(Blog Tour) Review: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

brightburningstars.jpgHello booklovers, I am so pleased to have been invited to be a tour host for A.K. Small’s compelling new debut, Bright Burning Stars, releasing May 21st from Algonquin Young Readers. Read on for more information about the author, the book’s description, my review and where you can purhcase a copy of your own!

As a young ballerina in Paris, young adult novelist A. K. Small studied at the famous Académie Chaptal and later danced with companies across the US. Inspired by the dancers from her childhood, Small weaves a vivid story of a fiercely competitive female friendship in Bright Burning Stars. Following two teens fighting for center stage and a spot in the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet, this page-turning novel explores the lengths it takes to turn talent into a career. A gifted new writer, Small brings the reader into the passionate world of ballet all while telling an engrossing story of female friendship.


DESCRIPTION

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School since childhood, where they’ve formed an inseparable bond forged by respective family tragedies and a fierce love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves what they would do to win the ultimate prize: to be the one girl selected to join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they die? Cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic would make them shine, too? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with aksmallthe legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

aksmallwords.comtwittersmall.png@aksmallwords |   instagramsmall @aksmallwords


REVIEW

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Bright Burning Stars is a tumultuous, dramatic and frenzied read that shows the dark side of a competitive ballet school, in the vein of Black Swan.

Best friends Marine and Kate would do almost anything to win the coveted Prize … to become one of the students retained for the Paris Opera’s ballet company. The problem? There is only room for one male and female pair. Despite their friendship, Marine and Kate are rivals and their loyalties to each other will be tested. With sights set on the Prize, both girls become entangled with Cyrille, aka The Demigod, considered to be the best male dancer in the student company and a ballet prodigy.

Things get pretty intense from here and I would only recommend this to mature readers, as the story tackles some realistic but tough topics. The relationships in this book are highly manipulative and toxic and the characters use each other for their own gain, while lacking a degree a emotional connection. Some of the darker themes in this story could have been better highlighted and discussed and the adults in this story certainly should have played a larger role in ensuring the mental and physical health of their students.

That said, the setting of this book is superb and this is the type of book one could compulsively read over a weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed the competitive aspect. You never knew what the characters would do next, especially Kate, to achieve their goals.

Overall, this book is a dark contemporary showing how cutthroat the world of ballet is. This book is psychologically taxing at times, but never ceases in dishing out the drama!

Trigger warning for eating disorders, mental illness, suicide, abortion, unclear sexual consent, and unhealthy romantic relationships and friendships.

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review and inviting me to be a host on the blog tour.

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Release Date: May 21st, 2019

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[ARC] Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Review of The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Series: The Gilded Wolves #1

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press/Wednesday Books for sending me a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


DESCRIPTION

No one believes in them. But soon no one will forget them.

It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history—but only if they can stay alive.


REVIEW

Don’t capture their hearts. Steal their imagination. It’s far more useful.

The Gilded Wolves is a wonderful, powerful and imaginative story, teeming with representation for marginalized groups and with a superb cast of unforgettable characters.

With lush descriptions and thought provoking narratives, I was swept into the world of Belle Époque Paris. Roshani does a wonderful job of painting a world teaming with life, while shining a strong light onto those who pay for other’s privileges.

This book is PERFECT for fans of Six of Crows. If you are in dire need of #squadgoals and heists, this is the book for you. I absolutely adore how these characters work together, how each has their own specialty and their backstories – particularly what brought them into Séverin’s life.

Anything could fall. Towers that scraped the heavens, Houses with pockets deeper than empires, shining seraphs who had once been in the confidence of God. Even families who were supposed to love you. Nothing was invincible but change.

Séverin is the heir to a fallen House. Disgraced and forgotten, Séverin is a highly complex character whose main goal is the gain back everything he’s been denied. You will find yourself regularly charmed by and frustrated with him. He is my next favorite character of 2019 and I was constantly LIVING for his POV chapters in this book.

Enrique hit close to home for me, as my grandfather emigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the 1920s. I adore his character immensely, his dry humor and constant exasperation with his compatriots, and support him 110%.

If you get in the way of a woman’s battle, you’ll get in the way of her sword.

Laila is her own mystery and a tantalizing one at that. Battling with her identity and feelings, she is probably the strongest personality of this book and the glue that holds everyone together. Serious #momfriend over here. Just don’t tell her I said that.

Zofia is too damn smart for her own good. No really, her character represents several groups rarely featured in fantasy literature. As the mother of an autistic child, I loved Zofia’s narrative and analytical mind. Roshani did a great job of portraying Zofia and I cannot wait to see her discover more of herself in the sequel.

Tristan is so lovely and sweet, I loved everything he brought to the page and how everyone seeks to protect him while all he wants is to feel useful. His relationship with Séverin is so important for the story and a driving force for much of the future plot.

