Gods & Monsters: I’m not crying, you’re crying…

Gods & Monsters

By Shelby Mahurin

Guys, I can’t believe the S&D series, one of the first books I decided to review on here, has come to a close! I’m so happy with its ending, yet I still feel bittersweet that it is finished. Since following Shelby on Instagram, I feel like I have come to know her and what these books meant to her… and somehow that has made this series all the more special to me. The power of social media, amiright. Serpent & Dove is SO good and it is one of my favorite books, and Blood & Honey… was necessary! So many readers complained about the second novel in this series, and while I will agree that it wasn’t as good as S&D, it was still amazing and I understand the hardships Lou and Reid had to go through in that novel. Necessary hardships for their characters… Lou had to get a grip on her power and realize that she could be a powerful witch without turning into her mother. Reid had to come to terms with the fact that he is a witch, and that isn’t a bad thing. Gods & Monsters was the perfect blend of the two, and while nothing will ever compare to the first novel, I think this book ended the series just how it should. 

B&H ended on a massive cliff hanger, with the wraith Nicholina possessing Lou. Nicholina’s POV at the beginning of each part in this novel really added a sort of creepy, supernatural element to the plot, while also helping us understand more of her character. She was sooooooooo weird and scary, but I really enjoyed the change up in the narrative. You could tell she was Shelby’s favorite character as well, considering the depth that went into her backstory. I wasn’t sure where the story would go with Lou’s possession, but I really liked the beginning of this book in Reid’s POV. Reid is hands down my personal favorite in this entire series, and I don’t care what any of you readers say. I love his temper, his possessiveness, his judgement, his attitude, his seriousness, and every other attribute of his. There’s just something about him that made me giddy every time his POV came up, and I just love him. So much that I try to read through Lou’s POV as quickly as I can just to get to his mind again. Beau is a close second favorite character, and I really enjoyed the role he played in this book. His love towards Lou was so wholesome, and each time he called Lou his sister had me grinning from ear to ear. It almost felt like a Harry and Hermione trope, and I am here for it. Another surprise character I came to really love was Celie… though I will admit that when she first came on the page I groaned and wondered wtf she was doing there. I liked her small “redemption” arc, if you will, and her friendship with Lou and Coco was the girls’ group I never asked for yet needed. 

I was looking forward to meeting the melusines, but their presentation fell flat for me. I think I was hoping for more of an eery, Pirates of the Caribbean vibe, so they just weren’t as cutthroat as I wanted them to be, but that is just a personal take. Anyone have any good recommendations for pirate/mermaid novels that err on the side of dark and spooky? Send them my way please and thank you. Anyways, I think that the entire melusine section of the novel could have been cut out. There was no point to any of it, and I think gaining Isla’s support wasn’t necessary to the plot. I screamed in frustration when Reid woke up from his sleep, only to have completely forgotten Lou… and it drove me completely nuts for the rest of the novel. I want more Reid and Lou! I wanted to see them together, being Reid and Lou, full of arguments and tension and passion… and I feel like we were jipped of that in B&H AND now in G&M. Though this strain on their relationship grew on me (especially that scene in the boat… oooofff that had me BLUSHING blushing out of nowhere), it just felt like a forced repeat of S&D, and a part of me still doesn’t feel satisfied because I think I will forever and always want more Lou and Reid. Sigh

The entire ending of this book was full to the brim of action… almost too full. Throughout the series, the “Big Bad” has always been Lou’s mother, Morgane… yet more of the ending was focused on the King and his obsession with burning Lou and Reid at the stake. So many characters came together in an Endgame-esque sort of battle, but I kept noticing as I got closer and closer to the end of the novel that Morgane had yet to make an appearance in this battle. When she finally did, her death seemed rushed and quick compared to the reign of terror she held over this entire series. Truthfully, there were too many extra side characters that I thought didn’t need to be in this scene, and I would have loved to see more focus on Lou and Reid using some sick witchcraft to take on Morgane, as it should have been. They could have really used the growth they went through in B&H separately to come together and defeat Morgane together. But, I think that would be asking a lot of the series, and it would have involved key changes going all the way back to B&H. As the series stands right now, I think the ending was perfect and it wrapped up everything nicely for the readers. 

I have to say, the scenes with Ansel (Lou’s mental conversation and his POV at the very end) had me SOBBING. I actually don’t know if I can ever forgive Shelby for his death… poor, sweet Ansel. His view of Reid and Lou’s wedding was so unexpected and I cherished every second of it; just reading his name at the top of the page had me instantly breaking out in tears. I think his POV perfectly encapsulated the feeling we all have after losing a loved one, when we look to the sky and hope that they are watching and there to celebrate with us. Gahhhhh. I won’t cry while writing this, I won’t cry while writing this, I won’t cry… I’m crying.

The entire Serpent & Dove series was so good, and it will forever be one of my favorites, minor qualms included. Lou and Reid hold a grip on my heart, and the supporting characters were incredible as well… it’s so hard to say goodbye to all of them! I’m equal parts happy to see it come to the perfect end, and sad that we have to say goodbye to these characters… but I’m looking forward to Shelby’s next novel, as she has become one of my all time favorite authors. She is one that I admire and look up to in every possible way as a hopeful author myself.

The Prison Healer: The Audacity of this Book

The Prison Healer

By Lynette Noni

Ummmmmmm, who gave this book the right to end the way it did? I am quite shooketh. I had been eyeing The Prison Healer for some time, and when I saw it on the shelf, I knew I had to read it. However, I really didn’t know what to expect from this YA novel… especially once I started the book. As the plot thickened, I still was very, very confused (in a good way, not in a idkwhatisgoingonsoimgoingtodnfthisbook way) up until the very end, when literally all hell broke loose. If you’re looking for a book with complicated politics, plenty of action, and a wild ending, look no further and pick up The Prison Healer immediately. This book was highly entertaining, and the plot built upon itself until it blew up at the very end. Now, a warning: spoilers abound going forward, because I can’t just not talk about that ending. Read at your own risk! 

