Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

Sword and Verse (Sword and Verse, #1) 
Title: Sword and Verse
Author: Kathy MacMillan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: January 19, 2016
Source: eARC from the Publisher
Raisa was just a child when she was sold to work as a slave in the kingdom of Qilara. Despite her young age, her father was teaching her to read and write, grooming her to take his place as a Learned One. In Qilara, the Arnathim, like Raisa, are the lowest class, and literacy is a capital offense. What’s more, only the king, prince, tutor, and tutor-in-training are allowed to learn the very highest order language, the language of the gods. So when the tutor-in-training is executed for teaching slaves this sacred language, and Raisa is selected to replace her, Raisa knows any slipup on her part could mean death.

Keeping her secret is hard enough, but the romance that’s been growing between her and Prince Mati isn’t helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slave rebels—to help liberate Arnath slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati. As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
Of all the fantasy novels that I have read recently (and I have read A LOT), I have no qualms in saying that Sword and Verse has the most intriguing premise bar none. I mean, come on - a kingdom where literacy is banned? Where education is not a right but a privilege granted to only the most powerful? Where the one who will teach the prince and heir to the throne is a slave - a slave treated well, but a slave nonetheless? And if you're still not convinced... this book also has elements of mythology woven in to its storyline! Sounds amazing, right!?

I'm not going to lie - despite my initial excitement, the first few chapters of Sword and Verse were not the easiest to read. I found them a little bit boring, but more than that, it was a struggle making sense of the decisions Raisa and Prince Mati, our main characters, made. I initially found their characters immature, and I had a hard time believing that they were truly in love because they profess it so early on! I also found it difficult to like Prince Mati because feel like I didn't get to know him like Raisa knows him. The first 20-25% of the book read more like a love story than a fantasy novel, and not that there is anything wrong with that, but it's just not what I signed up for, if you get what I mean.

I'd like to point out, however, that the love between Raisa and Prince Mati isn't exactly insta-love though it may seem like it. It's just that I feel like their relationship started and developed (though they didn't exactly realize it) as they grew up and learned the Language of the Gods together as tutor-in-training and heir apparent respectively... and thus before the happenings of the book. As a result, we weren't exactly privy to it. I do think that it would have been much better if we got more of the 'before' - how Raisa and Prince Mati met, how they became friends, and how they learned to trust each other.

Okay, folks, so I know that the last few paragraphs might have made you decide to pass on this book, but DON'T LISTEN TO ME... because as I read on, well damn, the book GOT SO MUCH BETTER. (So much better that I needed to express myself in all caps!) Remember how I thought Raisa was an immature character? Nope, I couldn't be more wrong. She wasn't immature - she simply was just a young girl who was distracted in love. Also, my previous misgivings of how Sword and Verse seemed more of a love story than a fantasy novel? Uh-huh - I was proven wrong too! The latter part of the book gave due focus to this beautiful world she has created, and I also want to take a moment to laud how expertly MacMillan developed Raisa into a believable character that you root for and someone you want to succeed!

Raisa is not your quintessential fantasy heroine. She's not brash and outspoken; and she's not a skilled fighter. This doesn't mean that she isn't any less strong though - Raisa uses her intellect and her wit to win battles, and these are what make her a force to be reckoned with. The most difficult of decisions and tasks were thrust to Raisa, and since Raisa had no one who can guide her, everything she did she had to do herself - she stood up, dusted her hands, and took action. I also liked the fact that MacMillan portrayed Raisa as a girl that everyone she can relate to - she gets upset, she sometimes makes the wrong decisions, she sometimes lets her feelings get the best of her... her character is as realistic as they come.

Sword and Verse is not just your ordinary fantasy novel, nor is it your ordinary romance either. It's a tale of strength and courage; a tale of love and passion; a tale of growth and self-discovery, and most importantly, a tale of change... all these amidst political dissent. You might find the first few chapters bland, but I encourage you to continue reading because next thing you know, you'll be tearing through the pages because you cannot get over the world-building, the heart-pounding action, and Raisa's character development. Oh - and did I mention that Sword and Verse can be read as a standalone? And that it doesn't end as a cliffhanger!? (I KNOW!!!)

