ARC Review: Portrait Of A Thief || heists, art, history and identity all in one

History is told by conquerors. And amazing stories, as it turns out, are told by Miss Grace Li.

Portrait of a Thief

Title: Portrait Of A Thief
Author: Grace D. Li
Genre: Adult Mystery, Contemporary
Publisher: Tiny Reparations Books
Publishing Date: 5th April, 2022

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now.
Will Chen plans to steal them back.
A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son that has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a shadowy Chinese corporation reaches out with an impossible—and illegal—job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago.
His crew is every heist archetype one can imagine—or at least, the closest he can get. A conman: Irene Chen, Will’s sister and a public policy major at Duke, who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering student who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down.
Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars—and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted attempt to take back what colonialism has stolen.

Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for sending me in e-ARC of this book in exchange of an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way.

Buddy read with Prutha @Moonchild Lexicons!

I hate to tell you this, but if you go into this book looking for action-packed heists, high speed thrilling chases, so-close-to-getting-caught getaways and a million other things you associate with the word “heist”, you are going to be disappointed.

And to be honest, I was slightly disappointed by the slowness of it all in the very beginning. But with the deliberation with which all of it was written, I soon came to realize that maybe that was the whole point. Maybe the author was trying to prove that all heist stories need not be fist fighting, epic showdowns and dramatic getaways. They can be on the emotional side of things.

For the aforementioned reason, it would be a near crime to define this book as a heist story. Sure, our crew had to battle against gripping stakes and go on a few (read: 5) heists, but as a whole, the story was about SO much more. Our entire cast of main characters were Chinese-Americans college students, trying to cope with questions surrounding their identities, while doing their best to not disappoint their families. They were trying to make a future for themselves while trying not to dishonour their past.

If I had to put it in numbers, I’d say the book was 95% thoughts and 5% action. The internal wrestling with their identities definitely took up all the spotlight, while the external conflict (the heist plot) was comfortable backstage. It was one of those books that gives you insight into what a character is thinking and feeling, rather than doing.

Speaking of characters, I did feel like a couple of the main characters were written in a slightly 2-dimensional sort of way (and I found Irene annoying), but that didn’t stop me for rooting for them throughout the story. Daniel was by far my favourite character, the way he and his father had this thing going on seemed so relatable to me and I could really connect to him.

All that being said, Portrait Of A Thief was an overall contemplative book. I’d recommend it to fans of Jeffery Archer’s Nothing Ventured (with the action amped down a little bit) and anyone in general looking for a slow paced but thought-provoking read. Go add this to your tbr, because it comes out in no more than 2 months from now!

Which is your favourite slow paced read? Have you read Portrait Of A Thief? Is it on your TBR? Chat with me in the comments!

~ Rachel

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ARC Review: The Helheim Princess by Tiana Warner || valkyries, winged mares and ancient relics

What if I told you that the entire cosmos was a tree?

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the central, sacred tree around which the entire Nordic universe, that is to say the Nine Worlds exists. The inhabitants of these nine worlds are everyone from gods to valkyries to elves.

Yes, I have been doing my reading. In fact, I feel like I’ve entered my mythology-obsessed phase once again. But which was the book that got me interested in Norse mythology of all things?

The Helheim Princess (The Helheim Prophecy, #1)

Title: The Helheim Princess
Author: Tiana Warner
Genre: YA Fantasy, Mythology
Publishing Date: 4th January, 2022
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Add to Goodreads!

Synopsis:

A thrilling, intricate, and romantic #OwnVoices LGBTQ fantasy that builds on Norse mythology into a beautiful story all its own.
For as long as Sigrid could remember, she’s wanted to become a mighty, fearless valkyrie. But without a winged mare, she’s a mere stable hand, left wondering who her parents were and why she’s so different. So when the Eye shows her a vision where she’s leading a valkyrie charge on the legendary eight-legged horse Sleipnir, she grabs the possibility of this greater destiny with both hands, refusing to let go.
Too bad that the only one who can help her get there is Mariam, an enemy valkyrie who begrudgingly agrees to lead her to Helheim but who certainly can’t be trusted―even if she does make Sigrid more than a little flustered. As they cross the nine worlds, battling night elves, riding sea serpents, and hurtling into fire to learn the truth about Sigrid’s birthright, an unexpected but powerful bond forms.
As her feelings for Mariam deepen into something fiery and undeniable, Fate has other plans for Sigrid. What happens when the one thing you think you were meant to do might end the nine worlds? 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange of a sincere review. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

At first glance, the plot of The Helheim Princess won’t seem much different than a lot of YA fantasies out there. It follows an outcast, somehow different from all her peers, trying to find her place in a world that shuns her for being who she is.

