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 MURDER IN THE VILLAGE

Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of August. Can you believe it? It’s basically 2022 already. Anyway, I don’t have to think of anything to ramble about because it’s book review time! I couldn’t figure out what I felt like reading this month, so I decided to fall back on the good old trusty genre of cozy mysteries. Murder in the Village is the first in Lisa Cutts’ new Belinda Penshurst mystery series. It was released today (August 25th) from Bookouture. 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!

Cute cover, but feels off. It’s not wrong for the book, but could be better.

Murder in the Village follows Belinda Penshurst as she tries to settle back into village life after a bad break up. She prides herself on knowing everything happening within Little Challham, but when she discovers a dead body and finds out there have been a series of potential dognappings in the village, she quickly realizes how little she actually knows. In order to solve both cases, she teams up with village newbie and ex-detective Harry Powell to investigate everything going on.

It’s pretty standard cozy mystery fare. A nosy lady (though she’s in her 40s instead of the usual younger protagonists) stumbles upon a murder scene and finds a reason to investigate. She’s trying to protect her brother, whose stupid ideas have gotten him in trouble in the past. Throw in Harry Powell who takes over both the best friend and potential love interest roles and things get more interesting. He and his dog food delivery job make the whole story more fun, but mostly because dogs make everything better. And Harry is basically a giant pupper in human form.

No wonder Harry and Colonel get along so well.

When it comes to the characters, I’m definitely more a fan of Harry than Belinda. He’s more down-to-earth and a little doofy and an all around interesting dude. Belinda is rich and very much expects things to go her own way without regard to what other people want, unless it’s her brother. She coddles the crap out of him which is probably why he’s such an idiot. I just didn’t connect with Belinda the way I like to with protagonists. But that’s just me. The rest of the characters were potentially suspects, so I didn’t even try to get attached to them in case I was wrong about what was going on.

My biggest complaint about this book is that I hate when bad guys are only mentioned in passing, then surprise! This person who was just thrown in as an afterthought did it! It’s annoying. Don’t get me wrong, the murderer in this story was fine and had a decent role. It was just the dognapper who sucked. When the big reveal came, I literally asked myself “who the hell is that?” And apparently the author figured that would happen because she immediately explained who it was. I don’t even remember if they ever actually talked to this person or what, but I was too lazy to go back and check. That always feels like a cheap trick that people use when they can’t figure out how to tie everything together. It’s just disappointing.

Me at the big reveal.

The writing itself was nice. Everything flowed pretty well. There were a couple of spots where the pacing slowed a bit too much for my liking, but it wasn’t something that really bothered me. And there were some cute lines sprinkled throughout.

Ultimately, Murder in the Village was okay. I probably won’t go looking for the sequels, but that’s just because I didn’t connect with the characters enough to care what happens to them. It wasn’t bad, though.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy cozies and have time, check it out. You might like it. If you don’t have time, I don’t think you’ll be missing anything.

Thoughts on JUST ONE LOOK

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing on this lovely day? Can you believe it’s already the last Wednesday in July? That means it’s book review time. I wasn’t really sure what I felt like reading this month, so I just browsed through late July releases until I found something that seemed interesting. That happened to be a mystery/thriller called Just One Look by Lindsay Cameron. It was released on the 27th from Ballantine Books (an imprint of Random House). 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!

It’s pretty colors.

Just One Look follows Cassie Woodson who is trying to find her way back to normal after an epic break up with a coworker gets her fired and forces her from her upward trajectory in a prestigious law firm down into the basements of another firm with all the other temps just trying to scrape by. That’s where she finds the perfect man. Not in person, but via his emails which have mistakenly been included in a high profile case’s discovery files. Her job is to sift through that information for anything relevant to the case, not to snoop through personal emails. But he’s perfect and she’s in love. What could go wrong?

Characters: meh. The only one we really get any insight into is Cassie and she’s super unreliable. Don’t get me wrong. Unreliable narrators can be great as long as we can look back and see where they twist things and where the truth shines through. There is no truth with Cassie. She gets black out drunk just about every night and doesn’t remember doing creepy stalker things. And by the end, she hasn’t changed or evolved at all. The perfect guy ends up being a douchenozzle (who didn’t see that coming a mile away?), though I admit things escalate quickly and beyond what we’re set up for in the story. And the only dude with any potential at being a normal person ends up being the mystery death in this thriller. In other words, there wasn’t enough character development to make me feel one way or the other about any of them.

Me to everyone in this book.

Plot: about what you’d expect. I haven’t read many stalker stories, but they all seem pretty much the same. Girl falls for perfect dude despite never officially meeting him, finds ways to insert herself in his life, confirms/encourages the exit of any significant others, ignores all warning signs, finds out perfect dude is a douche. And if the story is a thriller, there’s usually some kind of murder or abuse involved. That’s what we have here. It gets boring fast, which is why I don’t read many books like it. But that’s just me.

