My Novel Faves of 2020

What a damn year. Amidst all the chaos, it really wasn’t that bad. Personally, I think 2020 brought me perspective, and it has truly made me take a step back and realize what actually matters. Cliche, I know, but I have felt my internal focus shift in a way I haven’t felt before, and for the better (fingers crossed). While I didn’t have any major life events this year, I celebrated many “small” victories, and I think I needed the reminder that grandeur isn’t always more important than the little stuff. I took a gamble and started this blog, and while it is nowhere near perfect, it is something I am truly proud of. I’ve met some incredible bookish people, and I can’t wait to continue to connect with the reading community. Books have always had a major impact on my life, and I wanted to share some of my favorite reads from this last year with you guys. I don’t know about you, but I’ve read some of the best books of my life this year. While there’s plenty of wonderful tales I read, the special books/series below brought me life and adventure, and I cannot recommend them enough. Without further ado, let’s begin!

Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood

Sarah J. Maas

Crescent City follows Bryce Quinlan, ultimate party girl, as she works on the investigation of her best friend’s brutal murder. Bryce was a carefree girl, happy to live life with her best friend, Danika, until Danika was torn to pieces by a demon. When similar murders start popping up across Crescent City, Bryce is asked to help solve the mystery of Danika’s murder alongside Hunt Athalar, a Fallen Angel enslaved by the Archangels. As Bryce and Hunt uncover more clues and start to connect the dots, they discover a darker power at work towards destroying everything they hold dear. 

Ok, I say Crescent City because it blew my mind, but truly any SJM book holds a special place in my heart. Love isn’t a strong enough word to describe what her magnificent books mean to me, and each and every one of them personally helped me get through this year. Her world building has inspired me beyond belief, and I’ve fallen in love with more characters than I can count. The details and intricacies of her stories almost make me emotional… I could go on for days (really though, ask any of my family members and they will bear witness to how I don’t shut up about SJM books). If you wanted to dive into Sarah’s stories, I’d recommend starting with the A Court of Thorns and Roses series first, then moving on to the Throne of Glass series, and then Crescent City. This is what I personally did, and it felt right to me… though each series is entirely unique and special to itself. The worlds… the relationships… the depth… the characters… ugh, I’m in love with Sarah and her beautiful stories. Read Sarah’s books if you are a big fan of fantasy, detailed characters, and heart racing action.

Serpent & Dove/Blood & Honey

Shelby Mahurin

Lou Le Blanc is a witch, living undercover in the city of Cesarine… where witches are hunted and killed by the Church. She’s lived in secret for the past two years, hiding from both the Church and her past. When fate twists her life with Reid, a chasseur sworn to the Church, she must work even harder to keep her magic a secret from him. Bound by marriage, both Lou and Reid have a lot to learn from each other… until something happens that shakes their world entirely.

This series is incredible. Lou and Reid have become two of my favorite characters of all time; I think authors need to write dual perspectives more often – we readers get such a well developed story when we can see both angles. Serpent and Dove drew me in because witchcraft, duh; plus, I just love Shelby Mahurin as an author. Not only is the magic of the story so unique, but it is FULL of tension on all accounts (looking at you, Lou and Reid). Shelby seized my heart several times in S&D, but then she truly wrenched it in B&H… but I LOVED it! In my opinion, that’s what made it such a good book to read. Stories NEED hardships, and sometimes the characters need sacrifice and torment. It all adds so much more depth to the overall story, and as you all know, I’m a big fan of depth. Read this series if you’re down for some intricate magic, enemies to lovers romance, and memorable characters. 

Ninth House

Leigh Bardugo

Alex Stern finds herself on a full ride scholarship to Yale, though she never expected herself to be there. At a young age, she turned to drugs and drop-outs, living life barely scraping by until she is the only living witness to a brutal, multiple homicide in LA. That very day, from her hospital bed, she is offered a second chance at redemption: attend Yale, one of America’s most prestigious universities. The catch? Work for the mysterious Ninth House, which monitors the occult activities of the eight secret societies of Yale. As Alex becomes more entrenched in the dark and dangerous paranormal side of Yale, she finds out just how far the societies will go to get what they want.

This is by far my favorite book by Leigh Bardugo, hands down. Holy shit was this novel absolutely thrilling, and I loved every occult aspect of it. What I found the most intriguing was the descriptions of Yale’s secret societies, and how Leigh incorporated their sinister mysteries into this story. Having never been to Yale, I could easily picture myself on campus with Alex as she works toward uncovering a dark mystery surrounding the secret tombs. The fact that these societies exist is chilling, and I more than once had shivers running down my spine. The characters also feel real in an uncanny way, and this book had me THINKING long after I finished it. Definitely read this stunner if you have a fascination with the occult and you love thrilling reads that have you racing to the end.

We Hunt the Flame

Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame follows the story of Zafira and Nasir, the Hunter who has fed her village for years, and the Prince of Death who has become his father’s famed assassin, respectively. Both are famous in their own right for things neither wants to be known for, but fate brings them together on an epic quest to restore magic to their realm. They each must overcome their own personal battles as well as fight together against the evil that has taken over the land they love so dearly.