Kiva is the Prison Healer, having been a prisoner for nearly ten years after she was captured along with her father. She’s lasted a lot longer than a good majority of prisoners in Zalindov, working hard to heal everyone who comes through the prison doors. The only thing keeping her alive is the hope that her family will come and rescue her after she has been receiving their periodic notes telling her that they are coming. But after so many years, Kiva is beginning to lose hope. That is, until a mysterious prisoner named Jaren appears. After his whirlwind arrival, Kiva is assigned to orient him to the prison by Naari, an equally mysterious guard who seems to favor and look out for Kiva. Soon after she orients him to Zalindov, the prison receives a new inmate: Tilda Corentine, the Rebel Queen. Tilda is comatose, blind, and very sick, but that isn’t Kiva’s only problem: when Tilda arrives, she gets a note from her family telling her to keep Tilda alive because they are coming. A massive problem, since Tilda is sentenced to the vicious Trial by Ordeals, a gruesome serious of trials no prisoner has ever lived through. Desperate to keep Tilda alive until her family comes to rescue her, Kiva volunteers as tribute (I had to, sorry) to go through the impossible Trials in Tilda’s place. 

At the beginning of the book, I was super confused about the setting, not going to lie. Zalindov is a ruthless prison, but it seems like a good portion of prisoners aren’t necessarily bad, like you would think. Or at the very least, their crimes are petty and insignificant to the torture they endure within the walls of the prison (hmmmmmmmmmmm sounds like an all too familiar prison system, don’t we think?). I also had a ton of questions surrounding Kiva herself; why did she end up in prison alongside her father if she was only eight years old at the time they were arrested? Why hadn’t her family come to retrieve her yet, if they had promised to find her for nearly ten years? Most importantly, why in the world did she volunteer to undergo the trials in Tilda’s place if she had nothing to do with the rebels? The world outside of the prison seemed confusing too, as we readers were given very little information. We knew there was a royal family, the Vallentis family (elemental magic), and a band of Rebels, who backed Tilda’s claim to the throne (the Corentine family, blessed with healing magic). They are the only two families with any sort of magic, and they have been at war for years, both claiming the throne. So, conflict outside the prison seems extremely complicated and political… yet we don’t see much of it in this novel. I think we will get much more of the outside world in the second book. 

Let’s talk about characters. I liked Kiva… and it was hard not to admire her after going through so much. Was she my favorite heroine? No, but that’s ok. I thought Jaren was super sus throughout the whole story, and I really suspected that he at the very least had powers from the start. Though, I honestly did not think that he was the crown prince, so that was a wild surprise to learn. Truthfully, I’m that basic bitch who would like to see a bit more romance between them… so maybe we’ll get that going forward, in a sort of enemies to lovers way. Nothing about their relationship was enemies to lovers, as Jaren was very sweet and supportive of Kiva the entire time… yet the ending has me wondering. I would give my left kidney for Tripp, he was adorable and I actually cried at several times throughout the book when he was sick or in danger. If anyone hurts him again, I will riot. The Warden was terrifying; his obsession with Kiva was so creepy, especially when he all but sentenced her death during the trials, but continued to act concerned for her well being once she finished a trial. Can somebody say abusive relationship

There were so many underlying themes throughout this book, including addiction, trauma, and healing, and each one gave so much to the story. The ending completely blew me away… tbh I did suspect that Kiva had healing powers, an anomaly perhaps, but to find out that she was Kiva Corentine? The actual rebel queen? That was entirely unexpected, and my jaw actually dropped when I read the ending. So was Tilda a pawn the whole time? How was Kiva gathering support for the rebellion if she was in prison? Did her family partake in more serious crimes when she was younger, and was that the reason they were thrown in jail? Why didn’t her family come get her sooner if she was the rebel queen the whole time? As you can see, I have about a million questions surrounding this stunning ending to the story. Seriously, it was some great writing by Lynette Noni to keep that major fact hidden throughout the entire novel, without giving readers any sort of clues whatsoever. A part of me wishes Kiva wasn’t someone important, that she was still a nobody girl stuck between a rock and a hard place… I’m a little tired of the lost chosen one trope. But that’s a very small part of me, and to say I’m eagerly awaiting the second book would be an understatement. I have to learn more about this world and the politics between the rebels and the royal family, and I can’t wait to see how Kiva’s heritage affects her relationship with Jaren going forward.

The Bridge Kingdom: Why Haven’t You Read This Yet?

The Bridge Kingdom

Danielle L. Jensen

Howdy folks, ’tis I… back again from my mini unintended blogging break. The entire month of June has been wildly busy, so I sadly haven’t had much time to read, but c’est la vie! That is life, and now I’m back and vibing. Honestly, I started The Bridge Kingdom several weeks ago, and I was about 75% finished with that book until I got the urge to reread the Throne of Glass series out of nowhere… ok, I know where it came from. I’m making my mom and my husband read it for the first time; my mom is about to start Heir of Fire and Brett is now starting Kingdom of Ash. I was feeling nostalgic for that complex world once again, and so I only felt slightly guilty about not finishing The Bridge Kingdom until I had scratched my TOG itch. But, I’m back! And I finished The Bridge Kingdom at long last! *pats self on the back*.

Ok guys, this was an unexpectedly good book. I’ll admit, I started this one with hardly any expectations… it had been on my TBR for quite some time, because any enemies to lovers book gets an automatic “add to list”, as it should. The first chapter of this book seriously drew me in… a badass assassin type woman, set out to kill an enemy king on a trail of vengeance? Say no more. I also really enjoyed the complex world this book covered. It had a lot of internal politics and games between the various kingdoms, much like countries do in our own world. I also thought the idea of a big ass trade bridge connecting these conniving kingdoms was so interesting *cues “Secret Tunnel” from ATLA… iykyk*. Plus, this book had my favorite basic trope of all time… enemies to lovers. And what is better than enemies to lovers? Enemies to lovers with dual perspectives. 