But it takes a closer look to spot the uniqueness in this story. One thing I really liked was how realistically our main character, Sigrid, reacted to her environment. At times she doubted herself and her abilities because the other valkyries looked down on her, at others she was determined not to let the taunts sway her resolve and set out to prove that she was just as good as any valkyrie if not better.

Perhaps, being somewhat of a mythology nerd, I’m slightly biased, but the best thing about this book was how the author drew from the elements of Norse mythology. There was enough about it to make the reader comfortable, but not enough for the world building to be called an info dump. I can only imagine how hard this delicate balance is to achieve; I’ve seen books go wrong both ways of this scale.
I can assure you that I went in with nearly zero prior knowledge about Norse mythology, and emerged as someone who could save face if ever asked the basics.

Other exciting things about this book were fierce female characters, sapphic slow-burn, and of course our beloved quest-to-retrieve-a-stolen-relic trope! The animal lover in me deeply appreciated the bond between Sigrid and Hestur (her horse), the way their love for each other never faltered through the ups and downs of their journey.

I do have some misgivings though. The pacing felt slightly off, too slow in the beginning and then quite rushed in the second half. Then there was the ending. It all felt too easy somehow, and maybe that has something to do with the sequel, yet it felt that there was this rush to wrap it all up.
The twists and reveals were sort of predictable and I was not a fan of a particular toxic parent child relationship.

Overall, it was a quick and enjoyable read. I’d recommend The Helheim Princess to anyone looking for a mythology-driven epic fantasy with a dash of adventure!

Do you have The Helheim Princess on your tbr? Are you interested in reading mythology? Let me know in the comments!

~ Rachel

P.S. My Review Index page is now live! You can find all my reviews till date in an alphabetical manner there!

September Wrap-Up // ft. more diverse reads and lots of blog hopping!

Would you look at that? My wrap-up post is actually on time for once! I can’t really promise to make this a habit though. What can I say, I like to be fashionably late. *flips hair in sass*

Speaking about fashion, did you know that the bearded vulture purposely dyes its feathers with red soil? Interestingly, it is the only bird that likes to play dress-up in this manner.

Yes, believe it or not, that was the weird bird fact for today.

Since the entire purpose of my monthly bird-fact intros is to spare me from writing long introductions to my wrap-ups, we get started right away!

I didn’t get much time to read this month – most of it was a whirlwind of exams and schoolwork – so I barely read anything for the first half of the month, it was only later that I found some time to read. The books were all 4 star-ish so I guess that’s a good thing?

The highlight of this month, however, is something else. Somehow, ALL my reads this month were written from first person point-of-view! Like, how? An utter coincidence, Nature playing a joke on this poor soul, or the bookish gods trying to convince me that not all first person narratives are boring? Whatever it may be, I am actually glad I gave (5!) books with 1st person POV a chance, because upto this point, I had ended up disliking nearly every book told from 1t person POV. However, I for once enjoyed reading the narratives of most of these 5 books, so happy realization to me!

Onto the books I read!

The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games, #1)
The Wolf's Curse

A Clash Of Steel by C.B. Lee (ARC)
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
This was a lovely diverse retelling of the classic favourite Treasure Island – with strong woman characters, pirates and treasure hunting! It was one of my most anticipated releases this year so I’m grateful I got the chance to be a part of the blog tour!

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
A book that has gotten popular recently due to its recently released sequel, I buddy read The Inheritance Games with April for our hype-o-meter series of posts! While lacking in several aspects, I laud the author for creating such an intriguing atmospheric mystery!

The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis (ARC)
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
A beautiful, lyrical, atmospheric middle grade fantasy centered around death and life, love and loss among lots of other meaningful themes, this book completely stole my heart.

We Are Not Free

How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao
Rating: ★★ (4 out of 5 stars)
This was an intriguing murder mystery set in an elite prep school where secrets don’t stay buried for long. A completely Asian main cast of characters, flashbacks and dark secrets – this book will keep you hooked.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
Rating: ★★½ (4.5 out of 5 stars)
An impactful story about 14 Japanese teenagers living in war-torn America during WWII, growing up amid discrimination and facing all odds to stay happy together – We Are Not Free was deep. Full review to come!

