Synopsis: In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.
But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.
Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.
But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen. (Amazon)
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Rating: 5 stars
Falling in love with a story is instinctive for me. Whatever the highs and lows of the book's writing and mechanics might be, I will blindly fall head over heels for it if it touches my heart.
Enter Evie and the plot to Kill the Queen.
The beginning of this novel is doubtful. We spend so much time, over the course of a couple of chapters, moving through the minutiae of Everleigh's day to the point of thinking “Is this really necessary?” You're nearly dulled into listlessly flipping through the pages, figuring this is going to be the pace and tone for the rest of the book.
And then you're thrown smack in the middle of a massacre, the plot explodes into action, and suddenly you can't read fast enough so that you can devour every single little detail. It was an ingenious play.
From that moment on, you rush to catch up with the goings-on in the story. At every twist and turn there's a new spark of excitement that keeps buildling up to Evie's big moment at the close. It's satisfying to see her grow into herself and evolve from the puppet that she had been used as at the start of the novel at court, to her own person while she delves into the world of The Black Swan, the troupe of gladiators who become her family.
Gladiators are something that is so strongly instilled in the culture of Bellona, and I was delighted by the fact that rather than glaze over this, Jennifer Estep took her time to not only bring it to the forefront, but give it the attention that it deserves. The fight sequences are not overly drawn out, but they are very nicely described. These are a people who fight, enjoy it, do it well, and the instruction that Evie receives while in this band of people is very well depicted. As is her growth and talent, something that we witness in the final and blaring encounter between Evie and Vasilia, our story's murderous antagonist.
Through it all we have the sizzling attraction bewteen Sullivan and Evie to deal with. While sometimes this can be a rather distracting thing in a novel that is not mainly romance, it was properly secondary to the plot in this one. It's both great and frustrating, because you want these two to get together,we know that they need to get together, but it never happens. It is so satisfying when an author waits past the first book in a series to get the lead couple (I hope) to come to terms with how they feel—Feyre and Rhysand, am I right? The intensity of the moment is so much more powerful and organic that it makes it well worth the wait.
But past them, the rest characters are a joy to encounter, from the gentle strength in the gladiator Paloma to the sickening machinations of Vasilia, Nox and Maeve. These characters drive a fun and engaging story, even during the moments when you're sitting at the edge of your seat hoping that one of your favorite ones won't be killed off.
It's been a treat to visit the world of Crown of Shards, and I cannot wait to travel to Andvari with this lot and see what else is in store for them.
Synopsis: Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.
Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.
Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees. (Amazon)
Publication Date: February 11, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 4 stars
This was wonderfully surprising, especially because when I dove for this book all I noticed was the synopsis. I completely missed the part stating that this is a retelling of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is one of my favorite classics. So...bonus.
It took me a few chapters to really get into the swing of this book, but once it picked up, I was hooked. The story is interesting, with some intriguing characters and a driving plot.
I really enjoyed Enebish, and I tend to be really critical of female MC's. I usually find them lacking in some way or annoyingly overcompensating, but I greatly liked the way that her character shifts, grows, changes. The one time where I found this to falter was near the end of the story when Ghoa tricks her, captures her, and she's forced to betray Temujin. She went from someone who was making up her mind, gaining her strength, growing into her power, to such an easily manipulated and cheated person. On one hand, it makes sense, because Ghoa is a weakness for her, but on the other hand I thought that this could have been done a little better. Enebish could've fought that pull a little more, shown more struggle.
And Ghoa herself was a great antagonist. There was always something there, from the start, that had me mistrusting her. But you try to accept her, you try to look past peeks here and there of someone who is not what she claims to be. Her full reveal was not so much an eye-opener as it was a pleasure to behold—letting that wall down and allowing the reader to really see her for who she is. So damn good.
The plot twist took me by surprise. I was concentrating so hard on letting the story take me where it might, that I completely missed the hints of what was afoot. Who Temujin really is, who the Worm really is! Who so many others truly are. It does make sense, and it's such a greatly crafted plan, that I cannot wait to see how Enebish and Serik—whom I adored from the first glimpse of him; thank you Addie Thorley for writing a romantic interest which does not need to be the bad boy in the story...they're fun, but this is a nice change of pace—are going to pull out of this one and take the rest of the series from here.
