrior. “This isn’t the end,

Thoral. It’s just the beginning…or maybe the middle or something. The point is, it’s not over. It’s never over until you give up—or you’re dead.”

“I dost wonder about death,” the barbarian said, as if to himself. He also used outdated words like dost because he spoke High Gromish even though most everybody else spoke the low version. This was also because he was foreign. “Would it truly bring an end? Or just a transition to another world?”

“You’ve had too much to drink, Thoral,” the fish cautioned. “You always get morose when you drink. It’s time we get moving. Maybe go on another adventure or something.”

“I am tired of adventures,” the warrior sighed. “I wish only to go home.” He burped again, and the fish staggered back, blinking.

“Come on, pal. Let’s get out of here,” Brad suggested, fanning himself with a fin. “We’ll fight a monster or go on a quest or steal the jeweled eye from an idol or something. It’ll be fun.”

“My heart is too…” Thoral trailed off. “What is that word that means when something has substantial weight?”

“Heavy,” the fish supplied. Thoral always had trouble remembering that one.

“Heavy. Yes. My heart is too heavy for adventure,” Thoral complained.

“Well, maybe if we pick something really hard, you’ll get killed,” the fish offered.

“A hero’s death?” Thoral asked, perking up just a bit.

“Yeah, sure. A hero’s death.”

“And then I couldst be done with this world,” Thoral murmured.

“Exactly,” Brad affirmed.

“Then let us go,” Thoral said, “this very instant.” He slammed his drink down on the table so hard that some of the ale sloshed out of the tankard, splashing at the fish. The koi danced back, just missing a soaking.

“Up to bed first and we’ll hit the road in the morning,” Brad countered, stepping around the puddle of spilled drink.

“No, we will leave now.” There was a dangerous edge to the warrior’s tone that drew the attention of everyone in the room even though he had not raised his voice. The bar went silent.

“Look, Thoral,” the koi answered, “it’s getting late. I’m tired. You’re drunk. We could both use some sleep. Let’s not make a rash decision that might lead to all kinds of unexpected

complications.”

Every eye turned to see the barbarian’s reaction. “We will leave now,” Thoral insisted. The warrior and the fish stared at each other.

“Be reasonable,” Brad tried again. “Just give me one good reason why we shouldn’t wait

until morning.”

“We will leave now,” the barbarian declared, “because I am Thoral Mighty Fist!

Everyone gasped. Brad sagged, defeated. Once Thoral noted that he was Thoral, there was no point in arguing further. Everyone knew it. That’s just how it was.

With that, Thoral drained his pewter tankard and crushed it one-handed. He got unsteadily to his feet, massive muscles rippling under sun-bronzed, battle-scarred skin, and

transferred Brad from the tabletop into a belt pouch. Then he tossed a gold coin to the hideously disfigured gnomish innkeeper to pay for the mug he’d ruined even though it couldn’t have been worth more than a few coppers. The gnome had been engrossed in restocking a spice rack over the bar, so the coin struck him in the head and then clattered to the floor. He stepped on it with his clubfoot before it rolled away and then pinched it between his stubby, ring-clad fingers.

“Many thanks, Fist Wielder,” the innkeeper croaked, his one eye glittering from his gashed face as the warrior strode past him. “Where are you headed now? Not to the Godforsaken

Swamp, I hope. You should steer clear of that place for a while. There is nothing there but death.”

“I am eager for it,” the barbarian whispered as he strode past the gnome, who frowned and wrung his tiny hands.

Thoral staggered from the bar into the dark, filthy street. Although it was well past sundown, the city was still bustling with all kinds of criminals and cutthroats and that sort of

riffraff. They all cleared out of the big barbarian’s way. Three figures, cloaked and hooded in the black robes of the Bad Religion, watched from the shadows as Thoral went to the tavern’s

hitching post to untie his massive tiger-striped steed, Warlordhorse. He fumbled with the knot, his fingers clumsy from the ale. He shook his head and tried again.

“Let us attack now,” the leader of the Dark Brothers whispered. “We will take him unawares.”

“Uh…are you sure?” one of his subordinates asked, his voice quavering. “Have you heard the stories about him?”

“We have our orders,” the leader countered tersely. “Besides, he is inebriated, there are three of us, and we have the ultimate advantage…” He trailed off, sliding a dagger from a fold of his robe. The curved blade was slick with oily, black poison. He leered at his minions for a moment, and they reluctantly drew their own poison-coated daggers. The three of them started toward the barbarian while he was distracted.

Thoral was still having no luck with Warlordhorse’s tether, and grew frustrated. He put his face close to the rope, trying to get a better look in the dim light of the moon, and made

another attempt. The Dark Brothers crept closer, raising their poisoned blades in unison. Just one scratch and Thoral would be paralyzed before he even felt the wound. Agonizing death would follow within hours, but not before they had had time to drag the warrior before the master of their order to find out how much Thoral knew of their plans.

The Dark Brothers closed in on the unsuspecting champion, swift and silent as death itself.

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