Thank you NetGalley and DAW for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Set against the glory and tragedy of ancient Roman Egypt, this novel brings to life the greatest love story of all time.
Sixteen-year-old Hal Stevens is a budding historical scholar from a small town in Colorado. A virtual outcast at high school, he has only two friends: Roberto the Biker Witch and Cleo Mallawi. Cleo claims to be the reincarnation of Queen Cleopatra. She also believes she's being stalked by an ancient Egyptian demon, Ammut, the Devourer of the Dead.
But when Hal and Roberto find Cleo murdered in the forest near her home, it appears she may have been telling the truth. Her last request sends them journeying to Egypt with famed archaeologist Dr. James Moriarity, where it quickly becomes clear that Cleo has set them on the search of a lifetime: the search for the lost graves of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.
But they are not alone in their search. Cleo's murderers are watching their every move. And not all of them are human... (Amazon)
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Genre: Fantasy / Mystery
Rating: 2 stars
I fell in love with mythology and the history that surrounds it around the age of thirteen-years-old, when my English teacher, at the time, introduced me to Greek myths. That led to me digging up more on my own, and my fascination with Greek mythology evolved into Roman, Egyptian, Norse and Celtic. So, whenever a novel crosses my path that deals in any sort of mythology, I am eagerly and instantly fascinated by it.
I wanted to enjoy Cries from the Lost Island as much as I had hoped that I might, but from the beginning the novel grated on me.
First, I see this listed as an adult novel. There are certainly adult characters in this novel, but this is at best a young adult story with a tone to match.
The characters in this novel were very difficult to read and therefore get to know. Their emotions, especially when they were in the throes of a dramatic moment, tended to shift and swerve from one end to the other so fast that you were left wondering exactly how they were feeling. And aside from the relationship between Roberto and Hal, it's not easy to come to terms with any real transparency about how others feel toward each other. They all act as if they are hiding something up their sleeves while waiting for the right moment to reveal this mysterious tidbit.
As characters—especially Hal—introduced to us different pieces of the story, especially if they were related to the mythology and history of Egypt, it was like sitting in a lecture class. Now, please take into account that I am a huge fan of Egyptian mythology, and history in this regard is fascinating. But there's a way to balance this out into storytelling so that it doesn't make a monotonous overflow of information for the reader, so much so that it can be overwhelming. And it happened often. Frankly, I felt like Roberto half the time, who may—or may not—usually regurgitate the facts that were spewed to him incorrectly.
It was a lot.
Speaking of Roberto, he was by far my favorite part of the story. Any time that the novel might start to lag, even slightly slightly, he was there with humor and a quick wit to save the day. He's an integral part of the story, and even though Halloran is our lead, I deferred to Roberto in preference of character dynamic and strength. Make no mistake, the novel overall is not unpleasant; it propels at a nice speed, and once we reach Egypt things start to move along a lot more smoothly than they did in its rather abrupt beginning.
Nonetheless, I felt like too much in this novel seemed either unbelievable—like the fact that the parents of a distraught teenager who has just lost his best friend would be encouraged and pushed into going across the world to “grieve” rather than receive emotional support at home from those who say they love him—or nonsensical. Such as the ending, which made me made me cringe as Hal and Roberto hauled around the thousands' year old mummified and newly-found corpse of Marcus Antonius (which they shoved into their bag and hauled around for weeks) so that they could take it into an open cave. In this cave, apparently the body of Cleopatra VII had been resting all this time, and by laying Marcus Antonius with her they would ensure that the two could be together in the afterlife, the story's main purpose. It's a nice and romantic notion in the end, but the steps taken to get there are shoddy at best.
All in all, Cries from the Lost Island has a lovely presentation, that unfortunately fell short for me in its delivery.
Thank you NetGalley and Harper Voyager for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: Queen Everleigh Blair of Bellona has survived the mass murder of the royal family, become a fearsome warrior trained by an elite gladiator troupe, and unleashed her ability to destroy magic. After surviving yet another assassination attempt orchestrated by the conniving king of Morta, Evie has had enough. It’s time to turn the tables and take the fight to her enemies.
There is no better opportunity to strike than during the Regalia Games, a time when warriors, nobles, and royals from all the kingdoms come together to compete in various sporting events. With the help of her loyal friends, Evie goes on the attack at the Regalia, but things don’t turn out the way she hopes. Soon, she is facing a terrifying new threat, and she will have to dig deep and learn even more about her growing magic if she has any chance of defeating her foes.
Because to secure her throne and ensure her kingdom’s survival, Evie must think like a true Bellonan: she must outsmart and outwit her enemies . . . and crush the king. (Amazon)
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Rating: 4 stars
The king is dead, long live the queens, and the Crown of Shards series seems to have come to an end. Everleigh has worked, trained, sweated and bled from the moment that her family was slaughtered in Kill the Queen to this point, and the ending was as fitting as it was deserving.