Lara is the daughter of the King of Maridrina, one of several, and she has been groomed from age five to be a lethal assassin. Her lunatic father has been planning out an absolute mad plan against the kingdom of Ithicana for fifteen years in his burn book: he had a million daughters, all with different wives, then hid them all in the middle of the dessert where no one could find them. He then had them train against each other to become super deadly assassins, all so he could enact his own revenge on Ithicana through the treaty that states that one of his daughters will marry the King of Ithicana. Tell me you hold a grudge, without telling me you hold a grudge. Mans has been stewing on this plan for fifteen years, and he’s so hellbent on succeeding that he plans to kill all of the daughters he doesn’t choose so that no one will ever know the extent of his scheming. Lara finds this out, so in order to save her sister’s lives, she fakes their deaths so her father has no choice but to send her to Ithicana to fulfill the treaty. When she arrives, she fully expects to hate King Aren with a burning passion, yet he and his kingdom continually surprise her. Things are not as they seem in Ithicana. The rest of the novel is full of tension between Lara and Aren as she tries not to give him any reason to be suspicious as she settles into her new life.

I really like Lara’s character. She was a total baddie, and I love how she had to try to keep her assassin abilities a secret. She was smart and cunning, much to her father’s detriment. I really like Aren as well, you guys know how I rave about dual perspectives. My favorite part of this story was seeing how the assumptions both characters made about the other at the beginning of the story slowly faded as they learned more about each other. I think that’s why I love dual perspectives so much; it’s just so damn entertaining and it always has me on the edge of my seat when reading.

I honestly lost a little bit of steam and focus in this story when their relationship was in the “too good to be true” stage (enter: TOG takeover), plus I felt like the plot moved a bit too quickly towards the end of the novel as well…? Like, Aren found out Lara had in fact betrayed him, and he banished her… then suddenly we fly forward months into the future when Lara learns that Aren was captured by her father. It just made the ending feel rushed compared to how plot heavy the rest of the story was. But, I am very grateful to see some rekindled tension between the two of them going forward. Nothing is more bittersweet than when the two love interests finally get together… it’s what we readers have been rooting for since the beginning, but any and all tension seems to dissolve immediately, making them wayyyyyy more boring as the series continues. Even though it was obvious that Aren would find out what Lara did (the next book is even called Traitor Queen… not hard to figure out), I still felt like the both of them turned bland once they got together at long last… so I’m tickled and I really hope things get tense and uncomfortable and so much fun between them in this next book. I’m looking forward to starting it soon, so keep your eyes peeled for the next review!

These Violent Delights – My Teenage Heart is Racing

These Violent Delights

Chloe Gong

Like any other twenty-something, I love me some angsty forbidden love, the 1920s, and gangsters, and These Violent Delights had all of that and more. I thoroughly enjoyed this YA novel, and I’m glad I finally read it after it sat on my TBR list for some time. Set in Shanghai in 1926, this book is a Romeo and Juliet retelling through the stories of two notorious gangs and the struggles they face as they have to set aside their grievances to stop a monster from killing their people in the streets. Think big Peaky Blinders vibes, but with a healthy dose of the supernatural. 

Juliette Cai is the heiress to the Scarlet Gang, but she has spent a lot of her life in America for her own protection. Roma Montagov (I loved the play on names throughout this book btw… even the title is perfection) is the heir to the Russian White Flowers, the sworn archenemy to the Scarlets. Years ago, Roma and Juliette fell in love (naturally), yet their forbidden love was never meant to end happily. One betrayed the other, and Juliette was sent to America for her safety. Four years later, Juliette is back in Shanghai… but the city is under stress from increasing foreign occupation, gang violence, and a mysterious disease threatening the control the gangs have over their city. Realizing the disease is spread through a monster targeting the gangs (just as the Communist party gains strength), Juliette and Roma set aside their hatred for one another and team up to solve the mystery and save their people. As they work together, they start to realize maybe, just maybe… their feelings towards one another never went away, regardless of circumstances gone wrong. The forbidden love trope? Chef’s kiss. 

Ok, I love Romeo and Juliet. Sorry, not sorry. I remember reading the play in high school and I was just absolutely mesmerized by the way the story was told and how tragic it was. I’d love to read it again (*cough cough* someone send me a Shakespeare anthology, please), but this book was just as good as the original play. Sometimes retellings are just as good if not better, and I loved the homage to the play and various other works of literature Chloe Gong threw into this amazing story. Also, I just want to take a second to appreciate the brilliance that is Chloe Gong… she wrote this book (and the sequel!) while still in college, which is quite the feat considering I accomplished negative feats while attending college. Plus, she seems like such a cool person and I just really want to be her friend. 

Back to the story, I loved the way Chloe portrayed her versions of the main characters. In These Violent Delights, Juliette is a badass woman who takes no shit and uses heavy intimidation to validate her standing in the Scarlet Gang. Of course, she had to grow up this way to prove her capability to her parents, but she wears her cold and cruel mask well to assure her safety and that of her close cousins, Rosalind and Kathleen. Roma, on the other hand, is a soft (albeit more than capable) boi who despises the way his father runs his gang. He puts up with the abuse he suffers at his father’s hand only to keep his sister Alissa, cousin Benedikt, and friend Marshall safe. So really, they both come from similar positions, which is why they were drawn to each other in the first place. The angst in this book had me grinning and my teenage heart racing (though I was dying for a bit more romance), and each interaction with Roma and Juliette built on itself until the very end… when you as a reader knew it wasn’t going to end pretty if you’re familiar with the play. Each of the supporting characters was so crucial to the story as well, and I enjoyed the snippets we got in their points of view. I can’t wait to see more of them going forward. 

