Thoughts on VASILISA

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of February and we’ve pretty much thawed out here in Dallas (was around 80 yesterday). Anyway, it’s time for my last book review until the end of March. This time, I wanted something a little fantasy meets folklore, but something I’m not very familiar with (Russian folklore seemed like a good choice), so I decided to request Julie Mathison’s Vasilisa. It was released yesterday (February 23rd) from Mathison’s own imprint, Starr Creek Press. As usual, I must thank her and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover.

Vasilisa begins in 1919 in Edenfall, PA and follows our heroine (Vasilisa) as she struggles to come to terms with her father going missing in Flanders, a creepy suitor sniffing around her mother, her babka’s waning health, and learning who she can trust. Unfortunately, the answers to all of her troubles lie in Old Rus with the witch Baba Yaga. But Vasilisa doesn’t have to go alone when young Ivan appears by her side. Together, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Plotwise, this one is a standard fairytale. There’s a maiden, a prince, some witches, a fairy godmother type character who happens to be Vasilisa’s grandmother, an ogre, a forest sprite, and even a dragon thrown in there for good measure. And that’s not even all of the fairytale stuff, just what I remember off the top of my head. Despite all of this, the story doesn’t feel cluttered or convoluted. It’s actually pretty impressive how much is crammed into this fairly short book (less than 250 pages) without making it a slog.

Me after counting all the tropes I could remember.

The pacing is quick. Sometimes a little too quick. Especially in the romantic development. It’s for younger readers, so I understand glancing over boring things, but it’s really weird how Vasilisa goes from not being sure she can trust Ivan to loving him in the span of a couple of pages without any real internal struggle. I think that’s due to the fact that a lot of this story is telling instead of showing. I’m not against that, but while it makes the story flow faster, it also makes it more difficult to express emotional growth within the characters. The POV probably also contributes to that.

As far as the characters go, they were a little flat, but still enjoyable. Vasilisa is basically the personification of kindness, which is a little boring if I’m being honest. She has zero flaws. She never does anything wrong except that one time she skips school to steal something from the bad dude in order to save her babka. It gets old fast. Ivan and Evelyn are better in that department. They at least have motivations that force them to straddle the line between right and wrong. Everyone else is pretty much a cardboard cutout of their fairytale roles.

Me when reading about Vasilisa.

The writing is clean and makes for a quick read. Sometimes I wanted more description, but it’s not bad. There’s nothing really special about it. No lines really jump out at me as quotable or memorable. But it’s smooth and works well for this story.

Ultimately, Vasilisa is not bad, but not great. The epilogue sets us up for book two, which I’m not opposed to reading, but I’ll probably forget this series even exists before it comes out. I’m not upset I read it. I don’t want those hours back or anything. It’s just kind of blah.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairytales and want something quick and cute to read, go for it. If you have a youngster who’s into this type of stuff, I can definitely see kids enjoying it. The story’s fun, it just fell short for me.

Thoughts on THE ECHO WIFE

Hello, hello! I’m currently writing this review between power outages, so if it ends up being late, the power went out again before I could finish. If not, yay! And sorry if it’s a little shorter than usual because I’m rushing. Anyway, Jordan Hanley at Tor Books reached out through NetGalley to see if I’d be interested in reviewing The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey. It seemed like an interesting read, so I said sure. It was released yesterday (February 16th). As usual, I must thank NetGalley and Tor/Forge for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute and simple cover.

The Echo Wife follows Evelyn Caldwell as she struggles to pick up the pieces after her marriage fails, all while diving head first into her work. Enter Martine, who just brings more problems. Throw in a betrayal from the closest thing Evelyn has to a friend, a dark past full of secrets, and an experiment gone so right that she can’t even talk about it, and that pretty much sums up Evelyn’s life right now.

Seems like a fun little plot, right? It is, but it’s also super predictable. She works in clone science, which is made clear from the beginning, so all of the major twists are super easy to see coming. Even Evelyn’s backstory is easy enough to figure out when she mentions that her dad’s been missing for years. It’s a fun story, but if you have even a basic understanding of sci-fi, you won’t be very surprised.

