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 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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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!

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Love the cover.

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

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

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So cute.

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on ONE POISON PIE

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

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

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

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

Me trying to figure out the magic.

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

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

Me staring at the title after reading the book.

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

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

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

Thoughts on 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.