Thoughts on VIOLET MADE OF THORNS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Things here are about the same as usual. The fridge died, so that’s been annoying for Dad. A new one has been ordered though. Anyway, it’s book review time! This month, I wasn’t really in the mood for a cozy, so I went for a fantasy story instead. Violet Made of Thorns is the first in a duology by Gina Chen. It was released yesterday (the 26th) from Delacorte Press. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Violet Made of Thorns follows Violet Lune, the Seer of the Sun Capital, as she tries to navigate politics and romance and the annoyances of a love/hate relationship with the crown prince, Cyrus. She’s cynical and a liar and everything she does is to make herself irreplaceable. But between a prophecy, the appearance of a witch and beasts, and the inevitability of war, Violet is forced to confront her own selfishness and the perceived limits of her power before she can truly discover her abilities. The world is on the brink of destruction. Cyrus is the key. Can she manipulate him and save everything or will her meddling push everything over the edge?

Okay, I’m just going to preface this review by saying that the pacing was absolutely awful and it made me hate everything about this book. It was so repetitive. The first two thirds of the book are basically Violet assuring the reader that she’s a manipulative, ice hearted bitch who’s only looking out for herself. When she’s not doing that, she’s having some stupid argument with Cyrus that will just end in groping and kissing. Like, dude. Just screw each other already. And most of the action was squeezed into the last third of the book and given no room to breathe. It could’ve been great, but everything is so rushed by that point and I was so annoyed at the slog to get to it that I couldn’t enjoy it.

The characters… meh. Violet acts like she has what it takes to be a big bad, but she’s kind of a wuss. She lets herself get conned repeatedly (and she knows it), but keeps making the same idiotic decisions. I’m very much reminded of those dipwads who act like they have fighting skills and crumple into a crying mess the first time they get popped in the face. That’s Violet. Cyrus isn’t much better. He knows he’s being used by literally everyone, but he just lets it happen. At least he tries to make things happen even if he goes about it the wrong way. But all he really seems to want to do is get in Violet’s pants, so to speak. The rest of the characters are pretty standard for a fantasy and unremarkable. Meh.

There’s not really much more to say about this one. It has potential, but needs so much work. The relationship development is super inconsistent. The plot is fine, but the execution is horrible.

Ultimately, I just didn’t like Violet Made of Thorns. If I randomly come across the second book, I might pick it up, but nothing about the first one makes me want to seek it out.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Mostly because I can’t do one and a half on most sites. There are better fantasy books out there, so I don’t suggest this one.

Thoughts on THE ARCHIVIST

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday? It’s the last one of the month, so you know what that means. Book review time! I decided to try something a little different. It’s kind of dark fantasy meets mystery/thriller. It was a last minute pick from the “read now” selection because I forgot to request something earlier. But it sounded like something I would enjoy. The Archivist by V.S. Nelson was released yesterday (the 28th) from Matador 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 to it!

Nice cover.

The Archivist follows Sun as she tries to free her and her sister Laure from an abusive father figure. To do this, she enlists the help of a young man simply known as the Archivist. He has special abilities that allow him to save the essence of people who are dying among other things he hasn’t discovered yet. Unfortunately, the trio end up in the snare of someone who lures him in by stealing the essences of suicidal teenage girls.

The story started out really strong. The pacing was tight and the plot was interesting, but when the climax showed up and there were only like 15 pages left, my heart sank. There was no way to wrap up all the loose ends for a strong finish in that limited of a space. But I kept reading. Only to be proven right. There’s zero satisfaction at the end, but it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger where you know a second book is coming. It’s just a let down. I know… not every story gets a happy ending. I’m fine with that. But even the unhappy endings need to feel satisfying, like an appropriate stopping point has been reached. This one just felt like it didn’t really know where it was going, so everything kind of fell apart. I’m hoping for some kind of follow up (maybe a short story or novella) to wrap things up, but I doubt it’ll happen.

Nope.