Basically.

The characters were a mixed bag. Evelyn realizes she’s selfish and stubborn, but seems oblivious to the fact that she killed her marriage the moment she decided to have an abortion without telling her husband (not really a spoiler as much as something mentioned in passing). She told him she was pregnant, but didn’t bother including him in a decision that affects both of them. She doesn’t communicate and she doesn’t really think of anyone but herself, even her incentives for helping Martine are selfish. For a smart woman, she’s far too stupid a lot of the time. I like Martine a lot more. She’s really sheltered, but wants nothing more than to live and learn. Everyone else is basically just there to explain why Evelyn is such a crappy person.

Otherwise, the writing was lovely and made for a quick read. Things moved at a nice clip and kept me interested. It wasn’t anything new or insightful, but it was fun watching Martine grow and change over the course of the story. I just wish Evelyn would’ve evolved a little more.

Me to Evelyn.

Ultimately, The Echo Wife was just okay. It doesn’t really encourage me to look for other books by Sarah Gailey, but it wasn’t bad by any means.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If you don’t mind unlovable main characters and want something sci-fi, check it out. If not, you aren’t missing much.

Thoughts on THE GILDED ONES

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? I requested this book from NetGalley back in June, but its release was pushed back until yesterday, so you’re getting an extra review this month. Anyway, I was looking for something fantasy at that time and ran across The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. It’s YA (young adult). And it was released yesterday (February 9th) by Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House). As usual, I must thank the publishers and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

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Love the cover.

The Gilded Ones follows Deka as she struggles to find acceptance in a world that thinks she’s a monster. She’s always been an outcast, but she hopes that once she completes the Ritual of Purity and proves her blood runs red, everyone will acknowledge that she belongs. The only problem is that her blood is gold, signifying that she’s impure. After a hellish time in the church’s cellar, a mysterious woman comes to whisk Deka away with promises of a place in the world and answers to her questions, but Deka only finds new questions along the way. What are the Deathshrieks? What are the alaki? But most importantly, what is she?

The plot is an interesting mix of predictability and surprise. There are weird animals and goddesses and a bloody war and everything you could want in a fantasy novel, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded or convoluted at all. The friendship and family subplots are actually what makes this book worth reading. They’re extremely well done. There’s also a romantic subplot that randomly appears. You know it’s coming from the very first time we see him, but all of the actual budding romance happens off the page, so when we learn they’re closer than wary friends, it feels abrupt. That’s actually my biggest complaint with this book. That first time they hug instead of clasping arms is a huge step forward and we don’t even get to see it or hear about it. I honestly felt cheated when I realized they’d already moved past that point. But at least we get to see the first kiss.

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So cute.

I adore the characters. Deka and Britta make such a strong pair. I almost feel bad for Keita if he ever does anything stupid and hurts Deka, because Britta will tear him apart. I loved all of the girls, but I hope to learn more about Adwapa and her sister in future books. I get why they remain mysterious throughout this book, but now we know their secret, so their backstory could be super interesting. But if you know me at all, you’ll probably guess that Braima and Masaima (the snarky equus twins) and Ixa (Deka’s pet) are my favorites.

The pacing and the ending. The story moves along at a pretty quick pace that kept my attention. I don’t think there was ever a point where I didn’t want to pick it up the next day, which is honestly rare for me. I get bored easily which is why I only read a couple of chapters at a time. As I mentioned, the pacing of the romantic subplot is awkward, but the rest of the story moves along nicely. I will say that the ending is a little rushed, but it leaves some stuff open for the next book. I’m personally wary of the newcomers (don’t want to spoil it by saying who), but that’s probably just because I read a bunch of stuff where anything that seems too good to be true is a big old scam.

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The writing is lovely. There’s some gorgeous imagery and very poetic phrasing. It’s tight and keeps a quick flow. There are places where I wanted some more description to get a better grasp of the setting, but it isn’t a deterrent from reading on.

