Thoughts on THE KINGDOM OF LIARS

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of June, so you know what that means. Review time! I decided I wanted to dig into some fantasy this month. Not middle grade. Not mixed with other genres. Just some straight up fantasy. So, I got an ARC of The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell. To be honest, I have no idea when it was actually released. Some places say it came out on May 5th and others say it came out yesterday. Either way, it’s a recent release from Gallery Books/Saga Press. As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

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Pretty cover.

The Kingdom of Liars follows Michael Kingman as he tries to find his place in a society that has marked him as a traitor due to his father’s crime. When Michael was a child, his father murdered the crown prince despite the Kingman family being protectors of the throne since its inception. Michael and his siblings have lived in the shadow of that murder ever since. But did everything go down like the king would have you believe? Even if it did, could Michael pull his family’s reputation out of the trash while somehow smiting the nobles? He has no idea, but he’s going to try.

Let’s start with the world building and plot. World building: I really like the concept of a magic system that feeds off of memories. Sure, you can use magic to do things, but is it really worth the risk? It ups the stakes in a way that most magic systems don’t have, which makes the tension much higher. I also enjoyed the shattered moon that randomly throws prophecies at the world. I’m hoping that gets more attention in future books. The plot itself is pretty standard. Some ancestor did something bad so now I must figure out what really happened and fix it. Blah blah blah. There are some twists that keep it interesting, but it’s nothing new. It’s not bad, just predictable.

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And this is coming from Quentin Coldwater.

The characters. If any other character had been the main focus, I probably would’ve liked the book a lot better. There’s no nice way to say this: Michael’s a whiny little bitch. All he does throughout the book is get into trouble and force other people to save his inept ass. It quickly becomes a question not of “how will he get out of this?” but instead “who’s going to save him this time?” He’s basically Frodo, but he has no Sam, so it’s down to whoever is at hand to do what needs to be done. Normally, that’s fine for me, but none of the other characters are really fleshed out enough to make up for Michael even though a couple of them could be awesome (I’m looking at you Kai and Gwen).

I also want to mention the pacing. This book starts out super slow. That’s not uncommon in fantasy, especially with newer authors. It’s really hard to explain magical systems and histories without getting infodumpy. But it can be boring at times. The pacing for the middle third speeds up to a nice quick and engaging trot (for lack of a better word). Then the last third is too fast, a little jumbled, and at times annoyingly vague (you supposedly see that emblem you’ve been trying to figure out the entire book every single day and you just now put two and two together? You are useless, Michael.) But yeah, it could’ve been a smoother ride.

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Kind of.

The writing isn’t bad. There are a LOT of words. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that dense that was written so recently, which probably added to the slow pacing of the first part of the book. But from a technical point of view, it wasn’t bad writing by any means.

Ultimately, I felt The Kingdom of Liars had a lot of potential. I will at least read book two when/if it comes out to see if Michael grows up any and what other prophecies the moon hurls at them. But if it doesn’t get better, I’ll probably lose interest.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. That’s a little generous, but I have high hopes for the sequel. If you enjoy fantasy and don’t mind unlikable main characters, pick it up. Otherwise, maybe wait and see how future books do before starting this one.

Blog Tour/Review for ORDINARY GIRLS by Jaquira Diaz

Hello, hello! This week, I’m participating in the blog tour for the paperback release of Jaquira Diaz’s memoir Ordinary Girls. It was originally released in October, 2019 from Algonquin Books. Since then, it has received an abundance of praise and has won the Whiting Award in Nonfiction. Thanks to receiving a copy of the book from Algonquin Books and NetGalley, I’ll be providing my own review shortly, but first I thought I would share some praise the book’s already earned.