Yes yes yes yes yes. We Hunt the Flame is a beautiful, breathtaking story set in a richly detailed world reminiscent of Arabia. I was drawn to this book because 1) ummmm have you seen the cover? and 2) any sort of assassin story is like crack to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed Hafsah Faizal’s love of Assassin’s Creed shining through this beautiful novel. Not only was the conflict engaging, but both Zafira and Nasir had such incredible character development over the entire course of the story as well. I loved both of these characters so much, and their personal struggles were each a journey of self discovery, regardless of the evil they fought against. Read this novel if you’re also a fan of Assassin’s Creed, and if you adore stunning fantasy worlds with gripping characters.

So there you have it, my favorite tales I read in 2020. I’m also tickled that each one of these beautiful, beautiful books belong to their own respective series, and I hope we’ll be getting sequel/third installments to all of them later this year *screams/cries/weeps with joy*. As always, check out my individual blog posts for each one of these special books for a deeper dive into why I’m in love with them, and let’s chat. Did you love my favorites as much as I did? What books were at the top of your 2020 list? What do you think I should add to my TBR for 2021? Cheers to a fulfilling new year, friends! Ciao!

Mexican Gothic: BIG Freaky Vibes

Whoa. Whoa. This book was a TRIP. Why I was compelled to read a gothic novel right before Christmas is beyond me, but hey, I have no regrets. Give me spooky vibes year round. 

Mexican Gothic was a thrill to read… talk about an incredibly moody, macabre story. I actually had to journal my thoughts down as I read. There were so many of them, most of which being WTF. I certainly recommend this book to readers who love horror, or those who enjoy reading some mind-bending thrillers. While I don’t read a ton of horror, I do love me some dark, supernatural thrillers, and that’s what drew me in to this novel. Plus the Mexican setting? Yes please. Alright, let’s get into the details. 

The story is set in Mexico, circa 1950s, and follows Noemi, a Mexico City socialite who loves to live life, go to parties, and dress fabulously. Her father sends her to visit her married cousin, Catalina, after he receives a bizarre HELP ME message from her. Agreeing to visit on behalf of her father, Noemi finds herself at High Place, a dilapidated manor where her cousin and in-laws live. The eerie mansion sits outside of the rural mining town of El Triunfo, where the Doyles previously operated a silver mine. Catalina acts very strange, and Noemi spends her days trying to figure out what is wrong with her and why the creepy family seems to keep her locked away in a room. 

The setting was incredible: the rundown Victorian house (complete with cemetery) gave me big Haunted Mansion meets Monster House meets Stranger Things vibes. I have to say, I found the ending of the story entirely unexpected. Obviously, something was amiss with the Doyles… I just couldn’t figure out what it was for the life of me. When Howard started talking about eugenics during Noemi’s arrival dinner, I knew there was something wrong wrong with all of them. A few of my speculations included they were all incestuous vampires that needed fresh blood to sustain them, luring first Catalina then Noemi out to High Place; or indeed something like Monster House where the house itself was part of the problem. My theories continued when I picked up on the hints from the ouroboros image scattered throughout the house… the Doyles were infinite and they lived forever. The ouroboros is one of my favorite symbols, and I loved to see it here. 

What really happened was SO much creepier than my idea of vampires. Never in my wildest speculations did I think the fungi had something to do with it… I knew the house was moldy, and there was a lot of mushroom talk, but I just figured those details contributed to the decrepit description of the house. Did anyone else think this whole fungi thing was so cool? Like, what do you think of when you’re hiking and you see some freaky little mushrooms on the trail… often times it’s a weird mixture of awe and eww, right? That’s exactly how I felt while reading this novel… my skin itched but I loved it. I thought Silvia Moreno-Garcia did an amazing job of keeping the book disturbing without giving away too much, and I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling aspect. When Howard sent that nasty black shit down Noemi’s throat… BRUH. I lost my shit. I truly didn’t know how Noemi would escape and break Howard’s cursed cycle. 

Character time! Noemi was a baddie, and I really understood her on a personal level. I loved how she floated from idea to idea, not knowing what it was that she wanted to do with her life, and she was ok with that. She was brave and wasn’t afraid to get to the bottom of the mystery of the Doyles. I thought she offered such a fresh, feminist perspective in a time when women were expected to just get married and pump out babies. Francis was a sweetheart, even if he was part of the family and went along with Howard and Virgil’s sadistic plan for Catalina and Noemi. He was terrified that Howard would control him, and he really didn’t know how he could escape due to the symbiotic relationship of the fungi. Howard was a sick fuck… he ingested the fungus to become this eternal being, then continually had incestuous relationships with his female family members to morph into the same version of the same being for hundreds of years… Bleh! And Virgil gave me terrible vibes as well, though I didn’t expect him to work towards his own agenda, not Howard’s. Altogether, they were like a Victorian version of a Black Mirror family: copious amounts of ick combined with skin-crawling disturbia, and a big scoop of WTF on top. 

Overall, I loved this macabre, disturbing novel. It was so gothic and terrifying, and I thought the entire plot twist with the fungi was very unique. The story is coming to Hulu, and I can’t wait to see some of the visuals they come up with… because what I pictured in my mind was INSANE and if they come anywhere close to that, this show will be amazing.