Ultimately, I loved The Gilded Ones. I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes, so I’ll definitely check out the next book. I’ll also keep an eye out for other things by Namina Forna.

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Overall, I gave it four out of five stars. If you like fantasy or have a teen who does, this book is definitely worth checking out.

Thoughts on ONE POISON PIE

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? So far, the year has been a mixed bag of meh and good. Nothing super bad for me yet. I hope it’s treating you okay. Anyway, it’s the last Wednesday of January, which means it’s time for another book review. This month, I was hoping for a quick, fun read to get me back in the spirit of cozy mysteries, so I requested an ARC of Lynn Cahoon’s One Poison Pie. It’s the first in her new Kitchen Witch Mystery series and was released on the 26th (yesterday) from Kensington Books. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it.

Cute cover. A little busy. Mostly has nothing to do with the story.

One Poison Pie follows Mia Malone as she strives to start a catering business in her grandmother’s small hometown of Magic Springs. Throw in an unexpected roommate in the form of her ex-fiancĂ©e’s little sister, some pushy guy trying to buy her new home/workspace out from under her, a hot grocer, and a nosy Gran and Mia’s life is complicated enough. That doesn’t stop fate from tossing another wrench in the works when Mia’s first catering client turns up stabbed to death. As a prime suspect, Mia sets out to clear her name, especially when it becomes obvious that she’s the next victim.

Sounds pretty standard, right? It is. Except for the whole witch aspect. I like the concept, but the execution is lacking. The magic system isn’t well thought out at all. In fact, for most of the book, it isn’t even really there. It feels like the magic is only mentioned when the author can’t think of any other way for the characters to get out of a situation. The random mind reading is weird and not explained well. At all. Trent doesn’t seem to need a special connection to someone in order to read their mind, so why didn’t he just scan people at the wake and be done with it? Unless maybe he can only read other witches? It’s confusing. Maybe it’s just because I’m used to elaborate magic systems that are discussed in detail, but I wasn’t happy with it. And don’t get me started on the random ghost visits. Otherwise, it’s a regular old cozy mystery.

Me trying to figure out the magic.

The characters themselves are okay. I like Gran and Christina. Mia is interesting even if she does fall in love super fast. She’s also weirdly trusting. On the other hand, she also locks her recipe book in a safe and makes a decoy one, so she isn’t entirely naive. The Major brothers are fun. The guy who’s trying to buy the building from Mia is way too obviously a douchenozzle. And a lot of other characters are not memorable at all. Like the bad people. I had no clue who they were at the big reveal, which isn’t good.

One more thing that I want to mention is the title. It has absolutely nothing to do with the story and that irks me worse than anything else about this book. There’s a mention of pies, but it’s not critical to the plot. And there’s no poison whatsoever. I even looked it up to see if maybe it’s a saying I’m not familiar with. If it is, Google doesn’t know it either, so I don’t feel bad. It’s completely misleading and not in a good “I see what you did there” way.

Me staring at the title after reading the book.

The writing is fine. There are some continuity errors that can be attributed to the fact that it’s an ARC. I go in with the understanding that these books haven’t had their final polish, but with all of the plot holes and seemingly random stuff, this book really feels like a first draft. Maybe a second draft. I hate saying that since they might have smoothed some stuff out with the final polish, but most ARCs are at least obviously final drafts. This isn’t.

Ultimately, I didn’t care for One Poison Pie. It had a lot of potential, but didn’t live up to it. If the next installment falls in my lap, I’ll read it to see if it gets better, but I won’t be spending any money on it. Cahoon’s other series might be better.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. If you’re in to cozies and kitchen witches, maybe you’ll understand the magic system better than I did. Otherwise, there are better cozies out there.