Not only did I love the characters in this book, but I also loved the setting. I’ve always wanted to visit Shanghai, and this book had me looking up places all over the city to put myself there. Plus, Peaky Blinders is one of my all time favorite shows, so the gang violence was quite enjoyable. The monster and the disease were both super unique… a disease that makes you tear out your own throat, carried by insects that burrow into your head and hair, that come from a river monster? Now that is some creative shit right there, and the gruesome descriptions had me grimacing yet frantically turning the page to see how the story would end. Seriously, it was so good… and the cliffhanger ending has my heart gripped and my mind whirling. I’m definitely not waiting patiently for the sequel to release. While it does err on the side of YA more than other novels, I really loved every second of These Violent Delights, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of angsty love, gang violence, and horrible monsters. Seriously, you’re in for a treat, so do yourself a favor and read this book now!

The Crown of Gilded Headach – I Mean, Bones

The Crown of Gilded Bones

Jennifer L. Armentrout

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Let me paint a picture in your head… you find a new restaurant, and at that restaurant you try the most delicious meal you’ve had in a long time. Your days afterward are spent remembering every second of that meal, the taste, the satisfaction. You are obsessed with the memory of this meal, you dream about the flavors and you crave this meal like no other. Finally, you go back to the restaurant, ready to eat and enjoy the food you’ve been impatiently waiting for… but as you start to dig in, it tastes… off. It’s not up to par with your memory, and you’re… disappointed. 

That is the most accurate way I can describe how The Crown of Gilded Bones felt to me, personally. Off. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few parts here and there which I enjoyed. I will be returning to the restaurant. However, I spent the majority of the book cringing… and not for the reasons you might think. If I felt the last book, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (waaaaaiiiit, you haven’t checked out my blog post for that book yet? Bestie, go read it now and get yourself up to speed… while you’re at it, read my FBAA post too), was too long, I REALLY felt this one was too long. Instead of substance, it was filled with fluff… and it just wasn’t what I was expecting. There’s nothing wrong with a little fluff, but there’s a time and place. Before I go any further, check yourself… if you haven’t read this series, proceed with caution at your own risk. TCOGB is the third book in this series, so naturally, everything is a spoiler from this point on. 

I honestly think if you cut out each time Poppy mentioned how Cas never failed to amaze her (visa versa bleh), each time Cas called Poppy a murderous little creature, each time Cas called Poppy his wife, each time Poppy thought about herself and what she had been through, each time Poppy threatened to stab Cas, and each time Poppy and Cas got it on… this book would be a half of what it is now. I said what I said. So much felt repetitive, not just in this novel, but throughout the whole series so far. Their banter has lost its appeal, considering I felt so much of it has been reused throughout the first two books. I honestly didn’t appreciate their spicy scenes either… all of it felt so forced. 

Personally, I felt that Poppy had more sexual tension with Kieran in this book than she did with Casteel (why did I feel like Casteel was never around even though he was with Poppy near constantly during the middle of the book?). He quickly became my favorite character in this book, and I wanted to see more of him. I’m convinced the Joining is never going to happen at this point… if it didn’t happen by now, its not going to happen. Once more, we were introduced to several new characters that were hard to keep straight in my head. And really, I thought all the dialogue felt forced as well… especially during the scene in Iliseeum when Poppy, Cas, and company arrive to wake Nyktos. When the characters spoke, I cringed… none of it felt natural. Now that I think about it, any dialogue in the second half of the book felt forced. 

The confusion surrounding the gods bothered me as well… truly, if you asked me right now, after I’ve freshly finished the book, what the gods are, I could not for the life of me tell you anything. And I’m usually good with complex magic. If you asked me the difference between gods, deities, Primals, Revenants… you won’t get an answer. Tell me you guys felt the same…? Maybe it was me? But I truly don’t know what is going on at this point in the series, and that’s disappointing to me. I wish there was less fluff, more action to this series… because the action helps keep the narrative interesting. Otherwise, readers are left trying to sort through the irrelevance and important information gets lost in translation. I LOVED the first book because of the action, the mystery, the suspense, but it’s been slowly losing its appeal to me ever since as it has now been taken over by Poppy’s repetitive thoughts about Casteel.

Sorry, sorry… I’ll quit complaining now. Like I mentioned above, there were a couple parts that I enjoyed… mostly the fight scene during the very beginning, and Poppy’s conversation with Eloana at the very end. I felt like Poppy was back to being the baddie from book one that we fell in love with during both of those scenes… but during the rest of the story, I just couldn’t vibe with her thoughts like I did originally. Going forward, I hope to see more of this side of Poppy… and I’m hoping Casteel won’t show up for a little while longer so we get to see more of her badass god abilities. I really have no idea where the story is going from here, but fingers crossed it gets better!

The Priory of the Orange Tree – I’m Just Here for the Dragons, tbh

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Samantha Shannon

I’m aliiiiiiiive! Friends, I’m back from my weeks of reading The Priory of the Orange Tree. This book was an undertaking, and I do not say that lightly. Big books are the best, and normally I love to brag as much as any bookworm about how quickly I can make it through large books like this… but this one took some time. I feel like so much happened within the pages of this story that I cannot even begin to describe all of the events that took place. Perhaps it could have been split into multiple stories, which could have made the plot progress quicker? I wouldn’t say the pacing was rough, but there were times when I raced through the pages and times when it took quite a bit to stay focused. 