Onyx and Ivory: A Solid Fantasy Read for a Rainy Day

Guys, this book had everything a true fantasy novel needs: magical world, kingdoms and errant princes, and a good mystery. I certainly would recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as an “omg you have to read this book” type of story, but it had a solid plot nonetheless. To be honest, I was feeling a little deflated after finishing the Grisha series… don’t know what that was all about. I think I was in a reading slump, not wanting to continue on to King of Scars just yet, but also not sure of what I wanted to dive into next. So after a great debate, I started Onyx and Ivory… and I don’t know why it was even a debate because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would keep this on your TBR list for that rainy day when you’re in a slump, and you don’t have to become too invested in the novel. Ok, let’s dive in (spoilers aplenty). 

I thought magic in this book was unique, split into two very distinct types. On one hand, there were mages, who operated spells. On the other hand, there were wilders, who operated “wild” magic, which didn’t need incantations or spells to happen. And of course, the wild magic was outlawed in the kingdom. Naturally, one of the main characters, Kate, was a wilder, and she could influence the minds of animals. Her father could as well, which is how he got a job as the Master of Horse at the castle. Kate went through a lot of self discovery with her magic, from only using it with horses, to other animals, then ultimately with humans. I think this journey really added to the suspense of the story. 

Let’s talk characters. First off, I LOVED the dual perspectives of Kate and Corwin… you all KNOW how much I love that shit, some of my favorite stories are those who have more than one narrative. Though, I have to say… the “romance” in this story didn’t really make it for me… I was more invested in the actual mystery instead of Kate and Corwin. I really could have done without the romance even, because their journeys of self discovery were much more important to the plot. Poor Kate had to deal with being a Traitor’s daughter, and she was ostracized everywhere she went. I truly felt sorry for her throughout the book, but I respected the way she kept her chin held high and refused to stoop to everyone’s level. I thought Corwin had such good character development, and you could see him struggle with the idea of becoming king, and how he could be a good ruler. He learned so much, and it was so wholesome to watch him face his past prejudices against wilders and ultimately fight for their equality. I honestly loved not only Kate and Corwin, but also the side characters like Signe, Bonner, Raith, and Dal as well. They made for some strong friendships and good vibes all around. 

The mystery of the daydrakes kept this story alive for me, and I thought it was really well played out. I went through the story at every twist and turn wondering not only who was responsible for the daydrakes, but also wondering what exactly happened to Kate’s father and why he tried to kill the king. I thought it was so well developed that I truly didn’t know who was behind it all until the very end, when we learn that Minister Rendborne was actually the Nameless One. Did not see that one coming… honestly, I suspected Edwin, Corwin’s brother, as the one who was behind the attacks… but it turns out he was just a jealous, older brother who used his resentment towards Corwin as fuel to make everyone’s lives hell. So, pretty shitty guy, but not the bad guy by any means. Not like Rendborne, who was actually pretty terrible. 

Overall, I enjoyed every second of this story, and it certainly helped get me out of the slump I was in. I tried to look for the sequel, but there isn’t one…? At least not yet? Which is such a shame… but I also don’t feel the need for a sequel… does that make sense? The story finished rather open ended, and I think it left room for plenty more to carry on… there’s a bunch of loose ends, like does Kate find her brother? Does Corwin fight against his own brother and ultimately unite the kingdom? Do they defeat the Godking? I did read in the Acknowledgements that this was a tough book for the author, so I understand if the sequel takes a long time to plan out. If the author doesn’t feel the need to write a sequel, I get it, and I would be satisfied with how this one concluded. 

Ruin and Rising: A Ruin of My Expectations

Well. I’m feeling… irked. Honestly, this series didn’t live up to the expectations I had after finishing the first book. If you want to see the visual definition of a “bummer”, go read my very first review of Shadow and Bone… and watch my hope for this series get crushed. I’m still glad that I read these books, because now I understand the Grishaverse and I’m READY for the Shadow and Bone Netflix series… but there were so many other directions I thought the story could go in. Once again, I felt like this book skimmed over all of the good bits, and instead focused on the wrong bits. So, before you continue reading this highly opinionated review, I’d like to briefly point out the redeeming qualities of this series: Nikolai (duh), and the insight into the Grishaverse, which we don’t really get in Six of Crows. Now, brace yourselves. 

In the beginning, Alina is being held captive underground by the Apparat and his Sun Soldiers. Let me be straightforward: I felt like this detour underground was entirely unnecessary and it really did nothing for the plot in the long run. While I was reading it, I kept thinking “what are we doing here?”. I blinked and suddenly three months had gone by since they took Alina underground. And then I blinked again, and suddenly Alina and Mal were escaping to the surface with their gang. Wait, what? *head swings side to side, looking for more of the plot* The entire deviation felt soooooooo rushed and unnatural to the flow of the story, like it was added as an afterthought just to make it fluffy. I get it, three months went by and Alina was left weak and frail as she recovered from the battle with the Darkling (still think they both should have died right then and there). But, it could have been crafted better, with more mystery surrounding the Apparat and the Sun Soldiers. If it had to be included at all.  

Once Alina and Co. reach the surface, they suddenly come across Nikolai, who magically rescues them and takes them to a secret lair. This also felt forced. I understand that when you read fantasy, there is a certain element of “that’s just the way it is, it’s fantasy so you can’t question it like reality”. So I don’t want to be too harsh while critiquing this series; however, a lot of this book just didn’t add up. 

