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-fiancée’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 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 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 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.

Quarantine TBR

Hello, hello! Welcome to May. How is everyone doing? They’re currently trying to reopen Texas in phases even though we’re beating records for most new cases of Covid-19 just about every day. Because that seems like the smart thing to do? I guess? Whatever. Everyone else can do what they want. I’ll be keeping myself at home until things actually settle down and/or there’s a vaccine or treatment protocols that work. So, that means I need to find ways to entertain myself for a while longer. That means books. Lots of books. And since I have nothing else to ramble about today, I thought I would share my to-be-read list thus far (I add books every day).

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It’s not wrong.

Instead of just listing some books, it’ll be easier if I group them together by genre or whether I’ve already read them. So, here are some of the books on my TBR list.

1. Books I’ve read, but want to read again. This year, I’ve been making my way through the Chronicles of Narnia. I have three left (The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle). I also plan on rereading The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, Ransom by Lois Duncan, and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman at some point before the end of the year. Depending on how my other reads go, I might also try to start Harry Potter again, but I might save that for next year’s reading list.

2. Mysteries (cozies or otherwise). I don’t know how this list ended up being so long, but it is and it’s still growing. I want to read The Missing Ones by Edwin Hill, Bound for Murder by Victoria Gilbert, A Crafter Hooks a Killer by Holly Quinn, and Death in a Budapest Butterfly by Julia Buckley. Also, Killer Kung Pao by Vivien Chien is due out in August, which I’m looking forward to. And if you look at my GoodReads page, you’ll see a bunch more like these that I probably won’t get to this year.

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3. Fantasy. I’m currently reading Dragon Brothers by L.B. Lillibridge for this month’s book review. I was originally going to read The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, but its publication date got pushed back until February, so while I’m still going to read it this month, the review will wait until closer to February. I also have Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, and Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw on my list for this year. The next two books in Danielle Rose’s Darkhaven saga are also due out before the end of the year, so those go on the list too.

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I doubt I’ll be able to make it through all of these books by the end of the year, but since there probably won’t be much progress with Covid-19 in the foreseeable future, maybe I’ll be able to finish them and more before I stop hermitting. Quarantining. I meant quarantining. What are some of the books on your TBR list? As always, feel free to share your thoughts or lists or suggestions or whatever here or on my social media pages!

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 SHATTER THE SKY

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of July, so you should all know what that means.  It’s time for another book review!  This month, I felt like getting into something fantastical, maybe with dragons or something, so that’s what I looked for on NetGalley.  They recommended the young adult novel Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells, which was released yesterday (July 30th).  It sounded interesting, so I went ahead and requested it.  I must thank NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for allowing me access to an ARC (advanced reader copy) in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Now, let’s get to the review.

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A pretty generic YA cover.  No idea what the glowy thing she’s holding is, but I’m guessing a vial which is never described as glowing in the book.

Shatter the Sky follows Maren who leaves her secluded home in the hopes of rescuing her girlfriend, Kaia, who is taken by the Aurati seers.  Maren never actually wanted to leave her home and always believed she was average, especially next to Kaia who was obviously meant for greater things than the mountains could provide.  But when Kaia is stolen, Maren decides she needs to reclaim a dragon from the Flame of the West (the warlord who loves nothing more than conquering lands) and rain down fire and destruction upon the Aurati.  But how is an average girl like her supposed to do that?  With a little help from friends, apparently.  But is Sev, a guy she meets along the way, really a friend?  And can his allies really help her rescue Kaia?  Maren doesn’t have any idea what she’s doing or who to trust, but she does all she can to keep moving forward.

The plot is pretty standard fantasy fare.  An underdog rises above her challenges in order to achieve her goals, discovering along the way that she’s actually super special.  Not only must she face physical obstacles, but there’s also a budding romance with the new friend despite her devotion to her heartmate, which brings up shame and all that good stuff.  And there’s an adorable little dragon that gets sucked into the adventures.  It’s a little predictable at points, but still enjoyable.

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But not so ashamed she’ll ditch him.

It’s not the plot that pulled me in, but the characters.  Of course, in the beginning, Kaia is the obvious choice for a heroine, but then she’s abducted and we only get to see snippets of her in Maren’s visions.  By the end, she’s so completely changed that it makes me want to read the next book to find out what she really becomes.  Maren is headstrong and a little flighty.  She rarely has more than a vague notion of a plan, but that never stops her.  However, her insistence that Kaia is somehow better than her does become annoying.  Sev is an ambiguous character that could either be really good or he could go really bad, which is fun.  He’s adamant that his cause is the only way to a better future, which most villains feel the same way.  But if he keeps with Maren, and lets her influence shape him, he could become a hero in his own right.  This book is leaning toward the latter for him, but it doesn’t mean he won’t veer off in the next book.  Otherwise, I love the dragons and want more of them.

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A Dragon Witch by Nene Thomas.  Just because dragons.

The writing itself was smooth and a made for nice read.  A lot of the description was beautiful and the pacing pulled me along at a good clip.  The dialogue occasionally felt stilted, but not enough to really distract from the story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Shatter the Sky so much that I’m looking forward to book two and am a little sad that I have to wait for it.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  Like I said, it’s standard fantasy fare, but the characters made it worth reading for me.  If you enjoy character development and can get past some predictableness, this is definitely worth reading.