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“A skilled writer, Díaz is meticulous in her craft, and on page after page her writing truly sings. Her temporal leaps and switches in tense and point of view make the overall delivery both powerful and complex…  This brutally honest coming-of-age story is a painful yet illuminating memoir, a testament to resilience in the face of scarcity, a broken family, substance abuse, sexual assault, mental illness, suicide and violence.”
-The New York Times Book Review

“A fierce, unflinching account of ordinary girls leading extraordinary lives.”
-Poets & Writers

“Jaquira Díaz writes about ordinary girls living extraordinary lives. And Díaz is no ordinary observer. She is a wondrous survivor, a woman who has claimed her own voice, a writer who writes for those who have no voice, for the black and brown girls “who never saw themselves in books.” Jaquira Díaz writes about them with love. How extraordinary is that!”   
-Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

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A gorgeous cover.

Ordinary Girls tells the story of Diaz’s life from a young childhood in Puerto Rico to an adolescence in Miami to an adulthood still searching for where she belongs. There are dysfunctional families that fall apart, friendships that transform into makeshift families, struggles being overcome, and so much more. It’s Diaz’s story, her life, but it’s also a relatable story for so many young women.

Diaz doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. She writes openly about suicide and addiction from both sides. She writes about violence and racism and sexual assault. There’s a struggle with her own sexuality. There’s the growth from a teenage “delinquent” (just a girl who doesn’t know any other way to cope with life) to a young woman who knows she can be better and does the only thing she can think of to prove it to herself by joining the navy. And throughout the memoir, Diaz sprinkles in bits of Puerto Rican history to help define where she comes from. It makes for an interesting and moving combination.

The writing is strong. I admit that some of the shifts in tense and changes from more personal writing styles to more journalistic styles were jarring for me. I don’t read much nonfiction, so I’m used to a more uniform style. But once I stopped reading each section as a type of chapter and started reading them more as linked essays, I got into the flow of the book much easier.

Ultimately, Ordinary Girls was an intriguing and emotional piece that I’m glad I read. It’s not something I would have picked up on my own, but it’s relatable and for the parts I couldn’t relate to, it’s enlightening.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you enjoy memoirs, this is definitely one worth picking up.


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Photo: Maria Esquinca

Jaquira Díaz was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami. She is the author of Ordinary Girls: A Memoir, winner of a Whiting Award, a Florida Book Awards Gold Medal, and a Lambda Literary Awards finalist. Ordinary Girls was a Summer/Fall 2019 Indies Introduce Selection, a Fall 2019 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Notable Selection, a November 2019 Indie Next Pick, and a Library Reads October pick. Díaz’s work has been published in The GuardianThe FaderConde Nast Traveler, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, and The Best American Essays 2016, among other publications. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, an Elizabeth George Foundation grant, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Kenyon Review, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. A former Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and Consulting Editor at the Kenyon Review, she splits her time between Montréal and Miami Beach, with her partner, the writer Lars Horn. Her second book, I Am Deliberate: A Novel, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books.

Thoughts on DRAGON BROTHERS

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? It’s the last week of May, so you know what that means: book review time! This month, I decided to go with something a little different. It’s a middle grade fantasy, which means it’s aimed at younger readers, but still accessible to older readers. I admit it’s not something I usually seek out, but it’s fun to read stuff like this occasionally. Dragon Brothers by L.B. Lillibridge was released by Furtive Grunion Books on the 26th. I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it!

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Nice, simple cover.

Dragon Brothers follows Rhinen and Laeb, rare dragon-born brothers, as they fight the inequality that plagues the lands they will one day rule. When Rhinen is kidnapped by Buntars (members of the non-magical Klor who seek equal rights with the magic wielding Shaynan by any means necessary), not only does he learn about their plight, but he discovers another dragon-born, the toddler Haia. After Rhinen and Haia are rescued from the Buntars by the dragon king Tateh and Laeb, the revolution reaches a turning point with the two brothers trying to steer it towards equality for all.

This is a really colorful story. Meaning we get to know what color just about everything is in here. Everyone has unnatural hair colors (sometimes tied in with their powers, sometimes not). There are color shifting cats and winged dogs and all sorts of vivid images. It’s definitely a pretty book in that way. The colorful imagery also helps make the descriptions fun and occasionally unexpected. And the pacing is super tight, which makes for a quick read as much as a fun one.