The characters were great. Sun was strong and caring despite everything she had been through. Laure needed more page time, especially for her big reveal. It wasn’t as woven into the story as it should’ve been, so it feels like it comes from nowhere. Plus, I liked her more than Sun and wanted to get to know her better. But my favorite was the Archivist. Poor dude doesn’t even get a name. And he was never really taught how to be a normal human being. Instead, he’s basically a freak that people avoid because they don’t understand him. And he’s mostly okay with that. The rest of the characters were a little flat. There were too many of them in a relatively short book. And so many weren’t even introduced until later. There was no room to flesh them out.

There was a dual POV in this book. It switched between the Archivist and Sun each chapter. But the narrative voice didn’t actually change much between them. Everything read as detached and matter-of-fact. It was an interesting choice since most thrillers tend to have an excitable, compelling voice that drags the reader forward. Personally, I liked the tone of this book. It was different, but it fit the Archivist’s personality. Sun’s sections could have been a bit more lively and desperate to match her personality though.

Most thrillers are go go go, but not this one.

The writing was good. Everything flowed really well up until the last two chapters, when everything kind of imploded. It was a pretty quick read actually.

Ultimately, I liked The Archivist, but I felt it could’ve used some work, especially around the ending. It just needed some fleshing out. If there’s a follow up, I’ll probably check it out, but I don’t think I’ll actively go looking for other books by Nelson.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If it sounds like something you would love, pick it up. But otherwise, you’re not missing much.

Thoughts on A HISTORY OF WILD PLACES

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of the last month of 2021. Can you believe that? Are you ready for next year? That means this is my last book review and blog post in general for the year. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I’ve never maintained a blog this long, so wootwoot! But I digress. You’re here for a book review. I couldn’t find anything that I really wanted to read on NetGalley, so I bought a book that came out earlier this month and decided to review it. A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw was released from Atria Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) on December 7th. Let’s get on with the review!

Interesting cover that makes more sense after you read it.

A History of Wild Places follows Travis Wren, a man with the ability to glean the memories of others from items they’ve touched, as he searches for a missing woman, Maggie St. James. The problem is that he goes missing too. Fast forward a couple of years and Theo, a member of a commune in the woods, finds Travis’s truck abandoned. Theo becomes obsessed with his find, which forces him, his wife Calla, and her sister Bee to question everything they’ve known their whole lives. It’s unsafe to leave the commune, but they discover staying might be worse. As they search for answers, their whole world crumbles around them. Is it really worth finding the truth?

To be totally honest, I went into this book expecting to be underwhelmed by the plot. Based on Ernshaw’s other books, I figured this one would be predictable as well. It was. But it was more disappointing than I reckoned it would be. I was hoping Travis’s power would have a bigger role, but it ended up being a kind of afterthought used to make the big reveal feel more impressive. And as for the big twist, it was predictable and pretty far-fetched. I know there are people who are susceptible to that kind of thing, but I didn’t believe Bee would be one of them. In my head, I tried telling myself it was magic or fantasy or whatever. But it just felt like an easy out.

But not really.

I did love the characters though. Bee was my favorite. A strong-willed, wild individual. The whole blindness thing was great until it went poof. Like, why can’t the disabled character actually be disabled? Yes, it was expected, but it was still disappointing when it actually happened. Magic, I guess! (Yes, that was a tiny spoiler. Sorry.) Calla had the most growth as a human being, so it was nice to see her progression. Theo waffled back and forth a lot, which became annoying, but he finally sucked it up and did what he needed to do. Levi was a pretty standard cult leader. He could’ve been better.

I’m not overly fond of stories that change POV a lot, but I thought it was a really good choice for this one. I also liked that it was limited to three characters. Things can get confusing with too many POVs. There were times when I kind of wanted to jump inside Levi’s head just to see how he justified his actions, but it wasn’t really necessary.

Me during the POV shifts

But what I really chose this book for was Ernshaw’s writing style. It’s lyrical and peaceful and just lovely. Despite the darker material, the writing always makes me feel warm and cozy. This book was no exception.

Ultimately, I enjoyed A History of Wild Places, but not for the usual reasons. I will definitely keep an eye out for more work by Ernshaw, because I love her writing style, but I’ll always be wary of the predictability of the stories themselves.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. It’s not my favorite book by Ernshaw, but it’s not bad. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for something with a fairy tale feeling. But not something I’d avidly encourage you to read.

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.