I was very glad that Serik found his power (a power in a range of magic that I wish would have been explained and fleshed out more), and it's certainly going to come in handy, but I also found it a little too convenient. That always nags at me in novels, but, still...kudos to my boy.
So far, there's a lot of promise in this book. I can't wait to see what the second one has in store.
Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
***Please beware of spoilers***
Synopsis: Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds--each with their own magic--together. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.
For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic first-hand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie's brother. It's where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it's where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.
But this summer, the impossible happens--a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She'll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer Taya, who seems to know more than she's letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie--no one can be trusted, and no one is safe . . . (Amazon)
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 3 stars
Havenfall combines two of my guiltiest reading pleasures, fantasy and mystery, to deliver the story about a girl tasked with the job of overlooking a safe house between magical worlds during a time of strife.
In theory, the story could be exciting: humans and two of the fantastical worlds that have an alliance come together once a year to celebrate and discuss matters of their worlds so that they may continue to live in accord. The innkeeper, our lead's uncle, is usually the one who oversees everything. But after the door to one of the other worlds opens again, which has been sealed for years due to a war that broke out where lives were lost, death comes knocking again and the innkeeper is left unconscious and unable to continue overseeing his duties. Enter Maddie, who has dreamed her whole life of having this role, feels that this is what she has been working for, and while nervous, believes herself to be ready to face whatever Haven needs in order to keep others safe.
It's an entertaining read, and I greatly enjoyed the mystery reveals that occurred. But the story fell flat for me. While it aspires to be rousing, it doesn't reach that potential. The whole thing delivered just a little monotonously, and I felt that most of the characters were sorely underdeveloped save for Maddie and maybe Taya, to some extent.
One of the elements that I always delight in, especially in fantasy novels, is the antagonist. There is so much room in this genre to make the “bad guy” anything you want him/her to be. The Silver Prince fell so short. Not only do we only see him a handful of times, but we never get to know him. What motivates him and moves him, other than the need to take over the keep and reign? Why does he want this? We're not given enough information, and while a handful of his actions are imposing enough, and he manages to brainwash Maddie fairly easily, the strength that he could have as a being is just not there.
Maddie is very believable in the doubt that she has in herself to do her job as innkeeper. She knows nothing of what needs doing and has no problems reaching out to others for help. She does have a ridiculously easy gift of trusting the wrong people, however, and keeps mentioning this throughout. It's almost as if she tells the audience “Most people I trust lie to me, here, let me show you,” while it continues to occur again and again. It's repetitive. Almost everyone in this book has something to hide, and a secret to reveal. It happens so often that we keep doubting whoever appears next in the novel. It's fantastic for what the author accomplishes as far as the story's mystery, and yet it's so ironic that our lead doesn't seem to catch up.
While there is a clear love triangle playing out between Maddie, Brekken and Taya, I was so glad to not see the usual stereotypical tug of war that tends to happen. Love triangles are one of my least favorite tropes in stories, because usually they're overdone. Sara Holland wrote it well, showing the intense attraction that is to be expected between Maddie and Brekken with the years that they've known each other and the bond that has been growing between them since they were children, as opposed to her newly developed closeness toward Taya.
Havenfall itself... I definitely got the sense of the town, and it did—as Maddie points out at one point in the story—feel like an old western type of world in which to live. It's still charming, well run down, full of vegetation and woods nearby. It does a really nice job of conveying how isolated the keep is to the rest of town and how suspicious and full of gossip others are about the place.
The ending, as I have been reading too often with books lately, came far too swiftly and easily. There is going to be a second book, surely, especially with the way that Havenfall closes. But we could have taken a little longer to see the conclusion of this one develop and play out. More time, overall, was needed with this book to expand.
Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Shay Miller wants to find love, but it eludes her. She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end. She wants to belong, but her life is increasingly lonely.
Until Shay meets the Moore sisters. Cassandra and Jane live a life of glamorous perfection, and always get what they desire. When they invite Shay into their circle, everything seems to get better.
Shay would die for them to like her.
She may have to. (Amazon)
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Rating: 4 stars
We've all felt a little lonely. We've had moments where we don't or can't relate to others, or don't know how to reach out, and just crave that human connection. Now, imagine you think you have finally found someone who can offer you that—someone who makes you feel warm and happy, and loved. Then they pull wool from over your eyes and you realize that they've been using your weakness against you, so that they can not only manipulate you, but violate every aspect of your private life.