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The plot is a little awkward at times because there doesn’t seem to be any rules to the magic of this world. If they need something, there’s suddenly a character who has just the magic they need. It’s a little too convenient at times. But it’s a middle grade book, so I suppose that’s okay. As a middle grade book, a lot of really complex issues are over-simplified. A lot of things happen much too easily. It’s part of the reason the book went so fast, but also the reason it wasn’t as gripping as it could have been. Even kids’ fiction can be more complex than this one is. The message is good, though.

My only real complaint has to do with the description. It literally says “Featuring a gender nonbinary protagonist and lesbian side characters, Dragon Brothers offers a voice of inclusivity for children everywhere.” I’m sorry, but if you have to say it, chances are you’re not showing it well enough in the book. And this book doesn’t. Rhinen likes to wear makeup and skirts, which is completely normalized in the book. Otherwise, he’s a pretty standard boy. And the lesbian side character is a girl about the same age as the brothers who doesn’t kiss boys and wants to make a special gift for a girl who happens to be her best friend. There’s zero romance in this book, so the lesbian relationship comes off as close friendship. Stop using inclusivity as a marketing tool and just put it in the book.

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Ultimately, I enjoyed Dragon Brothers for what it is, a middle grade fantasy. It read a little young for me, but I don’t have kids, so what do I know? It’s cute and I’ll check out other things from Lillibridge if I stumble across them, but I won’t search them out.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. If you have kids (recommended for 9-12 year olds, but probably safe for slightly younger kids), check it out. If you enjoy middle grade books yourself, go for it. But you’re not really missing anything if you skip it.

Thoughts on CHERRY SLICE

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday in April. Can you believe it? Time has just been flying by these past few weeks. But you know what today is. It’s book review day! None of my requests were approved through NetGalley for this month, so I bought a backup just in case. It’s called Cherry Slice by Jennifer Stone and was released on April 2nd from Farrago Books. I decided to do another cozy mystery since it’s been a while since I reviewed one that wasn’t also fantasy. I wanted something cute and funny and overall happy. This book seemed like it would accommodate all of those things. Since I don’t have to thank anyone, let’s get on with the review!

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Simple enough cover.

Cherry Slice follows Cherry Hinton as she tries to reinvent herself after an undercover journalism mission on reality TV goes awry. She’s doing her best to avoid the spotlight while revamping her parents’ bakery into something her own. That is until an ex’s sister pops in and asks her to look into his murder which happened on live TV two years prior. It piques Cherry’s journalistic interest and drags her back into the midst of Essex’s reality TV obsession.

Plotwise, it’s pretty standard. Someone with no law experience (although she does have investigative reporting experience) is in the middle of a rough time when a murder falls in her lap and she must solve it in order to get her life back on track. There are a handful of suspects that keep both Cherry and the reader guessing, then throw in another murder and some more twists and you’ve got the gist of things. Don’t forget the quirky best friend, the hunky detective dude she’s already kind of dated but still has the hots for, and the overbearing mother. So yeah, it’s standard but cute.

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It’s also a little trashy, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The characters are fun and pretty diverse. Cherry’s not afraid to get a little dirty to get the info she seeks. Her bestie, Kelsey, is down for anything as long as she can entertain her social media followers. Jacob, the detective, is a camera whore and a manipulative dick most of the time. I think my favorite character was probably Cherry’s mom. She rambles and has zero shame and basically solves the murder of Kenny Thorpe when Cherry’s stuck with no new leads.

One last thing I want to mention is the humor in this book. If you’re a fan of inappropriate humor, you’ll be fine. That being said, it does border on the offensive. There’s fat-shaming, slut-shaming (usually at Cherry’s expense), jokes at the expense of non-binary folks, and more. If you’re sensitive to stuff like that, this is not a book you’ll want to pick up. I’m not, so it didn’t really bother me. Sometimes though, the humor was super forced, which gave it an unnatural feel. That’s when I’d roll my eyes and move on.