The Priory follows four main storytellers: Ead, Tane, Loth, and Niclays. Ead is a handmaiden of the Priory of the Orange Tree, and she has been acting as a spy for the past eight years at the Inysh court. Originally sent to the Queendom of Inys by the Prioress, Ead’s only mission in Inys is to keep the Queen, Sabran Berethnet, alive… which is quite difficult, since she is the target of several assassination attempts. Tane is in the East, training to become a dragon rider and following the dream she has had ever since she was a child. Though she passes her trials and becomes a rider, her world turns upside down when she discovers an Inysh man on the coast of Seiiki. To preserve her fragile future as a rider, she tries to hide the man but she can’t outrun this mistake. Loth is Sabran’s best friend since childhood, yet he is mysteriously sent away after his close friendship with the Queen poses a threat to Sabran’s marriage prospects. Loth finds himself the newly appointed ambassador to the Draconic country of Yscalin… a region sworn to Sabran’s archenemy, the Nameless One (a big, scary dragon dude). Loth must fight to stay alive and make his way back to his homeland and best friend. Niclays is in exile on the coastal island of Orisima, part of Seiiki in the East. Sabran banished him after he failed his promised task to create an elixir of life, and he finds his fate wrapped tightly with Tane’s when the man she found is dumped at his doorstep. As the Nameless One rises from the Abyss, the four storytellers must work together to banish him once and for all before he reigns terror on the world. 

If that felt like a lot, it’s because it was. It took me a whole week to make it through the first hundred pages… so much was name dropped without any pretense, and I was constantly flipping back and forth to the maps to keep the characters straight in my head. I even wrote everyone down in the beginning since I was having such a hard time keeping up with this story. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy… but it can be a chore to submerse yourself in a world as deep as this one. I feel like the story would have been better served if it possessed a LOTR-esque introduction to the history in the beginning, like how Galadriel narrated the story of the Ring right at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring. Once I wrote everything down and got through those first chapters, things started making more sense and it was easier to continue reading. 

Dragons… really, that cover had me drooling. I loved how Samantha Shannon incorporated both Eastern and Western dragon lore, and I honestly wish the dragons played even more of a front and center role in this tale. They would have created more action in the story, and I think this would have helped keep the book interesting (personally). I love the tale of Saint George and the dragon, and I could see how Shannon pulled inspiration from it to frame how feared and hated western dragons were. Seriously, dragon lore is some of my favorite fantasy stuff… I even had a Dragonology book when I was younger that I would read every night and write down sentences in runes (in case I ever came across a dragon, of course). Also, I truly thought that if I held my bar of soap in the shower just so and sang the song from Dragontales, I would find myself surrounded by dragons. Tell me you’re cool, without telling me you’re cool. Dragons may or may not play a huge role in a book I may or may not be writing… you heard it here first, besties. I don’t think I said dragons enough, so here’s one more: dragons.

Honestly, I loved each of the main storytellers, Loth, Tane, Ead, and Niclays. They all were such good characters, and it was a real pleasure to watch their stories interweave with each other from across the world, similar to GOT. Tane and Niclays had to be my favorites… their chapters really held my attention and had me wanting their next chapters. I didn’t care for Sabran’s character, but I loved how Ead brought the good out in her. Their relationship was so strong and passionate, and they were perfect for each other. There was fantastic female representation in every corner of this book, without it being so obvious… and I loved that. I feel as if this made the characters that much more real, and it made this novel a true feminist story. I also loved the interesting takes on organized religion; Shannon showed how a lot of it is just word of mouth, passed on through generations without any solid proof or backing. 

Overall, I’d say this was a good story… personally, it fell somewhat flat and it wasn’t quite what I expected, but there were times in which I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t my favorite… it was just a solid story. Standalones do be like that, though. I think if it was more of a series, not just a standalone, with more action amongst the characters and the dragons… it would have really been an epic read. I finished it… wanting more? More relationships, more conflict… more. The ending was a touch anticlimactic, and it had me thinking “oh really? This is it?”. Shannon has mentioned that she would love to further explore this world, and I can see how she can easily do that… Here’s to hoping she will! I’ve heard good things about her other series, The Bone Season, which is currently sitting on my never-ending TBR list. For now, I’ll be starting The Crown of Gilded Bones (ok, but whhhhhyy all the long titles though) by Jennifer L. Armentrout… and I CANNOT WAIT. Stay tuned for that review, because something tells me I’ll get through that book much quicker!

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: A Punch to the Gut (But Like a Good One)

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

V. E. Schwab

Damn if this was not one of the best books I’ve ever read. Seriously. I was neck deep in a reading slump, struggling to stay afloat, and Addie LaRue gave me life.

Addie LaRue was born on March 10, 1691, in Villon, France. She was a wild child, a dreamer, and she was not satisfied with her life in Villon. She listened to stories from Estele, an older woman in her village, and realized that life was so much larger than her tiny town in France, where the villagers all seemed content to live their lives and die in the same spot for generations. When her parents decide to finally marry her off to a widowed man with children (she reached age 24, practically an old spinster in those times), she panics. She prays to any and all gods, hoping they would heed her prayers and keep her dreams alive. None answer, until she runs away the night of her wedding and in her desperation, she prays to have more time to live her life how she wants. There, a god answers after dark, and gives her what she asked for: to move through this life unburdened, unbound, free to spend her time as she wants until she is ready to surrender her soul to him. However, there is a catch: no one remembers her.  

For three hundred years, Addie lives, moving from place to place, forgotten by those she meets instantly. Until she meets Henry, who remembers her. Addie is bewildered, and treasures the simple fact that Henry remembers. He can walk away, turn around, and still know who she is. Puzzled why Henry is the first person who can speak her name in three hundred years, Addie learns that Henry also made a deal with Luc, the same god who answered her desperate plea for more time. Though all deals come with a catch, and time is not in his favor.