Rating: 4 Stars

Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt

Dream Things True 
Title: Dream Things True
Author: Marie Marquardt
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: September 1, 2015
Source: eARC from the Publisher
Evan and Alma have spent fifteen years living in the same town, connected in a dozen different ways but also living worlds apart—until the day he jumps into her dad’s truck and slams on the brakes. The nephew of a senator, Evan seems to have it all—except a functional family. Alma has lived in Georgia since she was two, surrounded by a large – and sometimes smothering – Mexican family. They both want out of this town. His one-way ticket is soccer; hers is academic success. When they fall in love, they fall hard, trying to ignore their differences. Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement begins raids in their town, and Alma knows that she needs to share her secret. But how will she tell her country-club boyfriend that she and almost everyone she’s close to are undocumented immigrants? What follows is a page-turning debut that asks tough questions, reminding us that love is more powerful than fear.
I was thisclose to DNFing Dream Things True because the first two chapters bored and confused me, and well, I don't really like being bored when reading. The main reason I wanted to call it a day was because the constant shift between English and Spanish in dialogues confused me, but hey, I didn't want to give up that easily. It did get easier to read between the lines (even though I cannot for the life of me speak Spanish) as I read on, and boy, am I glad that I soldiered on. I thought that Dream Things True would be your typical feel-good romance but it's so much more than that. It's a love story, sure, but it explores other issues we experience in this world today, and all these, in turn, make for a unique, refreshing story.

To kick things off, the female MC, Alma, is an undocumented (I love how it was mentioned and thoroughly explained in the novel why illegal is not really the right word to use) immigrant, and the male MC, Evan, is the quintessential American boy next door - rich, an athlete, and from a conservative family, and you just know that they will not have an easy relationship. The attraction is immediate, however, and cannot be ignored -  almost as immediate as the backlash the two main characters suffer while attempting to have a relationship. I should also point out that most of Alma's friends and relatives are undocumented immigrants as well, and that Evan's uncle is the senator who is lobbying for deportation laws left and right... add all these to the confusion and complications of any budding relationship and you have a mess.

I initially thought that Alma would only reveal her status to Evan near the climax of the novel - that Alma keeping this important secret will be the backbone of the story - but I'm glad that this was not the case. They were early on in their relationship when Alma told the truth, and I love how Evan listened and asked questions to understand her background. He squashed all judgments, all his preconceived notions, and actually listened. Alma introduced Evan to her friends and family, and Evan was able to actually see them as people, and not just 'illegal immigrants' - the same people whom he has been taught so long ago to avoid and look down on. Their relationship was built on love, trust, and honesty, and it was such a treat to read a realistic, finely-crafted tale of first love.

Being with Alma also encouraged Evan to open his eyes and actually see what was going on in their little town. He saw how all these immigrants were treated as criminals even though they weren't doing anything wrong, and it was clearly showcased that they never get the benefit of the doubt. Evan and his friends simply get slaps on the wrists every time they do something remotely close to breaking the law, but that's not the case for Alma's friends and relatives. Evan starts questioning the system that he grew up in, and once he takes a long, hard look at what he used to look past, well, he didn't like what he saw. Because of Alma, Evan is more aware, and that makes all the difference.

While there were a lot of aspects that made Dream Things True a fantastic read, what I like the most about the book is Alma. I'm not going to lie - it took a while before I warmed up to her character, but once I did, I can't help but be amazed at how strong she is. There are numerous instances in the novel wherein she could've taken the easy way out - wherein she could've relied on other people to save her, but instead, she chose to save herself. She chose to do things her way; she did what she felt was right. Doing all that Alma did took a lot of guts, and I was so so so proud of her!

All in all, Dream Things True is an emotionally-charged read that will make you stop and think. The beginning might be a bit confusing, but read on. I'm pretty sure that you'll end up liking it more than you think you will (just like I did!)

Rating: 3.5 Stars

[Speak Now...] Top 15 Books of 2015

Oh heeeeeyyyyy look I just made my first graphic! I think it might be TOO pink but meh I think it's pretty to look at, and I surprisingly enjoyed making it! (But... any tips for a newbie? Some nice fonts that I can download?)

Usually, I write a list of bookish resolutions at the beginning of each year, but I'm switching it up this year. I only have one resolution about the blog, and that's to READ. Yup, that's it. I don't really want to pressure myself and all that because blogging is supposed to be a passion - it's supposed to be fun!

So... I think I'm going to be pretty successful with my resolution this year! ;)

Before I keep rambling on and on and on, here are my top 15 reads of 2015. I didn't get to read a lot last year, but I did stumble upon a few gems diamonds that now have a place in The Best Books According to Lyra list. Without further delay, here they are, plus a few sentences on why I enjoyed them so so much!