Pacing: not great. The first two-thirds of this book are a slog. Sure, we get a ton of information, but no real progress. And the information we get doesn’t give any hint to the escalation in the last third of the book. If you don’t automatically assume people are asshats, there’s not really anything on the page to suggest things will go the way they do. It’s annoying. It also makes the last third of the story feel super rushed.

Yup.

Writing: nothing special. It was fine, but nothing that stood out. The problems with the pacing made it harder to read than anything. If it wasn’t for that, the writing itself could’ve made for a smooth, quick read.

Ultimately, Just One Look was okay, but not something I’ll ever think about again. I’m not mad I wasted time on it, I just wasn’t impressed by it. That’s all.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. It was fine. People who are into the whole stalker thriller genre will probably enjoy it and should check it out. If that’s not your thing, you aren’t really missing anything.

Thoughts on WALKING THROUGH NEEDLES

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? It’s the last Wednesday of June. Can you believe it? I have no idea where time is going. But that means it’s time for another book review! I wanted something a little more intense this month, so I decided to request a thriller mystery instead of a cozy. Walking Through Needles by Heather Levy sounded like just the ticket. It was released from Polis Books on the 29th. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get to it!

Not a bad cover, but I don’t really understand why the lightning is there.

Walking Through Needles follows Sam as she struggles to deal with the repercussions of the abuse she suffered as a teenager. When she discovers her abuser has been murdered, it forces her to relive that time and the confusion and inner turmoil that went with it. But she needs to focus on the here and now in order to keep an innocent man from being charged with the crime, as well as keeping herself out of the spotlight. But who actually killed him? Sam isn’t sure she really wants to know.

I have to be honest. This book feels more like an excuse to write softcore stepsibling porn that dabbles in kink than an actual thriller. I mean, the very first scene is Sam masturbating while choking herself. That’s an awkward start to a book when you’re not prepared for it. However, the whole porn vibe isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Porn is fine. It can even be great. This porn is not. It’s rape-y and underage (she’s 16-17 during the rape parts). And the murder plot feels like an afterthought. Something thrown in to make the actual story more palatable to a wider audience. It was super easy to figure out who killed the dude. So easy that the red herrings (those side plots meant to throw you off the scent) came across as ridiculous. Aside from the lack of actual mystery, it was a story (neither good nor horrible) if you’re into dark stuff. It at least tries to handle the complexities of rape, especially when it comes to a grown ass man taking advantage of a teenager’s willingness when she really has no clue what she’s getting into. It just doesn’t do it well. There’s this whole “I was asking for it” mentality when Sam’s younger and it never really addresses when she finally stops blaming herself. Everything is skimmed over. Anyway, it just wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, so I wasn’t ready for it.

My face after reading that opening scene.

The characters are all a little on the flat side. Sam’s a budding masochist who matures into the role as an adult, but she never really becomes an actual person for me. She’s pretty stereotypical. Isaac has the potential to be an interesting character, but we never get a glimpse into his motivations/why he’s the way he is, so he ends up being a typical asshat. Arrow is the most interesting character because he actually demonstrates a willingness to change and adapt, but even he doesn’t get his due. Mom and Grandma are caricatures. Everyone else is just meh. They all have some kind of potential, but sadly fall flat.

Me to every single character.

As far as the writing goes, it was fine. There was nothing captivating about it, but nothing to complain about either. It was just words on the page. That’s about it. But I should probably stop thinking about this book because the more I do, the more I dislike it.

Ultimately, Walking Through Needles was not my cup of tea. I have no desire to pick up another book by Heather Levy just because of this one. It might be because I wasn’t in the mind space for something like this. It’s not like I haven’t read and enjoyed things even darker than this. But this one didn’t do anything for me.

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Overall, I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. Closer to 1.5 stars. Mostly because there are people who apparently enjoyed it, even if I’m not one of them. If you’re into softcore porn with a super dark storyline, you might enjoy this. If you’re looking for a thriller, this is not the story you want.

Thoughts on DEATH IN BLOOM

Howdy, howdy! It’s already the last Wednesday in May. Can you believe it? I have no idea where the time went, but I know that it’s time for another book review! This month, I just chose another cozy mystery. I wanted something that was likely to be fluffy and have a happy ending. Cozies are usually good for that. Death in Bloom is the first in the new Flower House mystery series by Jess Dylan. It was released yesterday (May 25th) from St. Martin’s Press. 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.

Cute cover.

Death in Bloom follows Sierra Ravenswood as she tries to settle into small town life after her dreams of being a singer in Nashville fall through. She returns to her hometown of Aerieville determined to build a better life for herself with the help of positive vibes and good thoughts. Unfortunately for her, her flaky boss skips town on some adventure and leaves her to run the flower shop on her own. Her first evening by herself is filled with a flower arranging class that she isn’t prepared to lead. Throw in a suspicious death during the class and things can’t get any worse, right? Wrong. Can Sierra solve a murder, find the person who keeps breaking into the Flower House, and take care of a new pup all at once? With the help of new friends and positive energy, anything is possible. She hopes.