Most of my posts this month were basically reviews of some sort so yeah, compared to the plethora of creative posts I published last month, this month’s content was pretty stale. Still, some of the reviews are nicely written, with quotes and moodboards and hype-o-meters and what not.
Here are all my posts this month, check them out in case you missed them earlier!

  1. August Wrap-Up // the month of mostly mediocre reads, creative posts and blog redesign! : The month started with me wrapping up my reads, blogging etc in August. The weird bird fact of the month was something on albatrosses.

2. We Hunt The Flame vs the Hype-o-meter // Review : New favourite book incoming! This post was the second in a collab series with April, in which we determine whether or not a popular book is worth the hype! And my, We Hunt The Flame definitely was!!

3. Blogger Interview with Rachel! : Soo this was not a real post at all, it was a reblog of my interview with Riddhi from Whispering Stories! She asks me a set of questions related to everything from my blog to my future career and lots more!

4. Blog Tour: A Clash Of Steel by C.B. Lee (Review + Moodboard) || A diverse retelling set in imperial china ft. lost treasure and pirates! : I got selected for a blog tour of A Clash Of Steel, and got the chance to review an arc! Plus there’s a moodboard!!

5. We Hunt The Flame Quotes As Real Life Moments! : In my favorite post this month, I compare quotes from the Sands of Arawiya duology to moments in my life! Basically a sarcastic compilation of random real life moments!!

6. Blog Tour: Top 5 Reasons To Read The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis || A poignant tale revolving around superstitions and death : As part of the book tour of the recently released The Wolf’s Curse, I list the top 5 resons you should read this lyrical middle grade!

7. The Inheritance Games vs the Hype-o-meter // Review : In the third installment of our hype-o-meter series, me and April review a book everyone seems to be reading lately! Was it worth the hype? Click to find out! (and click here to read April’s post!)

I am not kidding when I say I did a LOT of blog hopping this month and I’m proud of how many great new blogs and posts I discovered! Here’s a list of some posts I enjoyed reading in September!!

Maddie @Inking & Thinking reviews The Bones of Ruin!

Darcey @Read In The Clouds reviews Under The Whispering Door!

Aashi @Words On Fleek writes a hilarious song-review of City Of Bones!

Becky @Becky’s Book Blog reviews Among Thieves!

Sabrina @Wordy & Whimsical lists six ridiculous reading worries!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura lists six bad reasons to dnf a book!

Kaya @A Fictional Bookworm reviews an arc of Beasts Of Prey!

Malka @Paper Procrastinators gives tips for Netgalley newbies!

Anoushka @Dipped In Ink wrote a hilarious post on why bookworms can be dangerous!

J @Midnight Book Blog gives helpful tips for writing reviews!

Maddie @Inking And Thinking writes a discussion on why she follows book blogs!

Saima @Stories With Saima shares 6 things she has learnt after 6 months of blogging!

Bertie @Luminiosity Library reviews an ARC of Under The Whispering Door!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura does the fantasy tropes book tag!

Naemi @A Book Owl’s Corner reacts to five star reviews of books she hated!

Brianne @Peruse With Coffee shares her huge autumn tbr!

Cherry @Letters To The Lost lists the reasons why you should read We Hunt The Flame!

Sabrina @Wordy And Whimsical shares blog post ideas that she discarded!

Laura @The Corner Of Laura lists 6 features of a chill-out read!

Saima @Stories With Saima shares her spooky October tbr!

Siena @Booksophobia discusses unhauling books!

Rebecca @Bex the Bibliophile reviews A Dark And Hollow Star!

Alix @Alix Reads Books writes a discussion on annotating books!

Raji @Worlds Unlike Our Own recommends 7 thrilling reads to read during Halloween!

How was September for you? Which was your favourite read this month? Have you read any of the books I read? Let me know in the comments!!

~ Rachel

Blog Tour: Down To Earth by Betty Culley + Moodboard

Hello guys and welcome to my stop for the book tour of Down To Earth by Betty Culley! Thank you so much to TBR and Beyond Tours for providing me an e-arc of this book in exchange of a sincere review. Click on the tour banner below to view the entire tour schedule!

Title: Down To Earth

Author: Betty Culley

Genre: Middle Grade (Science fiction)

Publication Date: August 24th 2021

Synopsis

Counting by 7s meets See You in the Cosmos in this heartwarming coming-of-age story perfect for the budding geologists and those fascinated by the mysteries of the universe.