The Darkling attacks their base, which was chaotic and probably the only part of the story I enjoyed. Bring on alllll the chaos. He turned Nikolai into one of his monsters, which was badass, even if it did break my heart a tiny bit. Now that Nikolai has been possessed by a literal demon, it will make his continuing story in King of Scars that much more entertaining. The story sped up once again as Alina and Co. head to find the Firebird… only to learn that Mal has been the third amplifier the whole time. WTF. When we finally reached the battle scene between the Darkling and Alina, I was thoroughly miffed. At this point, I was only reading to get to the end of the book. The story lost me earlier due to all the inconsistencies and plot holes, and I had pretty much conceded to the fact that this book wouldn’t go down as one I enjoyed. Mal dies, but then doesn’t die? I didn’t understand how once Alina killed him, she lost her powers… but every single other normal soldier gained her powers… and he lived. Como se dice… forced

I’d like to talk about the Darkling, who I still find alluring. I am prepared to die on this hill. The only parts of this ENTIRE series that felt right to me were the parts when Alina interacted with the Darkling. Sue me. I know that Leigh herself said that it isn’t healthy to like the Darkling, who is supposed to be abusive and possessive of Alina. But why?? Why did she have to make him the most interesting character if it wasn’t her intent for us to like him so much? He was hands down the only character in this series who had depth to him, and the story just blew right over it. And before you think I’m a sadist, I read into several other blogs and reviews on this topic and found that I am not alone in my appreciation of him (whew). Alina was drawn to him from the start, as like calls to like. They were meant for each other, and she was meant to be his equalizer. But she finally kills him in the most anticlimactic way possible: with a knife. Alina and Mal then go on to live a happy and boring life together… which I guess would be satisfying if you liked either of them. Bleh. 

I know I’ve complained a lot in this review, so let me give some examples of where I would have like to see this story go. One: Alina and the Darkling die together in the chapel. She could have done it, and it would have honestly made more sense than the events that happened after. The story then picks up with Nikolai, which let’s be honest… he is the main character. Two: Alina joins forces with the Darkling, and combats him in a much more enemies to lovers type of way. She ultimately convinces him to do better, because he really was acting out of good intentions for the Grisha the entire time. Just think, he made Ravka a safe haven for Grisha, who were killed off or enslaved in the other parts of the world. Tell me this doesn’t make more sense! 

Ok, ok… I just had to get this review off my chest. I mentioned this in my last post, but I’ll say it again: I can sit here and scream all day about how I wish the story would have gone down, but that changes nothing about the actual book. Ultimately, I found this series to be disappointing, and I certainly wasn’t satisfied after finishing it. So thank you for going on this tumultuous ride with me, I hope I didn’t offend anyone too much. While I’m excited to get to Nikolai’s story, I think I’m going to take a break from the Grishaverse for a little bit… let the dust settle until I’m ready for it again. 

Siege and Storm: Lukewarm At Best

Hmmmmmmm… head full, many thoughts. I once again read through Siege and Storm with the same manic ferocity as I did with Shadow and Bone, and I can assure you I’ve already begun Ruin and Rising… though I can’t quite put my finger on what is exactly pulling me into this series. I felt like the majority of this book dragged on up until the very end, when suddenly all hell broke loose. This might be a hot take, but I also wasn’t that much of a fan of Alina in this novel… it wasn’t like I disliked her, but she certainly didn’t do much for me as the main character. I really wanted to know more about everyone else in the story instead of hearing her sad thoughts. Personally, I felt like the book passed over parts that would have been intriguing, and the passage of time in the book was really only marked by interactions between Mal and Alina. Bleh. 

Ok, I need to address the Darkling. I agree, his attitude got worse during this book and he was much less charming than before. During Shadow and Bone, I had a hard time making him out to be as villainous as he was supposed to be, so Leigh Bardugo definitely fooled me with his turn in character development. With that being said, I low key wish we could learn more about him and his past other than “bad guy”. Like I mentioned last time, I have always been drawn to the villains as much (if not more in certain circumstances… *cough* Darth Vader *cough*) than the protagonists. We know the good guys are fighting the good fight, but what spurs a villain? There’s just something alluring to me about their behavior, why they do the things they do, what lead them to making these awful decisions, what their end goal is. I think the bad guys are easier to write as well; there’s just so much weight to them. In my opinion, it’s infinitely easier to operate in a grey/black boundary than it is to constantly fight to do the “right” thing. Because you have no boundaries, right? The only times I really found Alina interesting was when she felt the call of power, yet the whole book she fought that call.  

The character who took the Darkling’s spot as my favorite within the Grishaverse was Prince Nikolai. My preferred characters are those who ultimately want the right things, but they aren’t afraid to do bad things to get what they want… and I felt like Nikolai checked that box. It’s all about balance (says me, the libra). Once Nikolai revealed his true self to Mal and Alina, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book. He is hands down the best character in the series, with his wit, his questionable decisions, and his intelligence. Nikolai wasn’t afraid to do anything if it went towards the good of Ravka. I spent much of the book waiting for him to pop up again, even though Alina didn’t quite like his attitude sometimes. I am so stoked that we get more of him in the King of Scars series, because I actually smiled and laughed out loud every time he was present in the story. 

Mal was annoying as all hell, once again making me wish he was killed off during the first book. He complained about Alina using her powers, he was afraid of her, and he hated everything about the Grisha and the Little Palace. Honestly, any scene with him in it felt wrong… if that makes sense. He constantly made Alina feel terrible, and I get it, he wasn’t made for the Little Palace in the same sense that she wasn’t made for his lifestyle. But that’s all the more reason he should have been killed off earlier… and yet here we are, with him still alive after he rescued Alina at the end. By the way, what the hell was that ending? I was a little upset at him for doing that, even if Alina was about to die. What if it was her destiny to die and wipe out the Darkling? Her powers cancel his out… so it would only make sense. Now she’s equally, if not more, trapped underground with the psycho Apparat… I don’t know how I feel about that. 