The plot is pretty standard. Except the bestie is a rekindling of an old acquaintanceship from high school (they weren’t close back then, but why not now?) and the potential love interest is some sketchy dude who randomly shows up and asks way too many questions about the absent boss. Otherwise, there are plenty of obvious clues to lead you in the wrong direction all the way through. I admit that I doubted my murderer guess a couple of times, but stuck with it and was right in the end. It was twisty and turny enough to be a fun ride.

Me, at the end.

As far as the characters go, I liked them well enough. Sierra was a little wishy-washy when it came to the Flower House even though her choice was obvious. That was annoying. But her general personality and her familial interactions were all great. Deena is a little on the flat side, but there’s potential for some good development with her in later books. Calvin is super suspicious and with everything going on, I found it really hard to believe that Sierra just took the dude at his word. At least do some research on him. A quick google of the faculty website at the school he supposedly teaches at. Anything. But, no. It takes her more than half the book to realize he’s sketchy. It’s improbable. At least Gus is cute. He’s the corgi puppy she adopts when it becomes apparent her boss isn’t coming back for him.

Look at that face!

The writing is nice. Everything flows pretty smoothly and keeps the story hopping along at a quick pace. There were some sections that felt redundant as they rehashed the case, but that happens in all cozies I’ve found.

Ultimately, Death in Bloom was enjoyable and pretty fluffy. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for future books in this series. I might even check out the other series that Jess Dylan wrote using the name Jennifer David Hesse.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If you like cozy mysteries with a weirdly positive lead woman and cute puppers, it’s certainly worth a look.

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 DOWN WORLD

Howdy, howdy! How’s everyone doing? Dad got his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday. I’m going to get mine today (wish me luck). If you’re trying to schedule one via the CVS website, all I can tell you is to ignore their lists of availabilities and actually go through the process of trying to schedule an appointment, then try at least three or four nearby zip codes/cities (for some reason our closest pharmacy only showed up when I searched for Forney, a neighboring city, instead of our own zip code and the pharmacy I’m scheduled at only showed up under our zip when it’s apparently in Sunnyvale). Do this multiple times a day. And be prepared to be told that you can’t make the first appointment without making the second one too, which is sometimes available and sometimes not. It’s a ridiculous process. Good luck.

Anyway, I’m way off topic. It’s the last Wednesday of the month, so it’s review time! I honestly only requested this month’s book because the cover was kind of thriller-esque. It turned out to be more soft sci-fi, which was a nice change. Down World by Rebecca Phelps was released yesterday (March 30th) from Wattpad Books. As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. So, let’s get to it.

Nice cover.

Down World follows Marina as she enters a new school and struggles to leave her past and the death of her brother behind her. When she realizes her new crush, Brady, and her brother’s old friend, Kieren, are hiding something, she finds herself in the middle of a weird new reality: doorways to different planes of existence, the potential of her brother actually being alive, and somehow it all connects back to her mother. As Marina delves deeper into these secrets, she has to face the past and make some difficult decisions that might completely change her present.

I called this soft sci-fi because even though the science is discussed, it feels shaky at best. The characters are unsure of what’s going on and just guessing themselves, so the science feels like guesswork to the reader. I’m okay with that. I don’t mind letting the fiction drive the story. But I do know people who prefer hard sci-fi where the science drives everything and is possible. I don’t think this book is for them. But for my fiction-with-a-dab-of-science folks, this book had some definite Coraline (but for an older audience) vibes to it that were fun.

Yes, let’s go through the weird door.

The plot was okay. It had some nice twists and turns along the way. It wasn’t exactly surprising, but it wasn’t super predictable either. I figured out a lot early on, but there were a couple of things I didn’t catch until closer to their reveals. It was enough to keep the story interesting for me. At least moreso than the characters. They were all pretty flat and could’ve used some fleshing out. I just never really felt they were people as much as stereotypes. So yeah, the plot carries this story more than the characters.

My biggest issue with this book was the pacing. The first third was beyond slow despite the lack of description (the whole book could’ve used more descriptions to help us picture the places and people). The second third felt really rushed, though I admit the description was better. Things didn’t seem to find a good rhythm until the last third. That’s always kind of annoying to me even though I know I’ve been guilty of it too.

Are we going fast or slow or what?

The writing itself was fine. It wasn’t exactly memorable. I finished the story a few days ago and am already having trouble remembering the finer details. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. No lines stuck out for quotes or anything. However, it was a fairly smooth read.

Ultimately, Down World just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s a standalone, so I don’t have to worry about reading another one. It does have the potential for other books set around the same premise, like a series of otherwise unconnected stories, but I won’t be looking for them if that happens.

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Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If I’m being super honest, it’s 2 and a half stars. If you like YA sci-fi, you might enjoy this. I just happen to like books that are more fleshed out.

Thoughts on VASILISA

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

Cute cover.

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

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

Me after counting all the tropes I could remember.

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

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

Me when reading about Vasilisa.

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

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

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

Thoughts on THE ECHO WIFE

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

Cute and simple cover.

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

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

Basically.

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

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

Me to Evelyn.

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

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

Thoughts on THE GILDED ONES

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

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Love the cover.

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

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

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So cute.

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

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

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

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

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