That is, in a nutshell, the premise for You Are Not Alone, and it was every bit as twisted as you can imagine. Which means, in short, that it was as delightfully entertaining to read about as one might expect from a Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen's thriller.
Shay Miller opens the story for us, and we can't help but feel sorry for her almost instantly. This is a young woman who has horrible prospects not only in her professional life but in her personal one as well. Her close guy friend of years, whom she's in love with, has a girlfriend and she's now, for all intents and purposes, the third wheel. She can't get out of the rut of her temp job while seeking a better position. She soon needs to move out of her current apartment to give the love birds more room to themselves. She doesn't really have a lot of people in her life that she can turn to, and she has just witnessed the suicide of a stranger.
Enter the fabulous, glamorous, beautiful Cassandra and Jane Moore, sisters and co-business owners. They happen upon Shay's life when she's at her lowest, and tuck her under their wing, seemingly helping her improve herself.
And they do, at the beginning. They give Shay a gorgeous makeover, they help her find a new apartment, they encourage her in landing a fantastic new dream job, and they are a big part of Shay's more positive and confident outlook in life. For all intents and purposes, the Moore sisters have had an ideal influence over Shay.
One of the things that I enjoyed most in You Are Not Alone is that the reader sees Shay as such a needy and almost pathetic person at first. She is so desperate to have friends that she will do anything that these two women ask of her—and at times outright tell her to do in their bright and cajoling (a.k.a. manipulative) manner. Shay sometimes goes above and beyond, researching people and looking into their lives to a level that seems almost creepy. She does this without ill will, she's actually a rather kind and sweet person, but it's this very thing that makes Cassandra and Jane exploit her.
As the exploitation begins—alongside the other women in the “power” circle of friendship that the Moore sisters are a part of, excluding Shay—we see the tables turn. Shay was never the villain in the story. Shay just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the level of animosity that these women spew at her in order to use this poor woman for their gain, is sickening.
It is excellently described. The characters come alive while we see their wheels turn and the Moore sisters continue to corner Shay, even while in turn Shay starts to shift and show that she has more than one dimension. She's not just the wallflower that she appears to be at the beginning of the story.
The process of storytelling is a slow burn, but the narrative is so fun and engrossing that it seems to fly by. The more that you know, the more that you want to know, and you are so enraptured in what's going on that you don't really expect the “big reveal” until it's crashing down on you.
I did find that some of the characters were a little weak, and as far as how easily brainwashed they were when one realistically considers the level of camaraderie between them (like Jody with the Moore sisters). And taking into account how much time the authors took to explain the backstory of almost any “important” character, and how much time we spend in the present moment of the plot, the end was slightly rushed. While it was satisfying, it didn't linger as much as I would've liked.
This is, however, still a delightfully enjoyable mystery. And we have been given a lead in which quite a few people will find a kindred spirit. It's cleverly done.
Thank you NetGalley and Kensington Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: FLAME AND FORTUNE
Sorcha knew the mission was dangerous. Leaving the safe grounds of her brother’s kingdom and parlaying with the elves across their border . . . well, treachery seemed at least as likely as true peace. But to support her sister, Sorcha would brave far more than the underhanded ways of the elves. Or so she thought, before she was taken hostage.
Of course, her captors didn’t count on her particular abilities—or on the help of the Woodsman, the mysterious thief who made his home in the forest. He saw the battle from the trees, saw the soldier attacking against incredible odds to save a comrade—and then saw the valiant fighter revealed as Princess Sorcha of Norveshka. He can’t tell if he wants to kidnap her or kiss her. But despite Sorcha’s stubbornness, his inconvenient honor, and a rebellion on the cusp of full war, something burns between them that neither can let go . . . (Amazon)
Publication Date: March 1, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / Romance
Rating: 1.5 stars
Kerrelyn Sparks' books have come across my different book-related feeds for years. I've had a few of them in my TBR list for just as long. Seeing How to Love Your Elf's ARC available seemed like the perfect chance to get to know her writing and read—what seemed, and I hoped would be—a fun and exciting story.
I was sorely disappointed.
I'm going to first mention the two points that made me somewhat enjoy the novel: the Woodsman had sex appeal (at least beginning to mid-way through the story), and there were a scattering of amusing moments sprinkled about, which is always a bonus.