I’m late to the table here, but it was well worth the wait. I did my due diligence and avoided all fan art and spoilers like the plague, and I’m so glad I did. Actually, I made the huge mistake of not preordering this book and when I went to order it after it released, it was SOLD OUT. Like everywhere. And every time I looked for it, I had the worst luck… until I finally reached victory. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is powerful. Everything from the beautifully styled writing to the poignant concept of time well spent hit me like a ton of bricks (in the best way possible). To be honest, this is my first taste of V.E. Schwab’s writing, even though I am a huge fan of her on Instagram, and now I’m frantically adding the rest of her novels to my TBR. Her style gave me huge classics vibes, and I LOVED every second of it. She spun Addie’s story down to the most intricate of details; the words on the pages folded around my introspective heart and had my head spinning. This might be an odd, niche description, but hear me out: the way she wrote tickled my brain. I think you’ll understand if you’re also an avid reader (which you all are, right besties?). I feel like cornering her and demanding how she was able to pull such personal thoughts of mine out of my head and express them better than I ever could in the most beautiful story, but I know the answer. She is a badass author. The amount of love I have for this book is incredible, and I am going to shove it down everyone’s throats if I get the chance. If you haven’t read it, beware: spoilers from here on. 

There were certain parts of this book that hit me hard, the first one being when Addie starts to realize there is more to life than the small village where she lives with her parents. She makes the powerful realization that the villagers are content to live and die in the same spot, eventually buried in the same ten meter plot of land as their ancestors. That doesn’t sit well with her (tres relatable). Addie is a dreamer, desperate to get the hell out of dodge… and I would be lying if I said I didn’t deeply understand those feelings. The same thoughts have circulated my own mind about the town where I live. It got me thinking… would you? Would you make a deal for more time? Call me selfish… but I think I would. What I loved about this novel was how utterly real the feelings were; Addie’s desperation had my own heart racing and palms sweating. Her grief wrecked me in half when she tried to see her parents and Estele, only to find out they would never remember her again. Yet, for how terrible those feelings were, I love how Addie eventually embraced her freedom and she knew she would make the same decision again if she had the chance. It may have been to spite Luc, but she got to live. To see and experience so much. To move through a thousand different lifetimes. She wouldn’t deny that she was lonely… but a small, greedy part of me sings at the thought of living Addie’s life, deal and all. I guess that’s the point; how many times do you wistfully think there was something you could do, something you could be, but you always fall back on the same excuses? Time is a melancholy construct… and if you also find yourself wondering of deals made past dark, maybe this is a sign for all of us to live life for ourselves with the time we’ve got. 

Henry. Sweet, sensitive Henry. At first, I was in love with him because Addie loved him… then, as I learned more about his back story, I realized parts of his life ran parallel to mine. As a fellow overly sensitive soul, I was gripped by his similar confusion about life. His fear of falling behind, of never being good enough. We stan an emotional king. However, his deal with Luc was so much more heartbreaking than Addie’s. Ugh. I literally knew his deal was so sus… if I was Addie, I would have asked him how long his deal was for immediately. I’ve read too many bittersweet novels to not be suspicious of a “too good to be true” storyline (think: The Fault in Our Stars, Deadline by Chris Crutcher — side note of a side note: I read this book in 2007 when it came out and it TRAUMATIZED me for life. It was so funny and heartfelt that I was convinced what happened wasn’t going to happen… if you have also been personally victimized by this novel, contact me. I need to know someone else read it. Maybe it wasn’t that good, and my twelve year old self was just extra sensitive… but it fucked me up. I actually think it was the first novel that ever made me cry… and I remember being shocked that I was sobbing while I read it. I digress.). Also, it was obvious Luc knew about Henry and Addie, even orchestrated their meeting… not surprised at all. Though, to be honest, I didn’t expect Addie to give in to Luc to spare Henry… I thought Henry would die and eventually she would go back to playing cat and mouse with Luc. 

While I loved Henry and Addie, I think Addie and Luc were ultimately suited for each other… no matter how toxic they were. I think Henry and Addie needed each other in that moment… but Luc was low-key right when he pointed out to Addie that she really isn’t human after living for that long. Over the course of the book, as I felt Addie’s vibes towards Luc shift, I knew they would be together at the end. It might have been a little Stockholm Syndrome-ish for her to have feelings for him, but it just made sense. Though, I was very surprised that Addie did not go willingly without a trick of her own up her sleeve… and I don’t know how I feel about that. I was heartbroken over the fact that Addie gave up Henry for this life of revenge on Luc… on the other hand, I wouldn’t have expected anything more from her and Luc. They’ve played this game for three hundred years, what’s three hundred more? So, though I was in my feels about Henry, who deserves to be loved like Addie loved him, I think this story ended just right *chef’s kiss*.

Red Queen – Am I Into It? Or Am I Still Trying to Fill a Void?

Red Queen

Victoria Aveyard

I’ve had the Red Queen series on my TBR pile for a looooonnnggg time, maybe even years, and I’ve finally decided to pick it up and dive on into it. I’m a huge fan of Victoria Aveyard as a person, and I love all of her writing tips that she’s so open about on Instagram. Authors who let everyone know how they were published are real saints; they’re so inspiring to people like me, dreamers who live in a fantasy world inside their head 24/7 but have always thought writing and publishing a whole ass novel to be unattainable. Anyways, I love Victoria so I figured what the hell, might as well start her series at last. 