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The writing itself was tight and fast-paced. It was a pretty quick read, but I admit that I occasionally didn’t want to pick it back up. Between figuring out who the killer was pretty early on and the forced jokes, I got a bit bored with it. But I finished it because the writing wasn’t bad and the story itself was okay.

Ultimately, I thought Cherry Slice was just okay. If I happen to see the next book in the series, I’ll probably give it another chance if the synopsis is interesting, but I don’t plan on looking for it.

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Overall, I gave it three out of five stars. Probably closer to two and a half if I’m being honest. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either. If you like inappropriate humor and cozies, give it a shot. If not, you’re not really missing anything.

Thoughts on TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS

Hello, hello! How is everyone holding up during this hectic time? I hope your isolation includes lots of good books and binge watching. Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of March, so you know what that means. Book review time! This month, I opted for something a bit more slice of life meets magical realism meets ghost story than I normally go for. I just wanted something a little different and this fit in with that. It’s called Tigers, Not Daughters and is by Samantha Mabry. It was released on the 24th from Algonquin Young Readers. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

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Lovely cover.

 

Tigers, Not Daughters follows the remaining Torres sisters (Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa) as they struggle to cope with life after their oldest sister’s (Ana) death. Jessica tries to become Ana. Iridian hides herself deep within books and writing. And Rosa attempts to make sense of everything through her connections with animals. Throw in a useless drunk of a father, nosy teenage boys who want to be heroes but only make things worse, an abusive boyfriend, and a ghost just to make the sisters’ lives more difficult. Teenage angst and sisterhood. What more does a story need?

I admit I was a little on the fence about this story plot-wise. There’s a slow build before the magic and ghost story kick in, so I wasn’t grabbed in the way I’m used to with YA fantasy type books. But I’m glad I kept with it. And it’s a short book (less than 300 pages), so the wait for weird wasn’t really that long. It gave the characters a chance to shine on their own before everything else could distract from them. I enjoyed how the weirdness kind of crept in around the edges before you even realized it was there.

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As far as the characters go, we get to see most of the story from Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa’s views with a few interjections from the boys across the street. Each viewpoint is distinctive and beautiful in its own way. I didn’t even have to check the chapter headings to know whose head I was in, which is rare. It’s really hard to find characters who are similar yet different enough to stand apart from each other. I especially love Rosa, the kind and loving youngest sister who doesn’t even know what jealousy feels like until she experiences it for the first time, but who also kicks ass when she needs to. She’s the best.

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The writing is absolutely gorgeous. There’s a lovely sense of poetry that flows through this book. I think that’s what kept me reading in the beginning. I’m glad it did. It makes for easy reading as well as interesting images.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Tigers, Not Daughters. It was a wonderful glimpse into grief and family dynamics and the bonds of sisters. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by Samantha Mabry.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. Why did I take away one? Because I finished the book a few days ago and am already forgetting parts of it, which means I probably won’t remember it at all in six months. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it wasn’t memorable for me. But I still totally recommend it if you like magical realism and ghost stories about teenage girls.

Thoughts on THE SOUND OF STARS

Hello, hello! It’s only the first week of March, but I have another book review for you. It’s the last minute approval I got for February’s ARC requests. Don’t worry. The next one won’t be until the end of March because I have no more ARC requests out (except one for April’s review). Anyway, the book is called The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow. It’s a sci-fi fantasy YA novel because I was looking for something different. Inkyard Press released the book on February 25th. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for access to the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

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Gorgeous cover. You can probably guess why it caught my eye as I was browsing. So much purple.

The Sound of Stars follows Janelle “Ellie” Baker, a seventeen-year-old jaded human, as she struggles to cope during an alien invasion by lending out contraband (books) to others imprisoned in the same center. When she’s caught by one of her alien overlords (an attractive guy called M0Rr1s), she knows she’s dead, but in return for his silence, he just wants music (also forbidden). Little do they know that this give-and-take will lead to big adventures as they escape across the country together. And it might even lead to more than that if they can survive.