And then I had to deal with the rest.
Sorcha is our lead. She has red hair, which is very obviously made to state that she has a fiery and independent, headstrong personality. This is pushed on us again and again by how often she tries to fight the Woodsman's will. I was never able to pinpoint what her actual personality is. She was dull often, she spent 90% of the novel pining and obsessing over the Woodsman's looks, and she would attempt to show sparks of life then go back to moving with the flow of the narrative.
And then the Woodsman... We begin the story with a seemingly strong character, decisive in nature, bold will...that goes out the window the moment that he lays eyes on Sorcha. He is so amazed by this incredible soldier-woman he sees while she attempts to escape from the enemy that he, a Wood Elf with an affinity with trees, almost falls right off of the one that he is sitting upon when he sees her. And as soon as he has the convenient chance to get his hands on her (because of course, as tends to happen in these books, some feisty physical response from her to deny his help makes him have to somehow touch her), he goes on to describe her as...
“...Green eyes. As green as the newly unfurled leaves of an oak tree in spring. Sorcha. His hand flinched, still gripping her thigh. She was different. With her face turned up to look at him, the moon shone off her luminous skin, and a million stars sparkled in her eyes.
She was incredible. Unique. Her beauty paired with her brave fighting spirit made a combination that took his breath away. How long could he hold her in his arms?”
They just met. She is unique, her fighting spirit is already fully obvious to him, she is different from apparently any other woman that he has known before...and they just met. Alright.
The pace of the novel itself is quick enough, the events themselves don't really play out other than to state facts a they occur. In “big” moments, like a murder scene, or a battle, we spend a page and a half maybe stating who stabs who, who hits who over the head, who fires an arrow at who, who dies, and then we move on. And I never quite understood the lay of the land. I am aware that there are a handful of kingdoms, but (and this is nitpick-y of me, yet it nagged at me every time that it came up) the distance within the land of Woodwyn, for example, is never clear. It takes these characters a day or two—sometimes less—to travel from one place to the next, on horseback, as if everything is within arm's reach. It just sparked of unrealistic.
And one of the most irritating things about this book was Sorcha's way of speaking o others by referring to them as “ye” and then would switch back to “you” without rhyme or reason. I did not understand it. It trips you up mid-dialogue again and again.
Most of this novel revolves around the two leads thinking of how much they like each other, how big their attraction is, and what they want to do with that attraction from the second that they meet. And it's just forced without the buildup of a good intimate chemistry that sparks. We barely spend any time dealing with the fact of who the Woodsman is and his history, the end of the story happens so fast and things are put to rest so very easily when drama should have actually been spent in those times.
It was, overall, sadly lackluster.
Synopsis: Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph . . .
She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century.
At least, she thinks she has. With this latest tragedy, it’s hard to concentrate on the past. Not only has someone died in town, but David disappeared of his own free will and is up to something. Stevie is sure that somehow—somehow—all these things connect. The three deaths in the present. The deaths in the past. The missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers.
Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm—and a murderer.
In the tantalizing finale to the Truly Devious trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson expertly tangles her dual narrative threads and ignites an explosive end for all who’ve walked through Ellingham Academy. (Amazon)
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Genre: Mystery / YA
Rating: 4 stars
I was nineteen-years-old when I read Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None for the first time, and I am eternally grateful to my uncle for suggesting it to me. Since then, I recommend it to everyone who's a book lover. I get mixed responses on that recommendation: “But I don't like mystery.” Read And Then There Were None. Trust me. “The book was published so long ago, is it even any good?” Read it (Also, why does the book's age matter?) “Ugh, a book about people stuck in a house? Does anything even happen?” What doesn't happen in that house! Read it and find out.
No matter the argument, the novel is still worth the reader's time. Even if it's just to experience the author's talent.
The Truly Devious trilogy brought to mind all of the cozy, warm, indulgent vibes that reading Christie's masterpiece gave me years ago. Coming to the end of The Hand on the Wall was bittersweet.
Stevie Bell has joined the ranks of my favorite fictional characters. Stevie, with her anxiety, and her obsession with mysteries and crime, and her ability to just zone the world out while she works a whodunit problem in her head. She led this story so well, and seeing her during the last few chapters of The Hand on the Wall, among the others in that Great House, personifying her own version of the incredible Hercule Poirot to bring forth the culprit and present her case just made me...proud.
