Home Away From Home

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this fine Wednesday? It’s the first week of November. Can you believe that? Thanksgiving will be tomorrow, Christmas next week, and 2023 the day after that. At least that’s how it feels. Another year slipping by. But that’s okay! We’re not here to be all maudlin just because time’s a jerk. We’re here today to ramble about bookish things! I found another one of those pick a number things, so that’s what I’ll be blogging about for the foreseeable future. I only posted the request for numbers between 1 and 15 a few minutes ago, so I’ve only got 13 and 7 so far, but I’m sure at least a couple of more people will choose something. You can choose too by commenting here or on my social media profiles or telling me or carrier pigeon. Whatever. The first picture will be the prompts. It’s from national book lovers day (I’m late, I know), so you may have seen it already. Anyway, the lovely Ana chose 13, so I will be rambling about books that make me want to live in fictional worlds!

Which book made me want to live in a fictional world? Most of them? People usually say Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle Earth and I can’t exactly argue. I know it’s a problematic world (it always was, even before JK went off the deep end), but I would’ve been down for Hogwarts as a kid. Magic provides a lot of work arounds to being cripple. It would’ve been great. Middle Earth would’ve been cool too. Who doesn’t want to live with elves? At least as a kid. Now, I’d be a hobbit all the way. Never have to leave the shire? Live quietly? PO-TAY-TOES! I am so there. Narnia, on the other hand, never appealed to me. Even as a kid. It was a fun story, but I never wanted to join in.

I’m trying really hard to think of worlds I wanted to join when I was younger, but considering I mostly read Stephen King… no thanks. I was perfectly happy watching those stories from the outside. And now that I’m older (read that as ancient), mostly of the fictional places that I want to live are idyllic small town USA spots or tiny English villages. Both of which are hotbeds of murder with some nosey chick who solves all the crimes before the police. I’d gladly be a background character in one of those worlds.

Mostly, I’m into worlds that are only slightly different from the one we live in. A medieval adventure sounds great, but even if I weren’t cripple, I wouldn’t survive a week. I’d eat the wrong berries or mushrooms and die. And a future world? Probably dead within a week as well. Not sure how it would happen, but it would. I love reading about those worlds, but nah.

What about you? What fictional worlds did you want to live in growing up? What about now? As always, feel free to leave your questions or comments or whatever here or on my social media pages! And pick a number. Since I’ve been writing this post, we’re up to 13, 7, 2, 8, 3, and 10!

Thoughts on Evangeline’s Heaven

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing on this last Wednesday of August? Are you ready for all things spiced pumpkin? I’m not, but according to people who are into that, it’s already happening. Coffee, donuts, beer. Enjoy! I’m just going to sit here and wait for all things peppermint to start happening. But, enough about that. It’s book review time! This month, I decided to go with another fantasy in the hopes of having a better experience than last month. Evangeline’s Heaven by Jen Braaksma was released from SparkPress yesterday (the 30th). As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

It’s a nice enough cover, but her wings are violet, not blood. And why is she naked?

Evangeline’s Heaven is basically a retelling of the fall of Lucifer from his daughter’s perspective. Throw in a little Romeo and Juliet romance arc and you’ve got the story. War between the Commoners (fought for by the Dragons) and Dominions (fought for by the Archangels) rock the Seven Heavens. Evangeline (a mixed blood angel who happens to be the daughter of the leader of the Dragons) wants to save her father’s life, but makes some unsettling discoveries along the way. She’s forced to team up with Michael, the son of the leader of the Archangels in order to save the Heavens from more chaos. But things just keep getting more complicated.

I’ll be honest with you… I was hoping for something more like Angel Sanctuary and less of a thinly veiled ‘eat the rich’ rant that randomly waffles between God sucks and God is great and settles somewhere around God might be okay. C’mon. Do better. I don’t mind a story with the moral of ‘the upper class is horrible and needs to realize the lower class are people who deserve rights too.’ But don’t force it down my throat repeatedly on every page. Let it unfold naturally in the story. Otherwise, especially in a story about angels and shit, it feels super preachy. No one wants that. And I know. You’re judging me right now and assuming I’m a heartless asshat just because I get annoyed when writers don’t know how to be subtle. I assure you that I’m not. I completely agree with the message. It’s the method of how to get that message across that I disagree with. This book is basically the equivalent of shouting down at someone until they play dead just to get you to shut up. That doesn’t work when trying to persuade people to think your way. It just isn’t a healthy form of communication.

Okay, now I’m just being a dick. Apologies.

Aside from that, I wanted more from the characters. We’re constantly with Evangeline who is super whiny and annoying. Now, I don’t have to like the main character in order to like a story as long as I like the side characters. The problem here is that all of the characters are flat and beyond stereotypical. Lucifer is suave and manipulative and hiding dark deeds and desires. But he loves his daughter. But, does he really? The couple of times he shows this love could also just be him manipulating her for future plans. And then there’s Michael. He’s just a lovesick teenager, really. There’s nothing special about him. The few other characters we get to meet are just filling their role. They don’t have any personality. It’s sad.