Thoughts on TO FETCH A FELON

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of 2020. Just a couple of more days and we’ll get to see what fresh new hell 2021 can rain down upon us! I mean… 2021 will be better? I don’t know what you want to hear. But yeah, 2021 is coming. Before that, let’s squeeze in one last book review. This month I decided to request the first book in a cute new cozy series, A Chatty Corgi mystery series. Jennifer Hawkins’s To Fetch a Felon was released yesterday (December 29th) from the Berkley Publishing Group. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get on with it!

Cute cover. And actually has stuff in common with the story.

To Fetch a Felon follows Emma and Oliver, her corgi, as they move from a fast paced city life in London to a small village life full of nosy neighbors and drama in Trevena. The goal? To start a tea shop complete with homemade treats. The problem? The village witch (read that with a b instead of w) owns the shop Emma really wants to rent, along with most of the rest of the village. After a brief altercation over Oliver getting in the woman’s garden, Emma loses hope of getting the space unless she can smooth things over with the woman. The bigger problem? Emma and Oliver find the woman dead when bringing her some reconciliation scones. Now, Emma feels compelled to help solve the murder with the assistance of Oliver’s superior sense of smell. It helps that he can tell her everything he knows (yes, she and Oliver can understand each other), but sometimes she has to interpret his doggy views of the world, which can be tricky. But together they can take on any case!

I admit that I’m a sucker for stories with cute puppers, so I was excited to dig into this one. The plot was nice and twisty, adding new layers every few chapters. Every time I figured things out, a new puzzle popped up. That helped keep me invested even when no one in the story had put things together. Whenever things started dragging, something new happened. The inclusion of the decades old disappearance subplot was nice as well. I also enjoyed that we got to see some of the story from Oliver’s point of view. Those were probably the chapters I enjoyed the most.

The butt waggle!

As far as the characters go, I loved most of them. Emma was interesting and well rounded, but I kept reading her as younger than she’s supposed to be. I don’t really know why. It’s probably just me, so I’ll just say she’s young at heart. Oliver was completely adorable. He deserves all the cuddles. I felt like Taite was too obviously a greedy, sneaky dick. I had zero attachment to him and certainly no sympathy. But I liked Victoria (the village witch). She didn’t get a chance to grow as a character, but the snippets from her past made her likeable in the end. Louise and Jimmy and the rest of the characters were also intriguing people. And the other animals were great as well.

Stairs are hard for short legs.

The writing was smooth and made for a quick read. It’s a relatively short book that’s broken down into 53 chapters. I actually prefer this to longer chapters because it’s easier to find a stopping point for the night (or to squeeze in just one more chapter). But there was a nice balance between description and dialogue that made the reading experience pretty pleasant.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed To Fetch a Felon. I’ll definitely be getting the second book in this series when it comes out next year. Have to get my cute pupper fix somehow and what’s better than reading about an excitable little corgi?

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Some of it’s a little predictable, but it’s fun and full of adorableness. If you’re looking for a quick cozy with cuddly animals, I definitely recommend checking this one out.

Thoughts on OPEN FOR MURDER

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of November, which means it’s book review time! It also means that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, so have a safe and happy holiday. Dad and I are staying home and he’s going to cook a few favorites. It’s okay to be jealous. But back to bookish things. This month, I decided to go with a new cozy mystery series. Open for Murder is the first in Mary Angela’s A Happy Camper Mystery series. It was released yesterday (the 24th) from Kensington Books. 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 on with it!

Cute cover.

Open for Murder follows Zo Jones, a former journalist turned gift shop owner, as she gets reacquainted with her old friend Beth, who has just moved back to Spirit Canyon in order to open the lodge her late aunt left her. Unfortunately, there’s a murder during Beth’s grand opening on Memorial day weekend. Zo must find the real murderer before all the suspects return to their normal lives, so her childhood bestie doesn’t go down for a crime she didn’t commit. Or did she?

The plot is fairly standard on this one. There’s a sexy forest ranger in place of a lead detective for the budding romance aspect, but he does his fair share of the police work. The supportive bestie happens to be the main suspect, which is fun. And there’s some ghostly weirdness with the late aunt popping up in Beth’s mom’s dreams. But otherwise, if you’ve read a few cozies, it’s not hard to see where everything is going pretty early on, even if you’re not quite sure why until later.