Red Queen follows Mare Barrow, a poor girl who pickpockets to save her family. She lives in a world divided by blood: some people are born with Red blood, some people are born with Silver blood. Those with Silver blood have unique abilities and powers (kinda like super powers), and through history they have squashed Reds to the slums. Silvers have a huge superiority complex, and they’ve forced Reds to be servants or live in poverty, and most importantly: fight in a century long war against a neighboring kingdom. Mare lives a miserable life, knowing her future is conscription into the army, yet everything changes when she accidentally meets the crown prince, Cal, in disguise. He pulls strings to get her a job at the palace as a servant, saving her from conscription. On her first day, a Queenstrial takes place to determine Cal’s wife, where the Silver ladies of the court fight against one another with their powers. Mare accidentally falls into the pit on live television, and somehow withstands the electric barrier that should have killed her. She discovers that she can control and create electricity… contrary to her Red blood. In an attempt to disguise her true Red blood and the fact that she has powers, the royal family betroths her to Maven, Cal’s younger brother. Mare suddenly has to navigate a dangerous life at court, hiding her true self and discovering why she is so powerful while fighting for justice for the Reds. 

This book was a very YA fantasy novel, with a surface level world and characters that lacked depth… so I really shouldn’t be complaining. I just think I’ve become that girl… the one who reads YA then gets disappointed when it’s a YA book. Mare was a meh character, her martyrdom/pessimism annoying at times. I really didn’t connect with her at all, and I felt like she made some stupid decisions. Cal, on the other hand… of course I thought he was interesting, and I’m bummed we didn’t get more of him. I knew Maven and his mother were sus as hell, and I saw that one coming a mile away. He was just too conveniently nice to Mare, always encouraging her to act against the crown, and I thought it was obvious that he was using her. However, I liked his character as much as I liked Cal, because you know where he’s coming from… you know where those thoughts of resentment towards his father and older brother originated. I really am not surprised he turned against them with his mother, and I’m excited to see how he acts as the villain going forward. That’s my villain appreciation talking. Kilorn… eh. I thought he was equally, if not more, annoying than Mare. He low-key reminded me of Mal from the Shadow and Bone series… and that’s not a compliment. She literally stuck her neck out to save his ass so many times, and he was just an angsty boy who made dumb decisions too. I used to love the teenage angst… The New Adult genre has seriously wrecked my world. Ugh. 

I wish the world building in this first book was deeper… like, I couldn’t really picture any of the scenes beyond just Mare herself. Like, what type of world is this that there is electricity, but no cars or phones? What do the clothes look like? What do the buildings look like? I feel like we hardly got descriptions about why the war with the Lakelanders (who are they again?) had been going on for such a long time. The characters and the conflict just felt so surface level… and there were SO many characters that I thought were unnecessary. I’m all for filling a book to the brim with unique characters, but they all have to serve a purpose. I felt like so many names were dropped but I couldn’t keep track of them all. And we barely got character descriptions! Yeah, yeah… I realize that is one of my personal pet peeves. When I’m reading, I want every last detail about my character’s physical description. I want it alllllllllll. And I want it upfront when we meet them too; nothing makes me more annoyed than finding out a character’s key features later on in a story when I’ve already come up with what they look like in my mind. 

Honestly, this book was very predictable, and I’m shocked that there’s enough of a story to continue on with three more significantly larger books. I can’t see where this story is going, and it’s that fact alone that will keep me marching on with the series. Plus the fact that I love Victoria as a person. Based on the sheer size of the next books in this series, I’m really hoping the world builds on itself and we get to see more character development. Fingers crossed. Truth be told, I’m desperately looking for another amazing series to fill the void that ACOSF created. I didn’t really want to acknowledge that I am knee deep in the middle of a book hangover until I realized halfway through this book that nothing I read is really pulling at my heartstrings like I want it to. *cough* I’ll take any suggestions for a good series *cough* seriously though *cough* give me anything *cough*. But I digress, so stay tuned for my thoughts as I continue with the second book, Glass Sword

The Once and Future Witches – A Feminist Masterpiece

The Once and Future Witches

Alix E. Harrow

I’m back on my witch shit, and let me tell you: this book was fantastic. I was blown away by the beautiful writing and the powerful message behind the story. The Once and Future Witches isn’t just a book about the tales of witchcraft, but a book about what it means to be a woman fighting for your rights. It was a feminist masterpiece that really pointed out what feminism means at its core: not just the fight for women’s rights, but the fight for rights for EVERYONE, the inclusion of all identities and race. As someone who pays a lot of attention to politics, I truly enjoyed this book.

The story follows three sisters, Beatrice Belladonna, Agnes Amaranth, and James Juniper, as they meet up in New Salem by happenstance in 1893. The sisters had a fall out seven years prior; details are sprinkled throughout the book hinting at what actually happened between them, but it wasn’t good. The girls are witches who learned spells, sayings, and charms from their grandmother when they were younger, but witchcraft is illegal during this time… especially in a place as uptight and god fearing as New Salem. After witnessing a Suffrage Rally, Juniper decides that she wants to fight for the right to vote and fight for the right to bring witchcraft back into the world; those things go hand in hand, right? Right. However, she is derailed when she discovers that the Women’s Union of New Salem (the union supposedly fighting for voting rights), does not condone witchcraft and is really only for the privileged, rich white women of New Salem. Determined, Juniper and her sisters form the Sisters of Avalon, and they rally together to prove that witchcraft isn’t a sin and women have the right to speak their minds through their vote. Though they form quite a strong union, they soon find out that more than just prejudice and hatred fights against their rights. A dark and powerful magic stands between them. 

This book had incredible female representation. While the three sisters were symbolic as The Maiden, The Mother, and The Crone, they stood for so much more. Bella, who is a lesbian, suffered through disgusting forms of torture by nuns as they tried to “convert her”. She was so traumatized that she thought her penance (so to speak) would be to live a solitary life as a librarian, keeping quiet and out of sight (the Crone). She had a lot of internalized trauma to work through, and it was so heartwarming to watch her finally come to embrace the fact that she can love who she loves as she grows in her relationship with Cleo Quinn, a black reporter for the black newspaper in New Salem. Agnes told a different story, one of abortion and the right to choose to become a mother. Working in the sweat shop factory in town, she made the difficult decision for herself to raise her baby by herself when she got pregnant. She didn’t need to marry the man, and it was her choice to fight for the right to keep her baby too, even though the city would try to take it away from her. When she eventually meets a man (literally the only man in this story worth a damn), he worships the ground she walks on and always respects her choice. We stan a respectful king. Fellas, just follow after Mr. August Lee… it’s literally not that hard. While each of the girls suffered under their alcoholic and assaulting father, Juniper was left with him alone for seven years after their father sent Agnes and Bella away. She grew resentful of her sisters, though each of them was misunderstood by the other, and she eventually killed her father after he tried to get handsy with her. In his will, her father didn’t even leave her his farm; instead, he gave it to her male “dumbshit” cousin (ugh, men *gag*). 