The plot had potential, but it needed a little more thought. Some things were great, like the key/book thing, but a lot of it felt rushed and random. It definitely seemed like it was written by a pantser (someone who writes without plotting things out first) who didn’t bother to go back and smooth out certain details. I’m a pantser. It happens. And maybe this was completely plotted. I have no idea. It’s just a feeling I get.

Ultimately, in case you didn’t pick up on it, I did not like Evangeline’s Heaven. I was hoping for so much more, but it fell flat. Oh well.

starstarstar outlinestar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Mostly because I can’t do one and a half on most sites. If you’re super into the fall of Lucifer stories, check it out. I guess. But you’re not missing anything by giving it a pass.

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.

starstarstar outlinestar outlinestar outline

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.

starstarstarstar outlinestar outline

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 BRIGHT RUINED THINGS

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this bright and beautiful day? I know you’re all probably giving me a weird look because it’s not the last Wednesday of the month, but somehow I ended up with two books to review this time. It happens. This one was actually due out last year, but got pushed back, so yeah. An extra review! Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe is heavily influenced (but I wouldn’t call it a retelling) by Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was released February 15th from Wednesday Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s 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!

Nice cover.

Bright Ruined Things follows Mae, an orphan who has spent her entire life on the Prosper’s island, as she struggles to find her place in the world. Not being a true part of the family, she has no claim to the island once she comes of age. But all she’s ever wanted was to belong. And to learn magic. However, the Prospers hide dark secrets that Mae isn’t counting on. What happens when she begins to unravel the lies? Is all of the beauty and wealth worth it? Mae will have to decide for herself.

So, this is a YA (young adult) fantasy. There’s magic and death and betrayal and secrets and love and all of that good stuff. It sounded fun, but I didn’t have high hopes for it going in. It started a little slow, but the momentum picked up a lot after the first few chapters and I ended up really enjoying it. A lot of it was predictable, but there were enough twists to keep me entertained. I had the basics of the plot figured out early on, but I wasn’t entirely sure of the “how” of everything, so that helped keep my interest going.

Mostly though, I loved the characters. I was team Ivo from the get-go. Screw everyone else. I’d read an entire book just about him. Mae was interesting and relatable until she decided to go rogue and stab everyone in the back. I get it as a plot device, but it felt forced and out of character for her. Coco and Miles were both great in their own ways even though they acted like dipshits for a while. But it was in character for them and they grew into decent people, so I forgave them. And I know I shouldn’t say it, but I actually liked Alasdair. He was a complete and utter douchenozzle, but he owned it. Never tried to be something he wasn’t. I appreciate that.

Really, my only complaint with this story was the very end. I don’t care for vague endings unless I know a second book is coming. Is he there? Isn’t he? It’s all up to the reader’s imagination! Ooo… no. If I wanted to write an ending to someone’s story, I’d go finish one of the three I’m currently working on. Just let me know if the dude gets the ending he deserves. But that’s just me. Some people like that vague maybe/maybe not stuff. I’m just hoping it’s bait for a second book.

The writing itself was nice. Things flowed pretty well and all of the pertinent information felt like it was spread out naturally in the story. At least I don’t recall any huge infodumps, so that’s always good. It ended up being a quick and fun read.

Ultimately, Bright Ruined Things was great. I had way more fun with it than I was expecting to, anyway. If there’s a follow up, I’ll definitely pick it up. And if I come across Cohoe’s other work, I’ll be sure to take a peek.

starstarstarstarstar outline

Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. Definitely recommend picking it up if you’re into YA fantasy. Even if you’re not, it’s still worth a look.

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.

starstarstarstar outlinestar outline

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 ORPHAN WITCH

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing this week? It’s the last Wednesday of September, so you all know what that means. It’s book review time. This month, I wanted something more fantasy than anything. Just something a little different than all of the cozies I’ve been reading lately. I thought that might help me get excited about reading again. My search brought me to The Orphan Witch by Paige Crutcher. It was released yesterday (the 28th) from St. Martin Press’s Griffin imprint. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

A nice cover.

The Orphan Witch follows Persephone May as she drifts through life trying to find her place in the world and a family to share it with. Bad luck seems to follow her around until she’s invited to spend some time on Wile Isle, then everything goes from bad to worse. There’s a curse only she can break, people who keep attacking her for no reason, and lots of betrayal and deception. But throw in a hot librarian and maybe things aren’t so bad.

Sounds fun, right? It could be, but it’s not. The plot is far too convoluted. It honestly feels like an early draft where even the author is just going along and trying to figure out what’s happening. The beginning is slow and sparse on important details. Everything is crammed into the last half of the book, which makes it super muddled. And for an island that doesn’t let people come to it during certain times of the year, it sure seems to make a lot of exceptions. If the rules of the magic system are so easily ignored, it destroys all my faith in the system to begin with, which makes the loopholes Persephone and her cohorts exploit more annoying than exciting. There was a lot of potential for this story, but the execution was lacking.

I mean… it’s not a lie.