Pretty much.

I admit the characters are enjoyable. The background on Zo makes her a likeable and fleshed out person. She’s a free spirit and open to all sorts of things without being naive. While she indulges in stuff like dream reading and ghost stories, she takes those things with a grain of salt. She’s a realist, but doesn’t let that squash out all the fun in her life. Beth is definitely a planner, but she rolls with the punches. A storm interrupts the outdoor festivities? She has a backup plan. She doesn’t let anything get her down. Max likes rules and structure, but he’s the first to point out when something isn’t fair even if it goes against those rules. They make the story worth reading.

Me to most of the characters.

The writing itself is fine, but the pacing is slow. Things happen in every chapter to push things along, but the story just drags for me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I guessed so much early on. It wasn’t bad, though. I was simply a little bored towards the end.

Ultimately, I was kind of meh about Open for Murder. I liked the characters enough that I’ll give it a second chance if another one comes out, but if things don’t pick up, I won’t go looking for more.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t a bad story and I loved the characters, but it didn’t strike my fancy the way I was hoping it would. If you’re looking for a cozy mystery with interesting people, check it out. If you’re in it for the plot, there are better stories out there.

Thoughts on NORTHERN WRATH

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of October, which means it’s book review time! I wanted to take a break from cozy mysteries and dig into a nice juicy fantasy book, so when I found a new trilogy revolving around Norse mythology, I had to request the first book. Northern Wrath by Thilde Kold Holdt is the first book in the Hanged God trilogy. It was released on the 27th from Solaris Books. As usual, I must thank NetGalley and the publisher for access to the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get on with it.

Lovely cover.

Northern Wrath follows a number of mortals and giants and monsters alike as they prepare for the final battle. The Runes are fading, signaling the weakening of the bond between humans and the gods. Some want to save the nine worlds, others want to save themselves, and a handful just want to watch the worlds burn. Who will prevail? Only time will tell.

I’m not usually one who likes a story that’s split between more than two or three POVs, but I really appreciate the different glimpses we get in this book. There’s a name at the beginning of each chapter to let us know who we’re with, so it doesn’t get too confusing. And all of the characters are so well rounded that I can’t pick a favorite. I will say that Hilda, the young woman we’re with the most, kind of gets on my nerves. The whole “I don’t need anyone’s help” thing gets annoying, but she’s in the middle of learning her lesson, so I’m hoping I’ll eventually love her like I love Einer and Siv and the rest of them. I even like Finn even though he’s kind of a dipshit.

Me throughout most of this book, but it never does.

The plot is fun and twisty and has a lot of familiar Norse mythology sprinkled throughout as well as some stuff I am not entirely familiar with but that I vaguely recognize. It helps keep things interesting when I can tie into the story with stuff I know, but I don’t think any knowledge of the mythology is actually necessary to enjoy the book. The author does a wonderful job of explaining or showing the important points (like Ragnarok or Loki and Odin’s relationship) without feeling infodumpy. Everything is woven together and works to fully immerse the reader in this violent and lovely world.

Yggdrasil is the best.

I admit the writing is a little dense at times, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story. It’s almost 500 pages, but it manages to keep the reader’s attention with no problem. I have to say, there aren’t many books that keep me thinking about them when I’m not actively reading them, but this one did. Also, it’s a fast-paced story despite its length.

Ultimately, I loved Northern Wrath. I’m a tad bitter that I have to wait for the next two installments. But I did notice Thilde Kold Holdt is also planning a fantasy set in Korea which I will also be checking out when it becomes available.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. I knocked off one because things could have been tightened up a bit and because of my own feelings toward Hilda. But it’s totally worth picking up if you’re into Norse mythology or just looking for an interesting new fantasy world.