Sounds pretty standard and fun, right? It is! There’s romance and danger and misunderstandings and personal revelations and all that. Plus, there are some weird musicians sprinkled in for fun. It’s definitely a YA novel that pulls out all of the emotional stops. There’s teenage angst in all its glory threaded around a lot of deeper and more difficult topics. It makes for a nice rollercoaster ride if you open yourself up to it.

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That being said, I did feel like some of the diversity issues that the book deals with were far too heavy handed at times. Which is common and annoying in all forms of media these days. And before you get on your soapbox and give me a lecture about the importance of representation in the media, please remember that I’m a wheelchair-bound female with a questionable sexuality. I don’t get represented in media very often outside of inspiration porn. Cool your jets. I’m just saying that I don’t need to know the gender identity of every throw away character in the story. There are at least two characters who literally just open doors then disappear, but I know they’re nonbinary. Why? It feels trite. Especially when there are plenty of lovely fleshed out characters who are nonbinary or ace/demi or bi/pan, etc. And I love those characters. I hope to see more of them. I kind of understand it with the aliens because it’s how they are, it’s part of their social standards to announce their gender. With the humans it felt forced. Especially when a kid in Texas (who by all indications hasn’t had any contact with the aliens in order to learn this behavior) asks if M0Rr1S is a boy, a girl, or nonbinary. If the book was set in the future more than two years, I might be able to believe a kid here would ask that, but it doesn’t seem to be, so it came off as awkward.

Tl;Dr? I love learning about characters and seeing things from other perspectives, but when you tell me intimate details about characters I don’t get to see for more than a sentence or two, it’s weird and forced.

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There’s a spoiler in the next paragraph.

 

Moving along to character development. It’s fantastic. Ellie and M0Rr1S are superb. Even the backup characters are awesome. I love Avi and Alice and the Starry Eyed. Even Brixton gets his moment in the sun. We’re told he’s basically a bad guy, but when he finally shows up he has this really adorable backstory that turns super creepy by human standards the more you think about it. He wanted to be a part of his little brother (M0Rr1s) and have a connection with him, so when their mother created M0Rr1S (who is a labmade, which is exactly what it sounds like) with her genetic material, Brixton added some of his own when she wasn’t looking. It’s sweet until you start thinking about the daddy-bro implications. But they’re aliens, so it’s okay! And it’s those kinds of details that make the story interesting and fun.

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No more spoilers from here.

The writing was a little repetitive at times, but smooth enough to let me fly through the story. I read 430 pages in 12 days, which is super fast for me. Plus I love the inclusion of song lyrics and all of the references to music and books. I even discovered a couple of titles I can look into for fun reading.

Ultimately, I loved The Sound of Stars. It was left open-ended, so I have high hopes that future books will come out. If not, I’ll still pick up whatever Alechia Dow publishes next and hope it’s just as good.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you’re into YA sci-fi/fantasy, I definitely recommend picking it up. It’s definitely worth a read and it would be beautiful on any library shelf or nightstand.

Thoughts on The Last Smile in Sunder City

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last week of February which means that it’s review time. And guess what! I got approved at the very last minute for another February release, so you’ll get another review either next week or the week after, depending on how fast I can get through it. Are you tired of book reviews yet? Tough noogies, I guess. Anyway, today I’m taking a look at The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold. It was released by Orbit Books on February 25th. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

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An interesting cover.

The Last Smile in Sunder City follows Fetch Phillips, a human and a former jack-of-all-trades turned soldier turned PI, as he tries to do some good with his life. Six years ago, the source of magic was cut off from the world due to human greed. This left all the monsters to adapt to a miserable new life and sometimes, they need favors. That’s where Fetch comes in handy. This time, he’s hired to find a missing vampire, but nobody is prepared for what else he discovers along the way.