If you couldn’t tell, the representation in this book was ah-mazing… and that’s just within the three main characters. There was so much more across all of the women in the story. One thing I especially loved was how Alix E. Harrow focused on the historical fact that the Women’s Suffrage movement had some racist and classist leaders. At the ripe age of 25, I’ll admit that I didn’t really understand this until about two years ago. In school, we all learned about the Suffrage movement: we all saw the women in their beautiful dresses and feathered hats, the banners across their chests, proudly storming about with their signs. Great. What our world class education system (HEAVY sarcasm in case you missed it) tried to erase was the fact that these women were rich and they were white; they could afford to rally, to pay their dues to be a “member” of their movement, and they excluded women of color from their movement. Now I’m generalizing; there are examples of women who fought for all equality. But the reality was that it was very divided, and I’m so glad this division was represented in this book. Because what the story touched on was that it was the hardworking women, the black women, women of color, trans women, single mothers, working mothers, and witches who fought the hard fight. The dirty fight. 

And that fight is still not over. We can’t stop fighting. It seems unfathomable that men used to burn women at the stake in fear of them, yet that is literally what happened. Women throughout history have been gaslit, pushed to the side, stripped of their rights as human beings, enslaved, and walked all over. Especially women of color. Misogyny runs deep in the foundations of our society, and it goes so much deeper than the right to vote… which is powerful, but until all women feel safe, until men realize the point isn’t “not all men”, it is far from over.  

The Lamplighters – A Job for Mystery, Inc.

I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of The Lamplighters to dive into (pun intended), and it was honestly a refreshing change up from my usual fantasy books. To start this off, I know absolutely nothing about Lighthouses. Yo girl lives in landlocked Colorado, so I find this as no surprise. In fact, my only exposure to any sort of Lighthouse lore was a puzzle with an image of a Maine lighthouse on it I received for Christmas one year, and a Scooby Doo episode in which the gang tries to solve a Lighthouse mystery. So, clearly I know nothing. Yet, as I turned the pages of this book, I was immersed in the Lamplighter life of old. I felt like I could see every detail of the Lighthouse, in and out, and the Cornish coast clear as day. I felt the wild untamed sea even though I have never visited England in real life (side note: great thing about reading? Traveling to so many cool places in your mind. Bad thing about reading? Your bucket list grows infinitely longer the more books you read *sigh*). The description was that strong within this book, and for that I give it several snaps. The Lamplighters tells the story of three Lamplighters who went missing from the Maiden Rock Lighthouse in 1972, and what the effects of their disappearance had on those who loved them as the wives of the keepers were interviewed for a novel twenty years after the incident. The story is actually loosely based on and inspired by a true story of the disappearance of three men in 1900. 

The book starts out like a mystery, where we are first introduced to the disappearance when a sailor brings a relief keeper out to the tower. When they arrive at the tower, they wait and wait and wait, yet no one comes out. The company sends a crew to investigate, and we learn key details during this time: the door was barred from the inside out, the table was eerily set for just two keepers, and the clocks were both set to 8:45. Other than that, there is no indication where the keepers went, whether they died, they were taken, or they jumped ship to create a new life for themselves. 

We read the story from the perspectives of each of the keepers, plus their wives, at various points throughout the novel as the setting jumps back and forth between 1972 and the present of 1992. My favorite parts of this book were the chapters where the wives are individually being interviewed, and we only get to hear what they say… sort of like listening to a one sided conversation. We never actually hear from the author himself, but each of their responses to the questions keys you in to what their characters are like. I haven’t read many books like that, and so I thoroughly enjoyed each unique chapter. The only thing I can compare it to is shows like The Office, Parks and Rec, Modern Family, etc., in which we get several one sided conversations throughout. 

Along with the interviews, each individual chapter with the characters gave us loads of insight. I haven’t read many mystery/thriller novels, but each time I do I wonder why I don’t read them more often. The details I gleaned from each chapter kept me racing through the pages, desperate to find out why the men went missing. To be honest, I found it a touch underwhelming when I did find out the reason why, but I’ll explain. Deep thinking books that touch on characteristics of the human condition sometimes disappoint me… and I’m exposing myself here in my escapist ways. I’d much rather enjoy an impossible reality over a melancholy reality that is within grasp. But, I think Emma Stonex did a fantastic job of incorporating grief and the ways in which people write their own reality when something unexplainable happens into this novel. Each of the wives had such a unique story to tell, and since none of them spoke their truths to each other, none of their stories lined up. This element also kept me guessing until the end, wondering which truth eventually won out over the others. Of course, we got to see the story play out with the keepers as well, but really it was the wives who ended playing a more pivotal role in what really happened. And they were the ones who eventually had to deal with the truth throughout the years. 

In the end, I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if it had more bizarre, unexplainable elements to it… if it were in fact, a ghost story. Or an episode of Scooby Doo. But that is 100% my personal preference and has nothing to do with the way this novel was written… which was very well, in my opinion. You could tell Emma Stonex did her research and she did it right, incorporating accuracies into every last detail. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers, mysteries, and books that make you think deep about how we are all living our own variation of the truth. 

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