It seemed the world couldn’t help but want to be near her . . . every beam of light, pair of eyes, atom of air. Maybe that’s why sometimes he couldn’t breathe around her.

While I certainly loved the plot of this and the world Roshani has created – I was absolutely ravenous for one of the romance subplots. It was so angsty, with history and wanting and I swear I was absolutely riveted every time these characters interacted with each other. I cannot wait to see where their relationship goes in the sequel – which has a fantastic set up in that regard as well.

Additionally, there are other romantic subplots hinted at in this including possible gay and bisexual feelings and I am just HERE FOR IT. These characters are still discovering their sexual identity and I am readily holding their hand through it all. I SUPPORT YOU.

My only complaint is that some of the historical and scientific descriptions can be a little lengthy and hard to follow. However, I loved the almost “treasure hunt” life vibe to this and easily looked past these instances.

Overall, this book opens a rich and vibrant world with a dark underbelly, unexpected twists and suffering, and is truly a statement piece for those under the heel of colonialism, racism and prejudice. The book ends with a captivating set up for the second book that will have you screaming from the rafters and dying for more!

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Review: Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi

Review of Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi

Rating: 4.0/5 Stars

I’m just a sentient being existing in the world right now. I know I can think and feel. But I’m not sure how to ultimately feel about this book. Did I like it? Absolutely. Did I love it? Only parts of it.

First, let me start off by saying that I’m sure its not easy to come back to a series years later and try to reconnect to the story and the character’s minds. I feel like Mafi did a good job, though some things felt amiss and out of place to me. All of that said, I’m going to attempt to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but will add warnings if I feel something spoils the book.

Let’s talk about the story itself. This is a very character driven book. The plot driven parts are really only the result of new characters being introduced to the story. The story mostly follows Juliette adjusting to becoming supreme commander and how it affects the lives of those around her. That said, I felt bored for the first half of the book until some new characters got introduced and some big revelations came to light. I felt as though the story was going nowhere until that point. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to reconnect to the characters, but there was a lot of running in circles during the first half.

Speaking of the characters, I hope I’m not the only one who felt like Warner really wasn’t Warner enough in this book. As I said, I imagine it is very hard to write a character you may not have planned to continue the story of. Plus, I felt the anxiety rep was a pivotal point in the book and made Warner so much more real. He struggled so much in this book and I really really just want to give him a hug. However, I felt as though Warner’s reaction to some scenarios felt too soft, not like the very extreme Warner we came to fall in love with. I did enjoy Warner’s POV and his inner monologue was great – but it sure felt like his character changed a lot in two weeks. I did however, enjoy Warner’s interactions with Adam (can you believe I actually enjoyed the very few Adam scenes in this book?) and Kenji (my brotp dreams are coming true!).

AND HOLY COW PEOPLE, COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER. I felt like half of the problems in this book would have been solved if people would just talk to each other. That was another thing that felt out of place. There are certain characters who are afraid to bring things up/ask questions and I felt as though that did not fit their characters at all. I cannot tell you how much I was frustrated with that whole plot point. After everything a couple of the characters have experienced together, they feel untrusting of each other and freeze up at the thought of actually talking?

Also, Juliette annoys me. Despite a handful of times, she has no spine and half the time she does she is also having an epic meltdown. I just have a lot of trouble connecting with her character because she feels very outlandish. Don’t get me wrong, I love this series and was so excited to see her character change at the end of Ignite Me, but lets face it – I’m here for Warner and Kenji. Nevertheless, there was a specific scene with Juliette that I loved toward the end of the book. She has just gone through a massive ordeal and meets a handful of new characters. Her personality here is exactly the Juliette I know she can be, then another conflict comes and its ruined.

Now, let’s talk about two things I loved in this book. A) Kenji is the best bff ever and I love that he continues to be supportive (and funny!), but we also get to see a serious side to him and get more BACKSTORY! I felt as though Kenji was the closest to himself of all the characters in this series. I live for the Kenji and Warner scenes. B) THE QUEEN OF SAVAGERY, NAZEERA. Holy crap girl. I love the way she handled Kenji and the other characters in this book. The whole head covering scene was golden and I enjoyed the way Mafi directed that whole scene.

Also the transphobia rep? Can I just drown that character in a river of Warner’s rejection?

Finally, the ending. What the heck happened? I cannot say much without spoiling it, but it does remind us just the state that Juliette was in when this series first started. However, everything felt so out of left field, it was hard to keep up with why things happened the way they did. I’m not sure how to feel about the direction this story is going, but my feelings about this book will not keep me from continuing it. That said, I felt a little disappointed in this one. I still feel as though Ignite Me is the best book in this series, even if it ended abruptly (as Restore Me ended as well).

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