Sounds fun, right? It is to an extent. I mean, who wouldn’t love a gritty noir-esque mystery with real monsters? The problem is that that’s not what we get. Not really. There are a bunch of different stories all packed into one here and none of them are fleshed out into a story worth the time it takes to sift through them. And I don’t mean that various storylines are layered together like a book should have, I’m talking about a multitude of main stories being stuffed into one. In fact, the story that seems the most planned out is Fletch’s backstory which takes up half the book in flashbacks. That’s the story that wants to be told. It’s epic verging on dark fantasy. And I’d totally read that book. It would be awesome. But as a mystery, this story falls flat.

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Me as I was reading.

As far as the characters go, there are too many introduced to keep track of or develop feelings for. This is also due to the multiple stories vying for attention. It’s kind of annoying to have to go back to figure out who’s being talked about all the time. And there’s also the fact that Fetch doesn’t really do anything, at least not pertaining to the main story, so it’s hard to get into him. He gets lucky a couple of times and stumbles upon clues, but he very rarely actively does his job. And whenever he’s in trouble, someone else saves him. It became easy to hope Fetch failed. At least then I would’ve had a laugh. That being said, I did like his personality for the most part.

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It’s me.

The writing itself was nice. It flowed and would’ve made for a quick read if I didn’t have to keep going back to see who was who. There was some surprising imagery mixed in with some that was just awkward. But mostly it was just nice. Not great but not bad either. There’s a lot of good potential if the writer can stick to one main story and a few subplots next time.

Ultimately, The Last Smile in Sunder City sounds like a great idea, but the execution could have been better. I will check out the next book because I really want to like this series. If it’s not better, I’ll probably give it up.

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Overall, I gave it two out of five stars because the premise is really good. I’m not going to urge you to try it, unless I discover future books are much better, but if you’re bored it’s not entirely bad.

Thoughts On DARK SECRET

Hello, hello! I know it’s not the last Wednesday of February yet, but I got two ARCs from NetGalley this month, so here’s an extra review. This week, I’m looking at Dark Secret by Danielle Rose. It’s the first book in her Darkhaven Saga. Waterhouse Press released the book on the 18th. If you’re familiar with Danielle’s Blood Books trilogy, the characters might seem familiar, but the story is completely new. First and foremost, I must thank NetGalley and Waterhouse Press for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get to it! Also, fair warning: there are spoiler adjacent tidbits from here on out. If you’re familiar with the genre, you can guess at what some newbies might consider spoilers.

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Love the cover and I hear the paperback is even prettier.

Dark Secret follows Ava Lopez as she navigates being a witch and a hunter and harnessing her own powers. Despite being told not to go on her usual rounds, searching the small town she lives in for vampires to destroy, she does it anyway. Typical teenager behavior, right? And of course things go wrong, then they snowball from there. At one point, Ava has to make a choice between death and something that will get her kicked out of her coven and thrown in with the things she despises most. How will she cope? What will she learn? Will she be able to hold on to who she is? These are just some of the questions this book starts to tackle.

Sounds fun, right? It is. The plot isn’t exactly new, but it doesn’t feel overdone. Witches versus vampires, then a witch becomes a vampire and learns that there’s a difference between a real vampire and the rogues she was taught to hate. That’s cool. But I really liked hearing about the different covens more than the vampire thing. Her best friend’s coven is all about peace and coexisting with vampires. I hope to learn more about them and to see if they really feel that way or if it’s all talk. I’m also interested to see if Ava’s coven can accept her in her new form. Unfortunately, I have to wait for future books to see if my questions get answers.

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Or read another book.

The characters here are all pretty likeable. Yes, Ava is at that age where she knows she’s right until something proves her wrong. Sometimes, you just want to smack some sense into her. But she slowly learns and is evolving. It’s a short book, so she can only change so much, but she’s heading in the right direction. Jasik and the other vampires are interesting. They’re a little stereotypical at the moment, but some seeds have been planted for them to grow into their own in future books.