The characters were okay. Persephone was too naive a lot of the time. And her background could’ve been explored and utilized better, but she was an okay protagonist. Hyacinth was ridiculously manipulative and selfish, but it was (poorly) explained away as her being under someone else’s influence despite the fact that she was a horrible person all along. Moira, Ellison, and Ariel all had potential to be really interesting, but were largely undeveloped. They felt like afterthoughts, brought in to move the plot along. And Dorian could’ve used a lot more fleshing out.

You can probably guess how I feel about the pacing. Ugh. Aside from the beginning being slow and the end being rushed, there were so many spots that were just infodumps. Instead of spreading the background throughout the story naturally, there are huge sections of it unceremoniously scattered everywhere. I almost didn’t get past the first chapter because of it. But I pressed on.

The writing itself was average at best and subpar at other times. Mostly, the dialogue was the cringe-y bit. It was so stilted and a lot unnecessary things were said that were strictly for the benefit of the reader. I can’t think of a specific example from this book, but I mean like when characters are talking about someone the main character knows, but the speaker goes into ridiculous detail about great aunt Muriel with the glasses and saggy jowls or whatever. People don’t talk that way. It’s annoying. Just say “Aunt Muriel died,” then do a descriptive paragraph. Not everything belongs in dialogue.

Ultimately, The Orphan Witch didn’t live up to its potential. Luckily, it works just fine as a standalone, so I don’t even have to entertain the idea of sequels. It just wasn’t for me.

starstarstar outlinestar outlinestar outline

Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Well, one and a half, really. One star because it got published (which is hard to do and means someone liked it) and half of one because it had potential. If you’re interested in it, you might like it. If it just seems meh to you, you’re not missing anything by skipping it.

Thoughts on FOLKLORN

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? Got my second Pfizer shot last week and had a few days of being beyond tired, plus some other minor side effects that really only lasted the night after the shot. I’m fine now. And I’m still breaking in my new computer. But enough about that stuff! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. This month, I decided to request something a little different. It’s a strange mixture of ghost story and fairy tale and some kind of literary fiction. Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur was released yesterday (the 27th) from Erewhon Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Folklorn follows Elsa Park, a particle physicist, as she runs into an old friend in the most unlikely of places: Antarctica. The problem? Her old friend is imaginary. When the friend follows her to Sweden, then back to America, Elsa both fears for her sanity and relishes in the familiar comfort and safety her childhood friend provides. Elsa must fight for her place in the world, overcome family issues, and decipher the riddle-like fairy tales her mother left for her. Otherwise, she risks losing herself completely.

The plot of this story feels secondary to the character development, which gives it a very different vibe compared to more traditional genre stories. Yes, there’s an imaginary friend pushing Elsa to complete quests leading to a big reveal, but the monsters and obstacles are all too human. And the real payoff is Elsa’s realizations about her mother and father and brother, but mostly herself. Her own transformation is the best thing about this book, though the interspersed fairy tales are a close second to me.

Everyone keeps transforming in this book.

Speaking of character development, Elsa isn’t the only one who grows throughout this story, but let’s start with her. We see her transform from a closed off, almost bitter person into someone who can work through their issues and open themselves a bit. She isn’t great at it yet, but she’s chosen to make the effort. Her father turns from the monster of her youth into a pitiful old man. Her brother goes from a knight to a manipulative jerk to a normal, struggling human being. Oskar is never really a prince, but he helps Elsa during her struggles, and finds out that he’s allowed to become a different person than he was in his youth. The only person who doesn’t get a chance to evolve in real time is Elsa’s mother, but even she morphs into something new in Elsa’s mind.

A big portion of this book deals with cultural identity and finding a balance between where you come from versus where you end up. It can be a little difficult to read at times, especially if you’re sensitive to race issues. But I ended up feeling like I learned some things from the book. There’s the whole aspect of immigrating to the US after the Korean war and how Elsa’s parents survived both the war and the move and found ways to both fit in and stand out in their new community. There’s also the racism Elsa and her brother faced as children (and still face) and the expectations placed on them, plus the ingrained anger between Koreans and Japanese. And there’s the racism Elsa and Oskar face in Sweden, despite Oskar being raised there. And Oskar’s entire story arc of being an adopted child. It’s about all of these things, but it’s not preachy or anything like that. It’s just people doing the best they can.

Even if we have to unlearn some stuff first.

The writing was interesting. The flow isn’t as smooth as I tend to prefer. The rhythm feels jerky, like it’s trying to trip you up as you read. This works surprisingly well for this book. It mimics Elsa’s unstable emotions. It’s weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Folklorn. The combination of genres and the general growth of the characters made this an interesting read. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more work by Angela Mi Young Hur.

starstarstarstarstar outline

Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairy tales and well-rounded characters, it’s definitely worth picking up. Even if you’re just looking for something different, check it out.

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!

51mCcFqejJL
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.

P85t3fs
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.

giphy (32)

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.

starstarstarstarstar outline

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.

starstarstar outlinestar outlinestar outline

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.