Now that I’m almost done with it, I think this series is a really lukewarm, really YA series, if you know what I mean. There isn’t as much depth to the narrative as I would have liked… this book was mostly Alina pining after Mal, which felt tedious. At the risk of sounding hypocritical, it didn’t have the same magical quality as the first book did, and I felt like some parts to the narrative were glazed over. However, I understand that I can sit here and talk all day about how I wanted heavier characters and a twisting plot… but it won’t change anything about this very YA book. That’s what Six of Crows is for, am I right? So I digress, and move on to Ruin and Rising. 

Shadow and Bone Review: Getting into the Grishaverse

Wow, was this a fast read. Maybe I’ve become a little too acclimated to large books, but I felt like I flew through this one. The intriguing characters and the breakneck plot definitely helped keep me on my toes. I have to say, the Six of Crows duology was my first dip into the Grishaverse… which may have been out of line chronologically, but I’ve heard from other book worm colleagues that it doesn’t matter until you get to King of Scars. I recognized some characters that made brief appearances in Crooked Kingdom, so it was interesting to go back in time to learn of the events that happened in Ravka. Also, I am STOKED to see this come to life with Six of Crows on Netflix. There’s just something about this universe that I feel is going to be amazing on screen. 

The story is told through Alina Starkov’s point of view, and she is a scrawny, sickly girl working as a cartographer in the army. After an attack in the Fold, she accidentally summoned light, marking her as a Grisha Sun Summoner (extremely rare). She was taken immediately to meet the Darkling… the most powerful Grisha ever (ummmm hiiiiiiii). He then takes her to the Little Palace to educate her in the Grisha ways and to help her learn her powers. I’ll admit that during Six of Crows, I was a little confused when it came to the Grisha. It might have come in handy to start with this series so you learn about the different kinds of Grisha and their history. I felt like this book explained it all much better (which duh, it was Leigh Bardugo’s first book in the Grishaverse so that makes sense), and I really liked the insight into the Grisha lifestyle. The Grishaverse is just so elaborate and detailed, and I honestly am enjoying the Russian steampunk vibes I get from it. 

Alina was a very good main character; I loved her thoughtfulness and her realistic sense of humor. It made so much sense to learn that she had always been a sickly girl because she was suppressing her powers. Once she let go of the past and accepted that she was a powerful Grisha, she blossomed into life. Honestly, I enjoyed her time spent at the Little Palace… even if it was all a farce. That was really the only place she had ever felt like she belonged. Mal was a so so character… to be completely honest, he did nothing for me. And I sometimes found him annoying, especially when he didn’t like Alina’s powers. She was thriving at the Little Palace without him, but once he’s back in her life she becomes sickly again from repressing her powers. Their background together at the orphanage was touching, but it seemed like he didn’t appreciate Alina until she was gone, then suddenly wanted her for himself. Her attachment to him drove me a little nuts at times… call me crazy, I know. I kept waiting for him to be killed off, but it hasn’t happened yet. 

The Darkling, on the other hand… ummmmmmmmm I don’t know what to think. Ok, I know what to think, but it could be a sign of mental illness so I’m hesitant to share my opinion of him. Because tall, dark haired, handsome, and powerful? Sounds like my literary cup of tea… so I was as surprised as Alina to learn about his true intentions to use her for his own powerful gains. Which hasn’t turned me off, by the way (not a good sign when the villain is still your favorite character). I want to know his real intent for Alina… not the version Baghra told her. But he hasn’t denied anything, either… But I think he actually loves Alina too! Like come on… maybe I fell for the kiss he gave her that surprised them both, but I think there’s something deeper to his villainy. And yes… putting the bone collar on her was a tad bit alarming… yet I can’t help but feel drawn to him. As you can see, my conflict with myself over my thoughts about the Darkling runs deep… stay tuned to see if I still feel this way in the books to come. If you also found the Darkling alluring, let me know. We can go to therapy together. Along with those who love Darth Vader from Star Wars (whaaaa? not me… couldn’t be me…). 

It makes me wonder if Alina should have just waited out the Darkling’s plan instead of getting herself and Mal in trouble by going on the run. In my opinion, she should have just played it cool while trying to glean his true intentions… she also might have learned more from the Apparat, which I have a hunch that he is a super important character. She didn’t like his creepy sayings, and I couldn’t tell if he was a good guy or a bad guy, but he definitely knew some shit and may have tried to warn her. But she ran, and really hasn’t stopped running since. I don’t know what’s in store for her, but I certainly have an eerie feeling about her future… watch out for the Siege and Storm review coming in hot, because I just know I will blow through that one as well. 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance Review

I don’t know if I’ve ever been more saddened and frustrated while reading a book. Maybe saddened isn’t the right word to describe my feelings… melancholy might be better. Children of Virtue and Vengeance was a rough ride for each and every character; it felt like they would finally reach a breakthrough in their fight to bring peace and justice to the maji, only to be pushed back several steps by each other’s actions. This was not an easy read, and I even felt bitter while reading it. I’m NOT saying this was a bad book by any means… it was still beautifully written with such vivid descriptions. However, towards the middle of the book I became exasperated with Zélie, Amari, and Inan, and how they constantly fought against each other when they all ultimately wanted the same thing. Though, as frustrated as I was, I knew there was gravity to their actions, and I think the point of the novel was to make the readers feel as hopeless as the main characters. 