Thoughts on BENDING THE PAW

Hello, hello! I know it’s not the last Wednesday of the month, but St. Martin’s Press offered me access to Diane Kelly’s latest canine police procedural mystery, Bending the Paw and I couldn’t say no (I actually could say no, but I wanted to read it). It’s the ninth book in her Paw Enforcement series about a Fort Worth police officer and her K-9 partner. Publication isn’t until the 27th, but I was told an early review was fine. I received access to the ARC through NetGalley, so I must thank them as well as Sara Beth Haring at St. Martin’s Press for the chance to read it in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Cute cover that actually has to do with the plot!

Bending the Paw follows Officer Megan Luz and her K-9 partner Brigit as they try to help detective Jackson solve what appears to be a grizzly murder. The problem? There’s no body, only ludicrous amounts of blood. Throw in an engagement and wedding prep, plus a hailstorm and the onslaught of both legitimate and scam artists roofers, and you’ve got everything you need to keep this pair busy.

I’ll say it. I knew what was going to happen from the first couple of pages. The whole main plot was fairly standard. However, the subplots with Megan’s engagement and the whole roofing company thing kept the story interesting even though they were pretty predictable as well. It might just be all of the stuff I read and watch, but it wasn’t hard to see where everything was going. But again, that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to read.

I don’t want to give everything away if you’re going to read it, so feel free to skip ahead to the end of the spoilers, which start now.

My biggest complaint with this book is that despite all of the tests they do on the blood, no blood thinners are detected. Blood coagulates! In order for it to be collected over a period of time, something has to keep it thin, especially in this instance. And I’m sure a seemingly legitimate excuse for the presence of blood thinners could have been devised by the “killers.” They seem smart enough for that.

No more spoilers.

Beyond that, I didn’t really have any major problems with the book. I love Brigit. Megan’s a little annoying with her whole making it known she’s a K-9 officer so she can take Brigit in restaurants and other places when she’s off duty, but other than that she’s an interesting character. Frankie and Seth seem cool, but I’ll have to go back and read the first eight books to get a better grasp of them. That being said, it’s fine starting at book nine. It works well as a standalone.

Just a cute pupper.

The writing was tight and fast-paced. Kelly does a wonderful job at giving you pertinent details from previous books to help make reading this one possible without having to start from book one. It’s a quick and fun read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Bending the Paw. In fact, I’ve added the first couple of books to my want-to-read list so I can pick them up soon. I might also check out some of Diane Kelly’s other series.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Probably closer to 3.5, but that’s just because I figured it out so early. If you want a quick, fun read, you should check it out.

Thoughts on BURNING ROSES

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you know what that means. It’s book review time! This month, I opted for something on the fairytale side of things. I didn’t realize it was a novella when I requested it, but I’m glad it was something short and entertaining. I’ve been reading too many longer things lately, so it was a nice change of pace. It’s S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses and it was released yesterday (09/29) from Tor/Forge. 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.

Love the cover.

Burning Roses follows Rosa and Hou Yi, two middle aged women who are the stuff of legends. The problem with being legends is that you have to gain that reputation somehow and that can be misleading, even if it’s all wonder and prestige. Both women are filled with regret and running away from their pasts when they decide to team up and protect their makeshift home from the sunbirds that have started attacking the surrounding area. They don’t expect to make it out alive, but maybe one last adventure can help to resolve some of the regret that plagues them.

I’m going to be completely honest with you. I read this about four weeks ago and have been putting off writing this review purely out of laziness. But what I’ve discovered from my procrastination is that this book is pretty forgettable. I had to skim the first chapter just to remind myself what it’s about. The details came back to me fairly quickly, but I shouldn’t have needed the nudge. I probably won’t remember it at all a year from now. That’s not to say the story is bad (it’s actually really good). It’s just that among the plethora of fairytale retellings, it doesn’t stick out in my mind.

To be fair, this is me with most fairytale retellings.

The fairytales. This is a mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood (Rosa) and Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology which I’m not familiar with at all. Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Beauty and the Beast are also mixed in for good measure. I also feel like there might have been some others I wasn’t familiar with, like maybe the thing with the dragon. But the way they were all blended together made for a really nice story of family tragedy and toxic friendships and all consuming obsessions and, of course, love. I really enjoy how the story pulls enough from the originals to make them recognizable, but twists and weaves them into something new.

