Review of The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

TheForbiddenOrchidCoverThe Forbidden Orchid
By: Sharon Biggs Waller
Release Date: March 8th 2016
Publisher: Viking
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls’ father is a plant hunter, usually off adventuring through the jungles of China.

Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan fails to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid, meaning that he will be thrown into debtors’ prison and the girls will be sent to the orphanage or the poorhouse. Elodie’s father has one last chance to return to China, find the orchid, and save the family—and this time, thanks to an unforeseen twist of fate, Elodie is going with him. Elodie has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China.

But even if she can find the orchid, how can she find herself now that staid, responsible Elodie has seen how much the world has to offer?

My Thoughts:
This was the first book I’ve read by Sharon Biggs Waller and I went in with high expectations because of all the amazing things I’d heard about this author’s prior book, A Mad, Wicked Folly. Overall, I found this book to be an entertaining read and enjoyed the storyline and adventure. I did have some issues with the characters but I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let’s talk about the things I did enjoy. The setting was lush and I felt the descriptions lent themselves to very clear imagery and helped progress the story for me. The novel was told in first person from the main character, Elodie’s, point of view. I really enjoyed that the novel’s progress was split into three sections, one in England, aboard a tea clipper and then the final, in China. My favorite section was the shortest, aboard the tea clipper. I felt that Waller did an exceptional job describing the boat and how it would feel to be Elodie traveling across the ocean for the first time.

Where I had issues with this book was in the character representations. I felt like they were all caricatures of themselves. It’s hard to explain but I’ll try…some of the characters felt like they played on a stereotype rather than on an in depth character. The two most obvious to me were Deacon Wainwright and Ching Lan. Wainwright was described and acted so much like Mr. Collins (of Pride and Prejudice) to me. He was bumbling, homely and sexually repressed. He seemed so typical of a clergyman it stood out to me. It wasn’t enough to really deter from the book but it was something I noticed.

As the story moved to China I noticed other characters feeling more stereotypical than well developed. I have zero knowledge of this time period or culture but certain things (language mostly) sort of felt…I don’t know, cliché? It’s hard to put my finger on it but it was bothersome for me personally. It left me feeling like more could have been done to bring something deeper to Ching Lan’s character rather than her exotic description, concubine plight or her expressions of ‘wah’ and ‘ai yah’ I felt there was an opportunity missed to create a well developed, diverse character.

My favorite character was Elodie’s father. I felt he was possibly the most interesting character of them all and I enjoyed that he had elements that made him not the greatest man or father. Elodie herself was a decent main character though at times her character did aggravate me with her naiveté. There are several examples of her making decisions I found to be incredibly frustrating such as trusting someone when she had every reason not to and wearing completely inappropriate clothing for where she was.

Those wondering about the romance- there was one (no triangle) and it was done fairly well. I was able to feel the character’s chemistry and I felt it was believable. I think most readers will enjoy the relationship and how it develops.

Final Thoughts:
Though The Forbidden Orchid had some strengths-certain weaknesses stood out so strongly I had trouble looking past them. I wished that the author would have taken the opportunity to create a better diverse character and also give her main character some worldly sense. I wonder if you read this book yet did these things trouble you? Am I alone?

Blog Tour- Rebel of the Sands Character Playlist

I am SO EXCITED to be involved with this tour for Rebel of the Sands. This is one of my favorite books of 2016 and I rated it 5 stars (you can see my review here). The mix of genres worked so well for me as well as the characters. Today I am honored to have Alywn Hamilton here on my blog with her play-list for Amani, the main character of the book.

About the Book

RebeloftheSandsRebel of the Sands
By: Alwyn Hamilton
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Penguin

Summary:
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

Rebel of the Sands is available NOW

Character Playlist  for Amani

1 – Chasing Twisters – Delta Rae

Everything in this song is Amani to me. From the reckless frantic beat to the idea of her chasing her dreams, trying to catch them like twisters that will sweet her up into something bigger sounds like her to me. She’s a girl born with lightening in her heels and with Dust and Devils on her conscience.

2 -Initials B.B –Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra

This song builds slow and tense, then at 0:44 breaks into the truly badass. It’s the soundtrack to rising to a challenge. It’s the soundtrack to the shooting contest in the first chapter of the book to me.

3 – Remember the Name – Fort Minor

If this is a song about earning a name that passes into infamy it definitely belongs to the girl who goes by the Blue Eyed Bandit.