At the beginning, I was very excited to see that Inan was alive. His story definitely came to an odd end during Children of Blood and Bone. I actually enjoyed Inan’s character development more during this book, but I was frustrated that he kept pushing the metaphorical boulder up the hill only for it to fall back down on him throughout the story (like my Sisyphus reference?). We all know he truly meant to be a better ruler than his father, and he wanted to put an end to the hatred fueling this war. However, every single time he tried to do something good, something equally bad had to happen at the exact same time that negated his actions, or that made him look like the bad guy again. I honestly kept wondering if it would just serve the story better to have him die off, because he truly wasn’t getting anywhere with the maji or Zélie. 

Speaking of which, Zélie totally ticked me off during this book. The whole tension triangle between her, Amari, and Inan drove me insane. They all wanted the exact same thing in the end, which was freedom for the maji. I get it… she was hurt badly by Inan. Several times. Her pain shouldn’t be dismissed. But couldn’t she see that it was never his intent to hurt her? I know she blames the death of Baba on him, but he truly believed his father wouldn’t hurt Baba. I guess Baba’s death could be traced back to Inan, but the remorse he feels is genuine… and sadly, only us readers know this. He always acted with good intentions, even if those acts sometimes brought pain to Zélie. And she would constantly lash out at Amari for things she knew were never Amari’s fault! Amari shouldn’t be held accountable for her parents’ actions, yet it felt like Zélie would continue to put the blame on her even though she knew better. Amari and Inan were only trying to rectify the situation in ways they didn’t know how to, but everyone still thought justice would be served only when Amari and Inan were dead. Her anger and rage made her more fearful and vengeful… which I don’t think was ever the solution. 

Poor Amari got the short end of the stick during this book, and it truly pissed me off to watch Zélie and the other maji hate on her for things outside of her power. She wanted peace from the start, and she was the only person who knew Inan acted with good intentions at heart. Yet every single time she suggested anything, the maji tore her head off. She even killed her own father… what more did she need to prove that she didn’t condone his actions? When Mama Agba took her aside to finally let her talk, I was so relieved that someone out there knew Amari fought the good fight. I actually felt like a weight had been lifted off my own shoulders, because Mama Agba was the only person who treated Amari like a human. And yeah, she made some pretty shitty choices on occasion, but it was only because she thought she had exhausted all other options. She was trying her hardest to staunch the blood flow and suffering. 

I had a bad feeling about Nehanda, Amari and Inan’s mother… she was too powerful and too blasé with the death and destruction of so many people. Turns out she was the worst of them the whole time, after she twisted the maji’s image in the name of power. I still don’t trust her, and to be honest, there were ample times for either Inan or Amari to kill her… they should have just done it, knowing what a bad person she is. I also do not trust Roen… I know Zélie has feelings for him and often feels like he understands her pain. But he continually acts with his own interests front and center, AND he was working with Nehanda as a spy. I kept waiting for him to be exposed, but it never came to fruition… making me think that it will happen in the next book. He was the last person Zélie saw before she woke up on the ship at the very end, so he’s pretty suspicious to me. I know Zélie thought it was Inan, but I don’t think so… we shall have to see. 

Once again, the social justice theme played a huge roll in this book, making me think long and hard about our own society. Like Mama Agba said, what is “right” and what is “wrong”, or “good” or “bad” for that matter, is very difficult to draw boundaries on, especially where pain and suffering have occurred. Right and wrong ideals are much too beholden to the individual; there’s often too much grey area around what can generally be classified as good or bad. For example, Amari was going to sacrifice the entire village of Ibadan to end the war, plus her mother, Inan, and Zélie… and she knew that she would forever be responsible for those deaths. Was that wrong of her, when she truly felt she had no other option? And Zélie at the very end of the novel, fighting her way into the palace and sucking the life force out of the hundreds of royal soldiers? Was either action better than the other, when countless deaths were involved? Sigh… I’ll leave you with that sip of rhetorical tea for now. 

Rhapsodic Review

Hmmmmmmm. While this book was a decent light read, I’m not particularly fond of it… so buckle up for a tough review (to clarify: this isn’t a bad book, just one that I personally wasn’t a fan of. In fact, it was very quick and easy to read… almost too easy if you know what I mean). Originally, I put it on my TBR list because I saw a TikTok recommending it if you were a fan of ACOTAR. I was definitely looking forward to Rhapsodic because of my love for all of SJM’s books, and I do have an affinity for fantasy. I can see the similarities, but if I was given a choice between the two, I would hands down pick ACOTAR. It wouldn’t even be a comparison in my eyes. The most prominent parallel was the fae element… but even then, there are so many other books out there for those who like fae stories. 

I think the most interesting aspect about this book was trying to figure out why Des left Callie all those years ago. And why he helped her clean up the death of her stepfather. This mystery kept me going throughout the book, otherwise I don’t know if I would have finished it. From the way Callie narrated the book, I kept wondering what caused the falling out between her and Des. I wish there was more description in this story, from the characters to the world building to the details. There wasn’t much of that anywhere, and I found it extremely disappointing… it felt very surface level and the conflict felt forced. Even the connection between Des and Callie felt forced… though I may feel this way because I just wasn’t a fan of either of them. 