Maureen Johnson's subtle little way of bringing together ten people and sticking them into a house in the middle of a blizzard while a murderer roamed free and they're cut off from everyone else outside of the school was the ideal ode to a classic.
From the get-go, we've wanted to know what happened to Alice Ellingham. That has been everyone's goal—both those in-story and the readers'. I wasn't surprised to find out what Alice's outcome really was, though it was still heartbreaking. George Marsh's punishment did not come in the form of Albert and what he did to the two of them on that boat. Marsh's punishment was in finding his own daughter.
There is so much sneaking, so many lies, so much weaving to get through so that one finds the truth. But Johnson did a good job of slowly untangling the web for us. That's why mysteries are so much fun: you start at the confounding problem laid out before you, and little by little work your way back to the beginning, learning all the facts as you go.
My only complaint from these novels, including the last, is that the pacing is now and again off. Something detracts from the main story that leaves you thinking “Was that really necessary?” In this one, it was the whole debacle with King. It's a nice addition to the overall plot, and it ties up things with at least one character (David, in this case) but it makes you go over this hiccup mid-storytelling that interrupts the otherwise smooth flow. It wrapped up well in the end, but the intrusion of it was not well-placed.
Characters are exceptional—I wish I would've had a Nate and Janelle in my life at Stevie's age—the reveal of our modern-day murderer was incredibly satisfying to find (although ever so slightly anti-climatic, again, I feel that this was due to pacing), and the setting... In a story like this, setting is everything. Ellingham Academy with its twists and turns, its history, and how far away from the rest of the world it is, could not have been a better choice. It's a playground for a riddle of this caliber.
I'm going to miss these books, but it was well worth the wait to come to a close in this story.
Thank you NetGalley and Gallery Books for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.
Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.
But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private. (Goodreads)
Publication Date: February 25, 2020
Rating: 4 stars
I'm one of those people that detests divulging personal information in public to strangers, let alone online. It makes me cringe when people freely give away their addresses, or phone numbers, or home towns, because you really do not know who is on the other side of that screen (am I paranoid? absolutely So, thank you, Kathleen Barber, for proving my point.
Follow Me is, in its most basic form, the story about a self-absorbed young woman (most of the time at the detriment of others) obsessed with portraying the perfect life and the perfect image of herself. Audrey is one of the most unpleasant people that I have come across in fiction. She is so unpleasant as a matter of fact, that despite coming close to not only dying, but to being murdered, I could not feel a single shred of empathy for her. Audrey uses any moment in her life to show off on Instagram so that her million+ followers love and fan over her, and it makes her feel fulfilled, accomplished.
It's so spot on where it concerns these types of platforms and many who use/join them.
Our lead's oversharing attracts a “fan” that has been addicted to her life for years before finding out that she's moving to the same city in which he lives. “Him” (as said fan is referred to for most of the book) made me so vividly reminiscent of You. But I found “Him” more likable than Joe, which is interesting, because the attraction is just as psychopathic. And yet there's something about “Him,” once you realize who he is and witness him in scenes with Audrey, that's warm and sweet and real. Because it is real to him, he loves this woman, as unhealthy as his love for her is.
Except for, you know, that little switch that gets easily flipped and turns “Him” into pure unadulterated malice.
The characters, even the secondary ones like Connor and her creepy upstairs neighbor, were nicely developed even if they did not play a huge role in the story. They were still unique and and their own individuals. They were fun “distractions” from the real culprit, just as obsessed with Audrey as many others.
And that's one thing that did nag at me: this attraction that absolutely everyone seemed to feel toward Audrey, be it male or female. I understand that we are reading about someone who is supposed to have a magnetic persona, which is part of what makes her so popular on Instagram. But it was overly done. No one is so perfect, even if it is faked, that everyone believes in their own myth and hangs on their every word and action, eager for more.
It didn't detract, it was a minor nitpicking point, and things flowed smoothly despite this. While I wouldn't say that novel is fast paced, the nearly teasing way in which the details unfold is extremely satisfying. There are no questions left unanswered, and the sense of impending doom that begin to build up from the moment that Audrey realizes she's being stalked, until the end, come to a very satisfying conclusion.
And how typical of our lead, really, that even after a near-death experience at the hands of her stalker—and her best friend—the first thing that she does, and our last closing scene in the novel is her eagerly sharing something as insignificant in the grand scheme of things as a sunset from the window of her new private home.