4 – Gunpowder and Lead – Miranda Lambert
There are a fair few country songs about women getting their own against a world that would chew them up and spit them out. But this is the one for Amani to me.

5 – Paradise – Coldplay

If Amani had a Luke Skywalker moment, staring out across the dunes at the horizon, this would be the soundtrack to it. Dreaming of a better place, right there beyond her reach, half real, half imagined.

6 – Hit me with your best shot – Pat Benatar

This song is Amani at her toughest and cockiest for me. You want to come after her, she will take you on right back.

7 – I knew you were trouble – Taylor Swift

This song alternates between being about Amani from Jin’s point of view and about Jin from Amani’s point of view. And it fits in right when they meet in the first couple of chapters of the book.

8 Dust – Augustana

This is the part of Amani that Dustwalk. The part that’s a little bit dark and a little mistrustful and a little bit angry at the hand her town has dealt her.

9 – Paloma – Carbon Leaf 

This is a song about a girl running towards freedom. “The dreams you seek are straight ahead in every direction.” Is a line that sums up that secret vulnerable part of Amani that’s full of hope.

10 – American Girl – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Amani might not be an American girl, but she’s definitely raised on promises of a great big world with lots of places to run to. Besides, this song always reminds me of the scene in Scrubs where Dr. Elliot Reid turns herself into a badass.

11- Bang Bang – 3OH!3

This song has always sounded like the anthem of a truly badass girl to me. And if that doesn’t describe Amani I don’t know what does. So put your hands in the air, she’s gonna shoot.

12 You’re Gonna go Far, Kid – The offsprings

This song is about someone a little bit ruthless, willing to lie and claw their way to what they want. With a thousand lies, and a good disguise. And Amani is a Damn Good Liar.

13 – Alone Together – Fallout Boy

This song kind of sums up Amani and Jin’s relationship at the beginning of the book for me. Or at least when they meet and how they wind up on the road together.

14 – Bulletproof – LaRoux 

Besides the obvious bullet metaphor for the girl with the gun this is a song for a badass girl closing off her heart.

15 Run – Delta Rae 

Another Delta Rae song. This is a more hopeful song about running, and it belongs to the moment Amani breaks free of her dead end town and starts to tame the roads that can’t be tamed.

16 – You give love a Bad Name – Bon Jovi

If anyone is a loaded gun it’s Amani. There’s a ruthless side to the girl with the gun that fits with this song for me.

17 – Your Surrender – Neon Trees

There is an important part of Amani’s journey that is about letting her guard down. And that’s what this song is about.

18 – Angel with a Shotgun – The Cab

I have written more of REBEL to this song that I would care to admit. It always sounds like an inspiring song about finding a cause to fight and the moment something shifts inside Amani. And again, the shotgun metaphor doesn’t hurt with the Blue Eyed Bandit.

19 – Bad Girls – M.I.A

I wrote most of Chapter 23 to this. It’s a song for 2 badass girls ready to live fast and die young and Amani is half of that team.

20 – Born to run – Bruce Springsteen

If Amani lived on the modern age she would probably wear blue jeans with a red bandana sticking out of the back pocket because this song would be her anthem. She was indeed born to run.

Review of The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

SteepandThornyWayThe Steep and Thorny Way
By: Cat Winters
Release Date: March 8th 2016
Publisher: Amulet Books
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
1920s Oregon is not a welcoming place for Hanalee Denney, the daughter of a white woman and an African-American man. She has almost no rights by law, and the Ku Klux Klan breeds fear and hatred in even Hanalee’s oldest friendships. Plus, her father, Hank Denney, died a year ago, hit by a drunk-driving teenager. Now her father’s killer is out of jail and back in town, and he claims that Hanalee’s father wasn’t killed by the accident at all but, instead, was poisoned by the doctor who looked after him—who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather.

The only way for Hanalee to get the answers she needs is to ask Hank himself, a “haint” wandering the roads at night.

My Thoughts:
If you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ll know that I adore Cat Winters’ writing style and each of her books really resonates and impacts me emotionally. This one was no different.

I wasn’t all that sure what to expect about this book going in because I honestly didn’t read the summary prior to requesting it. All I needed to know was that Winters wrote it. I was surprised and impressed with the social issues that were looked into and the way that, though immense emotion was present, the novel didn’t feel like it was telling me how to believe. It was an honest character study in a period of time rife with prejudice and judgment.