The story itself. This is a nice read. I took a few days to get through it, but at around 80 pages it could easily have been done in one sitting. The way their pasts unfold, mingled in with the present story is lovely. My only complaint is the same one I have with most novellas: the story feels incomplete. There’s a finality to it, but there’s also this gaping hole where we don’t get to see the end of Rosa’s story. It’s weird how it seems to start out as Rosa’s story, then shifts to Hou Yi’s story during which we get her ending, but it never shifts back to give us a satisfying ending for Rosa. Maybe that’s another story, but it doesn’t really feel like something that would require another book.

Basically.

The writing is lovely. It’s not super poetic, but there’s this nice rhythm that carries you through the story. The imagery is deliberate and helps bring the story to life. It’s a smooth read.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Burning Roses while I was reading it. Despite the unsatisfactory ending and the forgettableness of it, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for more stories by S.L. Huang.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars (3.5 really, but I rounded up). If you enjoy fairytale retellings, it’s worth a look. And it’s short enough that even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’re not wasting too much time.

Thoughts on BOOKED FOR DEATH

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. The book I requested from NetGalley was never approved or denied (I hate when they just leave you hanging like that), but on the day I decided I should just pick something from their “read now” list for August, I got an email saying a book I forgot I had pre-ordered was now available to read. It’s the first in Victoria Gilbert’s new series, so I figure it’s as good a book to review as any. Booked for Death is the debut volume from the new cozy mystery series A Booklovers B&B Mysteries. It came out on August 11th from Crooked Lane Books. Let’s get to the review!

Cute cover.

Booked for Death follows Charlotte Reed, a widow who recently inherited a book themed B&B from her mysterious great aunt, as she throws an week-long series of events celebrating the mystery writer Josephine Tey. During one of the events, one of the guests is found dead. He was an odious fellow, so there’s no shortage of suspects, including Charlotte herself. With the help of her strange older neighbor, Charlotte tries to unravel the mystery of the murder as well as her great aunt’s past.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? Meh. The plot is pretty predictable and the foreshadowing of the murder “twist” is super obvious. Especially if you’re used to reading these types of books. The whole thing with the great aunt was kind of out there. In my head, I know it’s probably happened to someone, but I wasn’t convinced it was “real” in this context, which kind of pulled me out of the story. It seemed like an unnecessary addition to make the story more interesting, but for me it just muddled things up. I rolled my eyes a lot once it was revealed.

Basically.

The characters. I didn’t really connect with them the way I was hoping I would. Charlotte is wishy-washy. As soon as the murder happens she thinks everyone did it, including her friend and employees, then it seems like she wants to clear her friend of suspicion, then maybe not. And back and forth like that with just about everyone, but she never takes anyone off her list until the night of the big reveal. It was kind of annoying. I think I liked just about everyone else more than Charlotte. I didn’t dislike her. I was just meh about her.

The world building. It was a bit much. I forgot how much Victoria Gilbert likes to describe houses. I get it. There is beadboard in every single building in town. Every house has gingerbread moulding. At least shake things up a bit because those are basically the same descriptions as the buildings in the Blue Ridge Library Mysteries. This book has a lot more in the way of street directions though, which would be pretty neat if I were in Beaufort, NC and could retrace Charlotte’s steps.

This is what I imagine all the houses look like.

The writing itself is decent enough. The dialogue is a little stilted sometimes and it seems like people say things for the reader’s advantage rather than slipping those tidbits more naturally into the story. Beyond that, it’s a smooth read.

Ultimately, I wasn’t super into Booked for Death, but it wasn’t bad. I liked it enough that I’ll probably give book two a try just to see if it gets any better. If not, I’ll give it up.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. Probably closer to 2.5 if I’m being honest. If you enjoy cozy mysteries and want something with an older protagonist (42) without the typical romance subplot, check it out.