Some people just never learn.
Synopsis: When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.
Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one… (Amazon)
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / YA
Rating: 4 stars
A retelling is one of my favorite tropes. A retelling of a classic novel is an extra boon. A retelling of a classic novel where the lead will be a female—for obvious reasons here—has even more potential. It still worries me, because I cringe at the possibility of said female being the type of bad ass that is completely unbelievable given her past low experience and current high abilities. But Amaya pulls it off nicely—she gives you just enough kick without being overwhelming.
If you've read the original The Count of Monte Cristo or seen any of the film versions, then you know the general story: the lead spends a certain amount of time unjustly jailed by someone who screwed them over and has been benefiting on their behalf all this time, soon to be the source of the lead's revenge once they are freed. The same thing is done here, but with a few fun and entertaining twists.
I loved the setting, first of all, which is familiar enough to be close to the original story, but different enough to be enjoyable to explore. That sense of being in a land owned by the ocean, with its sailors, its bright weather, its vices and virtues is great fun. I do wish that more detail would have been put into the type of people who live there, the architecture, the flora and fauna. You still get the general idea and can easily fill in the blanks from imagination, which is fine; but it just falls slightly short of painting a full picture.
The main set of characters that live and interact are, for the most part, quite nicely fleshed out, made up of Amaya and Cayo. But secondary characters can't be overlooked. Yes, we get a vibe of what motivates Romara, Liesl, Deadshot, even Boon. But sometimes, when you leave so much hidden, waiting for that moment to reveal it but not doing it—at least in the first book—or wanting to keep too many things close to your chest, the story tends to suffer a bit, and those characters feel slightly like props.
I found myself feeling like certain moments in the story moved a little too fast, where more dialogue would've been beneficial, where things that happened did not develop and I was left wanting. I would've loved to actually be there to see Boon train Amaya rather than getting snippets here and there when she reminisced, for one. Yes, it's good to stay in the moment, to move the story along, to not lag too much. But that bit of story helps you connect with the characters even more. And though Boon is not who he appears to be at the beginning, or even after he rescues Amaya—to an extent—that part of him that I missed as developed, might have still grown on me because I would've gained a connection with the character despite eventually knowing what his end goal was.
His role in the scheme of the story was a nice twist, however. I wasn't expecting, at all, the dealings that he, Mercado, and the Slum King all had together. Nor Amaya's father for that matter. That drama was excellently executed, was so fun to read, and I hope that more comes of it in the future book(s). That, to me, was the best part of the book: the simple storytelling, and what made me enjoy it so much. Whenever something else might have been deficient, the story more than made up for it. It's an intriguing and fun tale to follow, with a strong and determined lead who goes after what she wants without losing track of what's important to her.
All in all, this one was a diverting good time.
Thank you NetGalley and Bookouture for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: The room is small and dark. Row upon row of jars line the shelves, each one sealed with blood-red wax. The seal’s mark is a twisted circle of briar with gleaming, gold-tipped thorns. And in each jar a flicker of forbidden magic dances… beautiful, but deadly.
Sold to the Crown in the aftermath of the Last Great War, Grace Marchant has never known her parents. Now, she trains as an elite soldier tracking down mageborn – those born with an ancient and long-outlawed magic – and destroying them if they don’t surrender their power to the Crown.
The mageborn who submit are collared, then handed over to the King’s cousin and heir: the elusive Bastien Larelwynn, Lord of Thorns, locked away in his shadowy workshop deep inside the castle. What becomes of them is hard to say – the Lord of Thorns keeps his secrets close.
Grace has always fought the voice inside her that questions whether the law is truly just – but when her closest friend is next on Bastien’s list, Grace’s loyalties are tested to the limit. Confronting Bastien – searching his strangely compelling obsidian-black eyes for answers – Grace is shocked to feel herself begin to change, to show the first signs of the wild magic she so fears.
Only the Lord of Thorns has the power to save her and the rest of the mageborn – if he doesn’t destroy them all first... (Amazon)
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Rating: 3 stars
There's a hint of danger in hyping up a new book by putting it in the same category as other books with a big fan base. I understand why it's done, but you build up so much of it for the reader before they've even begun, that if the book does not match expectations—and often it does not—it's a swift disappointment.