Callie was a very meh main character in my eyes… and we still don’t know what she looks like! I’ve mentioned this in my other posts but I really do not like it when characters aren’t described down to the minute details. I have a very adequate imagination, but I don’t like having to draw up what the characters look like without any helpful clues… does that make sense? I want to know exactly who I’m looking at in my mind, and I want alllllllllll of the details. The more descriptive, the better. All we get on Callie is that she is a beautiful siren who can make anyone do anything for her through her glamor. And her skin glows. Maybe we don’t get more info on how she looks because she doesn’t like looking at herself? I get that… but there still could be ways to incorporate some characteristics and still have the main character be self conscious. The only person that was given any sort of description was Des… but it was a very surface level description of his so called good looks. Tall, blond, arm covered in tattoos. Always wearing black and some rock band t-shirt (sooooo edgy…). The only reasoning we get behind his tattoo sleeve was that he was in a “gang” a long time ago… that’s it though… no other mention of said gang. I know he also mentioned he marks his bargains with tattoos (hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ACOTAR much??), so maybe some of those tattoos are reminders of his bargains. Also, I thought the soulmate thing between him and Callie was forced as well… maybe I’m getting tired of that trope, but it felt so unnatural in this instance. 

To make it better, the plot of this book could have been stretched further into several books, with more details in each scene to add some much needed substance, and Des and Callie shouldn’t have reconciled in the first book. Let’s stretch it out, make it truly worth it… add in more background between Des and Callie. We don’t even get to see much of them forming this friendship. They went on trips all over the world together, where were any of those trips in the story? We just get one, very basic, very quick trip to Venice… but blink and you’d miss it. 

I know there are more books in this series, but I don’t think I will read them. What more goes on? The main villain gets obliterated by Des (which come on… he apparently has spent decades trying to find this guy, only to show up and literally blow him up in two seconds… What?), so what more is there to add to the story? If you have any reason why I should continue with this series, do tell. But from what I felt during the first book, I just don’t see a point of continuing. If you can’t tell, I want details, details, and more details. If the lack of description doesn’t bother you, then this should be a great book for you. Honestly, I think the recommendation for this one should be the other way around… for example, if you read Rhapsodic and liked it, you should check out ACOTAR and be prepared for it to rock your world. That’s just my very personal opinion though, so take it with a grain of salt. 

We Hunt the Flame Review

A Hunter? Check. An Assassin? Check. Sandy desert fight scenes? Check. A band of misfits, a race to find a mysterious magical book that could bring back magic to a corrupt and dark world, and incredible character development? CHECK, CHECK, CHECK. 

If you can’t tell, I loved this book. The descriptions were vivid and really felt like a feast for my internal eyes… if that makes any sort of sense. This story had me longing for this magical world, reminiscent of old Arabia. One thing I greatly enjoyed about this book was how many Muslim words I learned while reading it. I will be the first to admit that I’m ignorant of a lot Muslim culture, and I’d love to learn more beyond this fantasy book. Seriously, if you guys have any recommendations, do tell. From the clothes to the food to the buildings to the weapons, I learned so many things while reading that got me thinking and doing my own research. I love fantasy books that also give me the opportunity to learn about cultures different from my own. 

The story starts off slow, following both Zafira and Nasir respectively. Zafira is the Hunter, and she has always been able to find her way in the Arz, the dark magical forest that no one returns from (except for her). Because of her caliph’s ridiculous rules that oppress women, she’s never shown her face as the Hunter. It could be dangerous for her, even though she has been single-handily saving the people of her village from famine for years. Ugh, misogyny. I hate it. After a strange encounter with the Silver Witch, she’s sent on a dangerous mission to return magic to her people and save them from the Arz. 

Nasir is the crown prince and he also happens to be the sultan’s personal assassin. My heart broke for him throughout this novel, because you could tell from his thoughts that he despised being a weapon of death. His abusive father formed him into a monster, and he did it all in hopes that he would win his father’s approval. I knew there was something shady about his father, Ghameq. I think that’s also why Nasir kept trying so desperately hard to win over the sultan… he knew there was something wrong and the man who horribly abused and tortured him couldn’t be his father on the inside. Either way, his storyline broke my heart several times over as I made my way throughout the novel. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it enough: my heart’s broken for this man. 

I’d say the book started off slow, but once I finished it I found the buildup necessary. Because the last half was WILD and so much happened that I almost couldn’t come up for air. We needed to see the struggle Zafira had each time she went hunting, how she longed for something more than what her village and Deen could give her. Speaking of Deen… I knew he was too good to be true. He was too pure and adored Zafira… which the feeling was not mutual, even if he was her best friend. I knew he was going to die the second he volunteered to go on the mission. I personally didn’t like how he kept wanting Zafira to be someone she wasn’t, so I really wasn’t that sad to see him go. We also needed to witness Nasir’s bleak lifestyle as his cruel father’s murderous lapdog, how he deep down hated his life and was numb to the pain. I loved Altair, and I knew there was more to him than the general that Nasir hated. His witty comments and humor when talking to Nasir made you want to hate him, but you also couldn’t help but love everything about him. From the way he and Nasir were drawn to each other, I suspected they were in fact siblings. He was literally a mystery up until the very end, with new revelations about his past and affinities popping up left and right. 