My heart ached for the struggles these characters had to deal with and the amount of hate directed at them. Though the setting was historical I think we can draw comparisons to our current day. The way Winters approached her characters was so refreshing and lent itself to honest understanding and empathy from the reader.

My favorite aspect of this novel was how strong Hanalee was. And, though I really don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of the time period or what Hanalee was going through, I was able to relate on a deep level.

Winters always impresses me with her ability to delve into a setting, time period and her characters. You can always tell that there has been a lot of research and study going into these books. I felt that Winters portrayed these characters beautifully and really gave them a voice.

Beyond the amazing characters, most of which were truly well rounded, the elements that mirrored Hamlet were very well done. I had to brush up on Hamlet since it had been ages since I’d read it but once I sparked  my memories I was easily able to see how TSaTW took some of these elements and twisted them into the book. Such as, a lonely ghost seeking to explain his death, mixed up identities and motives, and the journey of a child trying to understand her father’s demise.

As with all of Winters’ books the writing was impeccable though I found the pacing in this one to be a tad slower than her other novels. The paranormal elements were also less pronounce but still very present and integral to the storyline.

Final Thoughts:
Once again Cat Winters has written a book that had me thinking about its message long after finishing the novel. The writing, characters and research of the time period and people was impeccable-as always.

Extras:

  • Review of The Uninvited by Cat Winters
  • Review of The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters
  • Interview with Cat Winters author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds
  • Review of In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Review of Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

RebeloftheSandsRebel of the Sands
By: Alwyn Hamilton
Release Date: March 8th 2016
Publisher: Penguin
Format: Print ARC
Source: Friend

My Rating:
star

Summary:
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

My Thoughts:
Rebel of the Sands was crazy good. I sat down with it and thought I’d read a chapter but ended up reading about 3/4ths of the book in one sitting. It was captivating, action packed and had perfect moments of swoon. I adored the characters and their dialog and interactions were very well done.

I didn’t know exactly what I was getting when I started this one…I’d heard it was fantasy? But also the back and summary bring up desert and guns so I wasn’t sure of the genre or atmosphere. It turned out to be this incredible mix of classic Wild West and the Middle East. Not only do we have shoot-out gun fights and train chases we also get epic sand storms, desert treks, djinni myths and a rebel prince. Sign me up for ALL the things.

The main character, Amani, was trapped in her small, desert town. A town in the middle of the desert that viewed women as lesser than and incapable of doing much more than being a wife and mother. Amani’s own mother and step father were dead which left her living with an aunt and uncle who cared little for her welfare. Amani wasn’t having any of that though. She wasn’t going to allow anyone to map out her future or stop her from doing the things she was passionate about (like shooting). I immediately connected with Amani and really loved her spirit, fierce nature and sense of self. She had a goal and nothing was going to stop her.

Beyond Amani, all the other characters were well developed. I know for a fact Jin will be a crowd pleaser. I fell in love with his sharp wit, humor and generally everything about him. His chemistry with Amani was impeccably created and just *swoon* perfection. Jin was so much more than a love interest though. This character was just as thought out as Amani. I can’t go into his past in detail because spoilers but I adore him and need to read oh so much more about him in the next two books.

Even characters that played a very small role were capable of pulling at my heart- I was so impressed that Hamilton conveyed a friendship between Amani and a boy from her town so well that I was feeling emotional in certain parts of the story. I am usually fairly hard hearted especially with characters that aren’t on the page long but not so in this book. I felt some serious love and hate quickly and deeply.

Beyond the characters, the world was exquisite and so creative. Hamilton created so many myths and a depth to the world’s history that I was completely captivated. I honestly couldn’t tell what was created by the author and what might actually be true myths. The entire story was a brilliant concept and wonderfully executed. Hamilton’s writing was so well done I had no problem imagining all of her settings and the action sequences were epic. I could imagine it all playing out like a film (you have train chases, shoot-outs, desert treks, sand storms and more). I am really blown away with the scope of this novel.

Final Thoughts:
I am completely obsessed with Alywn Hamilton’s debut, Rebel of the Sands. This novel mixed a wild west aura, middle eastern culture along with original myth to create a fantasy world rich in depth and completely captivating. This was one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever read and I can’t wait to read more from Hamilton and this series. I am in love.