I won't say that Mageborn disappointed me—and that's in part because I refused to let myself believe it would be anything like Sarah J. Maas' stories—but there were moments of misses, and a few hits.
The characters in this story are not fleshed out fully, and there were times when I did not feel like the author had a full grasp on them and their personality. Yes, it is okay, normal, welcomed even for a brooding character like Bastien to display a facade to the outside world out of necessity and yet be someone else—his real self, even—behind closed doors. What's a bit more difficult to believe is that as someone who has had to portray himself as a dangerous and even evil being for years so that he may gain and hold respect, suddenly drops every single barrier because the love interest in the story appears in his life.
Romance is not only welcomed for me in a novel, but it is delightful as a bonus. And that's how it began in Mageborn. I was on board, I was enjoying the tension-filled attraction that Grace and Bastien felt for one another... And then I started to notice that that plot was being sacrificed for the romance. This happened to such a degree, that there were moments when either Grace or Bastien seemed to be trying to move the story along after an action sequence, but the other would interrupt this to either flirt or initiate a sexual encounter.
It is distracting to force a romantic interaction between characters. This is something that should happen organically.
The writing itself was underdeveloped in sections. It failed to describe things too clearly and made me have to go back and re-read certain scenes. And now and again I would come across a run-in sentence that would read clumsily:
“Grace punched the bag again, imagining it was him, imagining it bore his superior, snide look, his too bloody handsome face, that perfect nose which she was breaking, his freakish black eyes which she was turning into actual black eyes.”
Yet, was I entertained despite these setbacks? Absolutely. Was it worth a read? I believe so.
This is a fun book overall.
Yes, it takes some time for the plot to take hold, but once that happens, it's a good time all around. The secondary characters are a nice addition—Ellyn, Daniel, Asher, even the queen. The antagonists are, interestingly, even more expanded than the leads. Celeste... I wish that we would have had more scenes of Celeste, because she is creepy, wonderfully insane, unpredictable. She has the potential to drive this story in the second book with her dark personality, and these types of roles are oftentimes the ones that grow the overall potential of the novel. At least or me.
The mythology of the Hollow King and the reveal at the end that Bastien discovers in himself was enjoyable and shocking. I was not expecting it, and mostly I think that's because I was focused on the story so strongly that I didn't have time to guess what was about to happen. That's great. Mageborn does hold your interest regardless of setbacks, it sucks you right in, and I devoured the words as fast as I could.
There was action, and plenty of it from the opening sequence. The moments devoted to these scenes were exciting and the way that the magic is used—as well as the way that the source of this magic is described—was very nicely done.
Despite room for growth, the first novel in The Hollow King series brings forth a gratifying read for fantasy-lovers.
Synopsis: Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.
A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea. (Goodreads)
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Rating: 3 stars
I have been meaning to read The Night Circus for years, and when I began to notice release-date news of The Starless Sea I decided to give it a shot first because...a story about books? Yes, please. I've read that Erin Morgenstern is the type of writer you either love or hate, but, I have to say that I don't think fall into either of those two categories.
I didn't love The Starless Sea, I didn't hate it either. But I did like it.
The build up was so good, so exciting, so nicely developed and I was right there for the ride alongside Z every step of the way. The idea of a library—harbor--that houses a world of stories is so beautiful that it is a dream come true for any lover of stories. And the second the lead walks through that door, I couldn't help but feel anything other than excitement and delight.
But the character development is very weak, the mythology of the story gets extremely confusing, and if the reader is not okay with the fact that nothing is clearly explained at any point throughout this story then they are bound to dislike it. You get the gist of it, you have an intuitive sense of things, you almost grasp it... And then the floor falls through at the Heart of the Harbor and the dive into Wonderland goes deeper and more confusing—so to speak.
The second part of the novel, for me, was a huge jumble mashed together that made me feel as if I were on some form of drug-induced state while I read it. It was still enjoyable, because the fairy-tale mood of this story is extremely appealing. But it is, nonetheless, very meandering, and the crossroads of Time and Fate at the end—along with the “happily-ever after” that Dorian and Z have—leave you at an impasse.
I will, say, however, that I do greatly appreciate the fact that this story does not end. Not really, not despite the fact that the novel concludes. And that was probably my favorite part of The Starless Sea: a story is endless even when it isn't.