The gradual start built up to the moment Zafira and Nasir met up, and the book only gained momentum from that point on. The intensity and attraction between Nasir and Zafira was magnetic, both of them on this roller coaster ride of internal confusion. They went through incredible growth on this journey, each losing the version of who they were before. I don’t think either one of them has found internal peace just yet, but hey, aren’t we all going through life a little confused? Once again, I’m a HUGE fan of duel perspectives in a story, and We Hunt the Flame did not disappoint in that department. Also, I have to say I think I loved every single character in the zumra. They all were bound together on this impossible mission, and they formed some sense of camaraderie through the darkness. 

The magic within this book was compelling, from the mystery behind the six sisters, Nasir’s mother, the Silver Witch, and the Lion of the Night. Everything about this book was unexpected, and it kept racing in twists and turns that I did not see coming. Which is reading gold, if you ask me. The fight scenes were gripping, either making my heart race or shattering it (gahhh this book and my broken heart). I read in Hafsah Faizal’s bio that she loves playing Assassin’s Creed, and those vibes were certainly very strong in this book. I love that, as I find Assassin’s Creed to be one of the coolest video games out there. This book was captivating, and I highly recommend it if you’ve got a penchant for fantasy novels. 

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire

Also known as: a kingdom of so much stuff happened in this book that I can’t even begin to dive into it all.

Whoa… It’s been a minute since I last posted, but it really feels like it’s been ages. I don’t know about you guys, but I couldn’t get a single thing done last week. Whatever you consider productive to be… I was the opposite of that. Whenever I get really bad anxiety and I get super stressed, I go into paralyzed mode. I lock up and a million different things are racing through my mind, but I can’t focus on a single thing so I end up just sitting and staring in existential dread. And the funny thing about this is that I KNOW I’m like this, but I can’t stop myself. So naturally, during our extremely stressful election week, I was pretty much just good for hitting the refresh button on social media. It’s not up for debate whether or not I should have distracted myself a little bit more (obviously YES) but here we are and we are finally past that hell. Send help if you know how to bypass your internal lockdown hard drive. 

Moving on to the main topic of today’s discussion, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. First off, we all love enemies to lovers, right? But what happens when they eventually fall in love… they get boring, right? Well, thank you Jennifer L. Armentrout for keeping it VERY interesting between Poppy and Casteel during AKOFAF. Poppy now knows who Cas is, what his original intent for her was, and she hates him with a passion. To be honest, she was a little bit annoying during this first half of the book… we know she’s still attracted to Cas, but she kept acting like she’s not. She also did some dumb stuff, like try to run away with no supplies in the dead of winter. I’m grateful that these annoying actions kept it tense between her and Cas, though. Per usual, I loved Casteel during every second of this book. I will say it, Poppy and Cas being “heartmates” is incredibly cliche… for as much as I enjoyed the different spin on the supernatural, that was something I internally rolled my eyes at. 

There were so many supporting characters introduced in this book (borderline too many… but not complaining too much). I loved Kieran, and I enjoyed his central presence in the story. I could have had more of his witty comments, and I did like his growing friendship with Poppy. I’m low-key suspicious of Alistair… he’s been nothing but nice to Poppy, but there’s something off about him and his actions. He’s too buddy-buddy with Casteel’s parents, and the way he reminds Poppy of Viktir is too coincidental. We’ll see if my intuition is correct in the third book. 

One thing I both liked and disliked about AKOFAF was the length of the story. On one hand, so much stuff happened within this novel and we learned a wealth of new information about Poppy and Casteel and the two countries. On the other hand… it was almost too long and towards the end of the story I was getting a little bit bored and distracted. I can’t even begin to muse about the majority of this book, otherwise this post would be WAY too long. I almost feel like it could have been split into a couple books, with a bit more nail biters thrown in. I did learn a lot more about the different lines of Atlantians, and why there are so many with different powers. It was interesting to learn more of the history behind the two nations and how the gods were tied into it all. 

In my From Blood and Ash post (ayyyyeee go read it now), I speculated why the Maiden was so important to the Ascended… and I thought it was only because they wanted to use her special half-Atlantian blood for the Ascension. However, we almost know less about Poppy after this book… Her powers kept evolving so much throughout the story. She went from being able to take pain away, to sensing allllllll the emotions from everyone, to full blown healing, and then finally, to whatever the hell that stunt was at the end of the story. There’s such a mystery behind her parents and the fact that she may be the Queen of Solis’s granddaughter (???), and her odd approval from the gods. I don’t understand any of it, and I’m looking forward to some answers in the third book. 

For as bored as I got during the last half of the story, the very end woke me up and had me backtracking. I figured the wolven would show up, as they did during the battle at Spessa’s End (ummmm why? We still don’t know)… but I didn’t expect Poppy to full blown decimate her attackers. Then the sky started bleeding. Then the King and Queen showed up, along with Casteel and Alistair… and then they all bowed to Poppy??? And proclaimed her the new queen because she’s the last descendent of the gods? I expect a lot of answers in the third book because that ending was a TRIP. I don’t understand any of it. Overall, this was a decent second book that I felt should have been split into several books. While so much happened in this story, none of it compared to the ending, and I’m so intrigued to find out Poppy’s fate in the third book. Let me know if you felt the same way about the length of the story, or if you liked it just the way it was!

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