Henry has always been fascinated by rocks. As a homeschooler, he pours through the R volume of the encyclopedia to help him identify the rocks he finds. So, when a meteorite falls in his family’s field, who better to investigate than this rock enthusiast–with his best friend, James, and his little sister, Birdie, in tow, of course.

But soon after the meteorite’s arrival, the water in Henry’s small Maine town starts drying up. It’s not long before news spreads that the space rock and Henry’s family might be to blame. Henry is determined to defend his newest discovery, but his knowledge of geology could not have prepared him for how much this stone from the sky would change his community, his family, and even himself.

Science and wonder abound in this middle-grade debut about an inquisitive boy and the massive rock that came down to Earth to reshape his life.

Book Links: Goodreads || Amazon || Barnes and Noble || Book Depository || Indigo || IndieBound

Down To Earth is a thoughtful middle grade novel about a young boy whose life turns upside down when a meteorite falls near his home.

Our main character, Henry Bower, belongs to a family of ‘dowsers’, people who have the gift of locating water underground. The problem is, Bowers are supposed to get this gift when they are ten, and Henry is but hasn’t been able to dowse yet, but he’s not going to give up hope.

I really liked Henry’s personality throughout the book, the author managed to make him same yet unique to a lot of children his age. His love for rocks and his “percent thinking” was what made him… well, him.

One of our other characters – half of one actually haha – is Henry’s two-year old sister Birdie, who communicates using two-word sentences despite Henry’s efforts to make her say a longer sentence.

The sibling dynamics between Birdie and Henry throughout the story was something I really appreciated. It was nice to see siblings feel something better than jealousy or rivalry towards each other for once, and this is something that is really important to portray in such books today.

Further, I liked how the story did not shy away from some serious topics as well. When the Bowers’ home gets flooded, and later when there is some violence and someone gets hurt, things suddenly start to look more… real. Henry’s fear and confusion during this period was relatable and yet another important topic for young readers.

Overall, Down To Earth was a beautiful blend of sci-fi and contemporary which revolves around family, friendship and identity.

Rating: ★★★ (3 out of 5 stars)

Betty Culley’s debut novel in verse Three Things I Know I True, was a Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick, an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee, an ALA-YALSA Quick Pick, and a Junior Library Guild selection. Her first middle-grade novel Down to Earth, is inspired by her fascination with meteorites, voyagers from another place and time. She’s an RN who worked as an obstetrics nurse and as a pediatric home hospice nurse. She lives in central Maine, where the rivers run through the small towns.

Author Links: Website || Twitter || Instagram || Goodreads || Facebook

Do you have Down To Earth on your TBR? Which is your favourite sci-fi?

~Rachel

Missed my previous posts? Check them out here!

8 Things I Look For In Books // does it show that I am desperate for recs?

Books As Road Trips // a random post that emerged out of the void

The Young Elites vs The Hype-o-Meter!

Misfit by Jo Zaida || Arc Review

Book Details

Title : Misfit

Series : The Asura Chronicles

Author : Jo Zaida

Publication Date : May 24th 2021

Genre(s) : YA Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Add to Goodreads

Blurb (from Goodreads):

Two clashing orders battle for power over their world and the realm of the dead, using teenagers as their pawns. The teenagers, however, have other ideas.

In the New World, Elle is visited by a ghost from the Asura, a realm existing between the mortals and the Gods. The Asura challenges everything she thought she knew about herself, her family and the Ministry that controls them, and throws her into an adventure of chaos and discovery.

River, meanwhile, has been welcomed into a secret organisation with tantalising promises of a better future. But not everything is as it seems. His loyalty to his father is challenged as he gets pushed into a strategic engagement with a girl he does not like, and starts to discover more about the Alliance’s darker schemes.

Worlds collide for young adult readers who will love the fast-paced thrills, the chemistry between characters, and the interplay of dystopian fantasy and science fiction, self-discovery and friendship in Misfit, book one of The Asura Chronicles trilogy.

Book Review

Thank you to the author, Jo Zaida, for reaching out and providing me an e-ARC of this book in exchange of an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way.

He had made a terrible mistake becoming her friend.

Misfit (Asura Chronicles #1)

What I enjoyed

The immersive world building. The author gave us just enough clarity about the new world this book was set in, without making it look like an info-dump.