Speaking of future books, I wondered why this book was so short. Apparently, the first few books in this series are going to be released pretty close together, so they’re on the shorter end of the novel spectrum. Instead of having to wait a year or more for book two, we only have to wait about a month. And book three is due out about a month after that. It’s an interesting release schedule and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out.

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Yes, it is.

As far as the writing goes, it’s a fast-paced and fun read. Yes, there’s some repetition that gets a little distracting. We’re told multiple times that Ava is a spirit witch and what that means. But I figured out just to skim those paragraphs and move on pretty quickly.

Full disclosure: If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know Danielle and I actually got our MFAs together. I’ve watched her writing grow and tighten and improve over the last five years. I’m really proud of her and what she’s accomplished.

Ultimately, I had fun with Dark Secret. I’m looking forward to the next few books in the series. Luckily, I don’t have long to wait!

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Overall, I gave the book four out of five stars. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is into YA fantasy and supernatural stuff. If you’re familiar with Danielle’s work, this is not a steamy romance, so don’t be disappointed if that’s what you were hoping for.

Thoughts On THE NIGHT COUNTRY

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of January, so you all know what that means. It’s book review time! So, the place where I usually get ARCs for these reviews has been super slow about responding to requests, so somehow I ended up with no books for January and two for February. Yup. Next month you’ll get a review on both the 19th and 26th. Anyway, I decided to review a book I forgot I had pre-ordered for January. The Night Country by Melissa Albert is the second book in The Hazel Wood series. It was released on January 7th by Flatiron Books (an imprint of Macmillan Books). Since I don’t have to thank anyone, let’s get on with the review! Beware, there are potential spoilers ahead if you haven’t read The Hazel Wood (book one of the series).

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It really is a lovely cover.

The Night Country follows Alice now that she’s back in New York. She goes to meetings with other ex-stories to try to get her life on track, until a mysterious newcomer upsets the balance. Then, Alice finds out ex-stories are being murdered and having pieces stolen from them. As she tries to figure out what’s going on, she also starts receiving magical letters from someone in her past (yeah, it’s him). From there, in typical fairytale fashion, things keep getting weirder.

I’ll be honest… I don’t actually remember much about book one. I must’ve liked it, otherwise I wouldn’t have pre-ordered this one. But I basically went into this book blind and had to piece together my memories of the first book from the clues here. If you have time, I definitely suggest at least skimming the first book to catch up. That being said, I enjoyed this book. A lot. I probably would have caught on to some stuff sooner if I had read the first one again, but I caught on fast enough without it.

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Me as I was reading.

About the characters. Alice is still a whiny little so-and-so. She isn’t particularly likeable. But she’s at the age (18-ish) where being a self-absorbed bitch (sorry, there’s no polite word for it) is completely normal human behavior. Combine that with her violent tendencies (part of her story personality) and she becomes someone you just don’t like and have no desire to like. That’s okay. Because we also have Ella and Finch and Sophia and a whole cast of characters we can root for. Granted, some of them are also firmly in the unlikeable category until we see their stories. I know a lot of readers have to connect with the main character to get into a story. I don’t. As long as I enjoy the plot and have a regularly appearing character to look forward to, I’m okay.

The plot. It’s not original, but it’s creepy and fun. A serial killer thriller meets a bunch of fairy tales. That’s right up my alley. There are some weak spots. For instance, I was more interested in Iolanthe’s motivation than anything. We get bits and pieces of her story and have no idea if she’s lying or not. And all we get at the end is that she wanted to go home. I really hope that we get more of her story at some point. The ending of the overall story is a little weak as well, but that feels like it’s because the author wanted to leave it with the potential for more books while wrapping it up just enough that the readers are satisfied in case nothing else happens.

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Yup. Seems that way.

