Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Retelling/Historical Fantasy
Release Date: May 7th 2019 from Thomas Nelson
Format: Kindle ARC
**A huge thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for providing an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no quotations will be used in this review**
Goodreads Synopsis: The history books say I died.
They don’t know the half of it.
Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.
Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her . . .
That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.
When I found out that I got approved for this ARC on Edelweiss, I had a certain amount of time that I had access to the material. So I figured I would read this right after the second Anastasia book that is coming up next. I was really happy to get approved, since I’m now on the “library” side for my profile on Edelweiss. This plot also sounded really interesting since it follows more closely to the real story of the Romanov family. I had only really known what the animated movie (which is everything!) loosely told about Anastasia’s story. But unfortunately, this book wasn’t for me.
DNF @ 42%
There were a coupe of reasons why I chose to DNF this book right before the halfway mark and the reasons are significant enough for me that I decided I couldn’t continue on with the story. The first, and major reason, is that the magic is not explained and rarely used in this first 42%. All we know is that the magic is supposed to save her family, that someone taught her the magic and that they secretly smuggled a book of magic spells with them to exile. But this book didn’t feel important at all; Nastya (this is her nickname in the book) does read from this book of spells in secret to figure out how to help her younger brother Alexei (who did suffer from hemophilia), but we never see what’s in that book. There’s never any description of how these spells are broken down/explained/used. Even though she was taught magic by someone (I won’t say it here just in case it would’ve been a spoiler later in the book), she isn’t good at it and that’s fine. But we don’t get a glimpse into that book that they had to smuggle out, it felt useless. And while she does a couple small spells to help her brother, there’s no real rules that are discussed about the magic and it isn’t used for any other reasons other than trying to heal the younger brother. What other uses does it have? Could they have secretly used it to help them? How dangerous is it? Does it have consequences for using it? What other materials would you use? None of these questions were answered and to me, if you’re going to use magic in your story, you need to build a basic foundation so readers can get a solid idea of what to maybe expect later in the book. That wasn’t there. I feel like the author didn’t give herself enough to work with when it came to the magic.
The second reason why I chose to DNF this book is the pacing of this book. Some reviews have talked about how the two halves of this book feel different and that was jarring to them. While I didn’t read the whole book, I get that idea. This 42% that I read was a boring day to day life of the Romanov in their exile. They barely get to go outside, can’t really do much inside and the soldiers watching them critique anything they try to do. While I’m sure this is accurate and I did feel bad for them, nothing felt different from the chapter before. It’s so repetitive and when there seemed to be a bit of tension, it’s never explored. Along with the magic not being used, we don’t get much previous info of what happened before they were exile. We get one short bit of history from one of the family members, but that was it. I was tired of reading chapters and chapters of them playing the same games, barely seeing the sun and just sitting around. I feel like a good amount of this could’ve been cut to help the story build to more action like the second half promised from what reviews said.
While I did have problems with the book, the only real positives were seeing the positive family bonds despite their exile and that Anastastia was genuine in her efforts and was a good person. The pacing just never kept me interested enough to finish. I think some will like this book but it wasn’t completely for me. I’m not sure if I will read other works by this author. Her writing was fine, but my major problems turned me off.
Title: Last of Her Name
Author: Jessica Khoury
Genre: YA Sci-Fi/Retelling
Release Date: February 26th 2019 from Scholastic
Format: Kindle ARC
**I received an ARC of this book via the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a free and honest review. All thoughts are my own and no quotations will be used in this review**
Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen years ago, rebellion swept the galaxy known as the Belt of Jewels. Every member of the royal family was murdered–down to their youngest child, Princess Anya–and the Union government rose in its place. But Stacia doesn’t think much about politics. She spends her days half-wild, rambling her father’s vineyard with her closest friends, Clio and Pol.
That all changes the day a Union ship appears in town, carrying the leader of the Belt himself, the Direktor Eminent. The Direktor claims that Princess Anya is alive, and that Stacia’s sleepy village is a den of empire loyalists, intent on hiding her. When Stacia is identified as the lost princess, her provincial home explodes into a nightmare.
Pol smuggles her away to a hidden escape ship in the chaos, leaving Clio in the hands of the Union. With everything she knows threading away into stars, Stacia sets her heart on a single mission. She will find and rescue Clio, even with the whole galaxy on her trail.
When I got an E-ARC from Edelweiss after the publication date, I was over the moon! I hadn’t expected it but started reading as soon as possible. This was a very anticipated release, since I loved her previous book The Forbidden Wish. Now I will say that I did finish this book and there were aspects that I did enjoy, but overall this was a complete miss for me. I do like the author a lot, so I did push through to the end. But my problems with this book definitely outweighed the small pros and for being a fan of her work, this wasn’t good.
My first reason that I couldn’t get along with this book was Stacia herself. I agree with some of the professional reviews for this book that said that she was always putting people in danger. She did and rarely ever thought about the consequences of her actions. She put some people in deadly situations without any thought at all, when trying to formulate even part of a plan would’ve been much safer. She did feel bad at one part with a decision that she made but I hated that she never cared even about those she loved. She had tunnel vision and didn’t even blink about how dangerous they were. She also didn’t grow at all by the end; it felt like the author gave her everything and that felt like unsatisfying wish fulfillment.
The second reason was that the character arcs never felt genuine. This was another complaint that I agree with. The romance feels completely forced and felt like it had to be put in because it’s a YA book, which I disagree with. Many of the characters, despite some major action scenes and other intense things never seemed like they changed from those events. They felt very one note, with thinking and acting the same way. The only one that really had any kind of character arc was a side character that wasn’t in the book very much. Also, some of the choices never felt fulfilling or important to the story either. A major event at the end of the book felt useless when a “deus-ex machina” plot device dropped in.
The last reason that I didn’t really enjoy this book is the ending of the book. Like I had mentioned, there was a plot device used right at the end so that the story could stay a happy one. Everyone got everything they ever wanted and that didn’t feel genuine to the story. Also, the way they dealt with the villain wasn’t well done at all. Despite him being a pretty cardboard cutout villain, it felt like he was forgotten about until they end when he was dealt with in a way that seemed like it was rushed. This plot device type trope is something I strongly dislike in modern stories so I honestly rolled my eyes when it happened.
The positives I will say is that the space world is cool. Seeing some different alien races, planets and creatures were fun and you did get bits of their culture in the scenes they were in. I also liked the gravity magic. There’s a gravity witch side character and the way he used the magic and how it was explained was good. That side stuff with him was enjoyable. But those were the only things that made it good enough to finish the whole book. I will say that the retelling aspect was just having some real historical names put into the story and possibly slight nods to the history but that’s about it. But she does make it her own story, which is something I always commend when writing a retelling.
Overall: This book was very disappointing. The protagonist was reckless and unfortunately not very smart with no regards to any safety and not caring how some people felt or said. The plot also felt cheap at many points, where something would happen and then it would be fixed. This made it extremely predictable and it was frustrating that it was. While the gravity magic and some world building made it okay, I was still expecting so much more. If you are interested in her novels, I would read The Forbidden Wish instead.
Have you read any of these? Do you agree or disagree with these reviews? Do you know of any Anastasia retellings that you did like and would recommend? Let me know in the comments!