The different mindsets of the characters. The book showed us all the different angles and perceptions by which the world (the one in the book) is seen by our different main characters. Elle hated being controlled and monitored constantly, Raine said it made her feel safe. River and Jay appreciated the system, but were not blind to its flaws. These different views made the story all the more interesting.

The ending was satisfactory. When I was halfway through the book, I was getting kinda worried about the ending. But it turned out to be extremely satisfactory, while also promising a continuation to the story.

River appeared calm, but it was not a pleasant calmness. He was numb.

Misfit (Asura Chronicles #1)

What did not tickle my fancy

The lack of action. If you are a frequent visitor to my blog, you’ll probably know that I love extremely fast-paced and action packed books. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. There was very little action (though there was murder).

The ever smooth pacing. The pacing throughout the book was completely even. No one likes a flat, single-line heart rate reading plot, right? There was no climax, no heart-racing moments. An inclusion of these would have made the story so much better.

Overall, I would recommend this book to coming-of-age readers, and anyone who likes some good suspense and enjoys seeing development in family relationships in their reads.

Rating : 3 stars out of 5

In the corner of the room, a shimmering presence watched the joyful celebrations and contemplated the news.

Misfit (Asura Chronicles #1)

Let’s Chat!

How did you like my review? Do you have Misfit on your TBR? Let’s chat in the comments!

Blog Tour: A Wilder Magic by Juliana Brandt (Review + INTL Giveaway!)

Hey people, I am so excited to be participating in the Book Promo tour for A Wilder Magic hosted by MTMC Tours! A huge thanks to MTMC tours and Netgalley for providing me an eARC (my first ever!) of this book.

Title: A Wilder Magic

Author: Juliana Brandt

Publisher: Sourcebooks Young Readers

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Middle Grade Historical Fantasy

Add on Goodreads!

From the author of The Wolf of Cape Fen comes a
beautiful and lyrical standalone story about one
family with magic in their bones, who are tied to the
mountain valley in which they live in more ways
than one. And what happens when the land they
love is destined to be flooded, whether or not they’re still on it.

For generations, Sybaline’s family has lived in a magical valley in the Appalachian mountains, helping the magic grow the land. But now the government has ordered them to relocate; their valley is needed to create a dam for electricity. In one week, their home will be flooded.

Sybaline can’t imagine life without her home and without the magic. Stopping the dam proves to be impossible; the government is too big and too strong. She takes the only choice left: she stays. Using her magic, she builds a wall, and as water floods the valley, it covers her house, leaving her living beneath the lake itself.
But there is a consequence to using magic in such a way, one that will transform both herself and the friends who end up trapped beneath the water with her. If she can’t find a way to escape the prison she’s created, both she and those she loves will end up staying in the watery grave of the valley forever.

My Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a middle-grade fantasy book so much! There is so much to love in this book, so I have decided to put together a list of all the things you should read this book for.

The strong sibling relationships. This book was all about family relations. I loved how the main character, Sybaline, and her three cousin sisters shared such a strong bond. Tevi, the youngest, was downright adorable, though I have to appreciate the courage she showed throughout the book.

The positive character traits. None of the four cousins were pampered little children, they were all independent and headstrong young women. I think they would provide great inspiration to all little readers.

The beautiful nature descriptions. Since the setting of the entire story is a picturesque valley, obviously the description matters. And this was done very beautifully throughout the book. Though I am usually not one for artistic depictions, I did pay a lot of attention to them in this book, and found it really easy to picture the scenery in my mind.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this to all those who enjoy scenic descriptions, heart-touching platonic relationships and live-saving (or threatening) decisions and choices.

Juliana Brandt is an author and kindergarten teacher with a passion for storytelling that guides her in both of her jobs. She lives in her childhood home of Minnesota, and her writing is heavily influenced by travels around the country and decade living in the South. When not working, she is usually exploring the great outdoors.
Her debut novel, THE WOLF OF CAPE FEN, was published by SourcebooksKids on April 7th, 2020. Her sophomore novel, A WILDER MAGIC, will publish May 2021. Her writing is represented by Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency.

WEBSITE | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS | TWITTER

INTL Tour-wide Instagram Giveaway!

Head over to Instagram and visit the #AWilderMagicMTMC hashtag where 10 lucky readers will win:

A Wilder Magic sticker, signed bookplate, and official bookmark.

This giveaway is open internationally and ends on April 30th, 2021. Winner will be announced on @mtmctours’ Instagram account.


What did you think of my first blog tour? Do you have A Wilder Magic on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!