The writing is beautiful and poetic and makes for a quick read. The only observation (it’s not really a complaint) I have is that there are a lot of obscure pop culture references. It’s not a bad thing, but it will definitely date the book and make it more difficult for readers to get into. Especially five, ten, twenty years from now when the references are no longer relevant. I didn’t even understand some of them. And no, I’m not Googling every name I don’t know just to see who a character mentioned in passing kind of resembles or to find out what’s playing in the background or whatever. I’m lazy. That’s too much work.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Night Country. Despite its flaws, it’s an entertaining read. I will definitely keep an eye out for more from Melissa Albert.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. I can see why some people don’t like it, but if you’re into dark fantasy and thrillers, check it out. Even if you were on the fence about book one, pick it up. This one was better in my opinion.

Thoughts on A SMALL TOWN

Howdy, howdy!  Merry Christmas to all who celebrate and happy holidays to those who celebrate something else!  I hope everyone has a pleasant day full of love and good food.  Dad’s making a lasagna for us.  It’s okay.  You can be jealous.  Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of the month, so that means it’s book review time.  When I requested this month’s book, I thought it was a mystery based on the description, but I really don’t know what category it falls into.  It’s called A Small Town by Thomas Perry.  It was released on December 17th by The Mysterious Press (an imprint of Grove Atlantic).  As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Let’s get to it.

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Nice cover.

A Small Town follows a bunch of people, but primarily Leah Hawkins, in the aftermath of a prison break.  It’s been two years and the twelve who orchestrated it have yet to be caught.  The current police chief of the dying town decides to take a sabbatical to hunt the twelve down herself.  Can she succeed where everyone else has failed?

I’m going to say it right up front: I hated this book with a passion.  So, if you don’t want to read one long rant, feel free to skip to the rating.  For everyone else, my dislike started with the basic premise.  A small town cop with the exact same leads as the FBI is the only one who can find these men who aren’t even that hard to find.  The first one was living with his mother.  I’m sure the FBI had no idea about that and had no one watching the place at least in the beginning.  It’d be too easy.  Turns out it was that easy, but only Leah could figure it out.  From there, she got a bunch of lucky leads.  It was annoying.  And I won’t even go into the psychology of the escapees and how some with non-violent histories are suddenly committing rape and murder to “kill the town” and make their escape easier.

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Then there were the subplots.  Leah’s romance was ridiculous.  She was the other woman to some city official but it was okay because his wife had just been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (as if that’s not an umbrella term for multiple possible diagnoses), so her sex life was over and she was a benevolent being who allowed the affair.  First off, stop perpetuating the idea that cripples aren’t sexual beings.  Second, do your damn research.  One quick Google search will tell you that MD is a number of different diseases.  Pick one.  Lastly, his wife may have been a forgiving person, but don’t use a disability to rationalize shitty behavior.  It’s not okay.  And the romance did nothing to further the main plot anyway, so it was completely unnecessary.

There was also that whole cheating thing with the racist woman and the criminal.  The sex scenes were completely random and felt like they were thrown in last minute to set up the deaths of two of the escaped prisoners so that Leah wouldn’t have to hunt them down.  It just felt like lazy storytelling.  But I was already firmly against this book by that point, so maybe I’m wrong.  I doubt it, but maybe.

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The writing was subpar at best.  I understand adding description to flesh stuff out and up the tension, but I know how to open a door.  Going through it step by step is just tedious.  And that’s how a lot of this book felt.  Tedious.  And then there was the POV.  It was one of those books that was in everyone’s head and jumped around multiple times each chapter, which is fine.  The bad part was that there are so many names thrown around and characters that only show up once that it’s impossible to follow without some kind of chart.  I don’t understand why half of the people were even worth getting names let alone a peek inside their head.  There was no focus.

Ultimately, I wanted to stop reading A Small Town.  I would have if I hadn’t been reviewing it.  But I figured I needed to see if it got any better.  It didn’t.

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Overall, I gave it 1 out of 5 stars because NetGalley and everything requires some kind of star rating.  It’s really more like half a star because I acknowledge that some people enjoyed it.  Pick it up if it’s your thing.  It wasn’t mine.