The star of Crush the King, from the moment that he made the first appearance, was Maximus. Despite the overdone name that he has been granted, he is a delightful villain and exerts the power and cruelty that befits his personality and station beautifully. Maximus drove the story, and even though he is the “bad guy,” he is a pleasure to read. I was almost rooting for him to win that last battle against Evie, and while her success was crucial, I believe that it was far too easily obtained. To go against a powerful magier—no matter how he gained his power—that has been on the throne for years and beat him, when you have been using your own power to its full potential and training in battle tactics for a mere few months was not quite believable. The thing that saved this face-off resulting in Maximus' death was Maeven's interference and the fact that his end came at her hand.
Living through the Regalia Games was as entertaining as I imagined it would be. The story certainly brought to life the energy that everyone seemed to be exuding throughout the three days of celebration. It was, as usual, great to be in the forefront for the gladiator games that were presented—Paloma shone in her fight against Mercer, and her defeat of him was one of my favorite scenes, overall, from the three books—and interesting to visit the island of Fortuna.
And the many assassination attempts on Evie and her friends did not disappoint. As usual, they were as fun to behold as they have been this whole time, with the pinnacle of them all being Evie's stand-off on the bridge leading to/from Bellona against the Bastard Brigade. You always know that she is going to win these moments—which is relieving, and a let down, because sometimes a loss introduces even more possibility for drama that is not overdone but rather interesting—but they are still diverting.
This book does not feel like the last of the lot, because there is still so much that seems to have been left open-ended. From the possibility that Maeven will come after Evie again, to Seraphine DiLucri's mysterious interest in the Bellonan queen, to the fact that I am almost positive Leonidas is the boy that Gemma came across when she, Xenia and Alvis were escaping Bellona for Andvari in the first book and how that might pop back up in the future for the benefit or detriment of the two kingdoms. Especially considering how powerful both youths have the potential of being. I don't know if more story will be introduced at a later date, but a spin-off would be fitting.
Everleigh's character concluded itself to be a good queen for Bellona in the end after all, and the maturing that she has gone through has come at a steady pace. It fits well. However, the abilities that she has attained sometimes don't come across too clearly in action, and her incessant descriptions of scents as relating to emotions—as well as her mention of playing “the long game”--are repeated so many times that they are tiring. And distracting. At this point, I look at anything scented “vanilla” and the name of Sullivan pops into my mind automatically.
Speaking of, her relationship with Sullivan, although sparkling at the beginning, oddly enough diluted for me by the time that we arrived at this book. I am glad that they're together, but reading their scenes was more so settling rather than satisfying. I do think that the cast of secondary characters as a whole—namely the tight group of friends on her side—deserve(d) more attention and more life of their own. It left me wanting, and it's another reason why this book seems like it has paused in the middle of this series rather than at its end.
I still flew through this book, and there was plenty of action to keep one glued to its pages. It's a captivating installment, and while it may not seem as the last even if that's the impression that it means to give, it certainly closed on a good note.
Synopsis: Everleigh Blair might be the new gladiator queen of Bellona, but her problems are far from over.
First, Evie has to deal with a court full of arrogant, demanding nobles, all of whom want to get their greedy hands on her crown. As if that wasn’t bad enough, an assassin tries to kill Evie in her own throne room.
Despite the dangers, Evie goes ahead with a scheduled trip to the neighboring kingdom of Andvari in order to secure a desperately needed alliance. But complicating matters is the stubborn Andvarian king, who wants to punish Evie for the deaths of his countrymen during the Seven Spire massacre.
Dark forces are also at work inside the Andvarian palace, and Evie soon realizes that no one is safe. Worse, her immunity to magic starts acting in strange, unexpected ways, which makes Evie wonder whether she is truly strong enough to be a Winter Queen.
Evie’s magic, life, and crown aren’t the only things in danger—so is her heart, thanks to Lucas Sullivan, the Andvarian king’s bastard son and Evie’s … well, Evie isn’t quite sure what Sullivan is to her.
Only one thing is certain—protecting a prince might be even harder than killing a queen… (Amazon)
Publication Date: July 2, 2019
Rating: 3 stars
Odd, it seems, when the second book in a series falls shorter than the first. If anything, the initial book might sometimes seem a little weak since it's the one that builds the world of a series, slowly introducing all the aspects that we need. But, once in a while the case appears backwards, and this was one of those moments.
Make no mistake, I enjoyed Protect the Prince regardless of any shortcomings. This story is still a lot of fun, with endearing characters to boot, and an entertaining plot full of mayhem and intrigue. But those beforementioned shortcomings were rather pronounced, and not easy to ignore.
Most of the book centers around Evie visiting Andvari so that she may meet with its king, and not only smooth over the murder of his youngest son and trusted advisor by Vasilia, but to create a pact between both kingdoms so that they can stand together against the enemy kingdom of Morta. The start of it all was excellent, very believable with the Andvarians less than eager to not only have Evie in their home, but with any chance of brooking an agreement with her. Evie's less than stellar hold on her reign is more than expected, well portrayed, and I still had a bit of difficulty picturing her in the role.
All in all, it all fit once one takes into consideration everything that she has been through until this point. But once we enter the second half of the book, things begin to get a little messy.
Characters, especially the closer they are to one another, tend to be incredibly dramatic. They're over the top. There are so many exclamation points—especially between Sullivan and Evie—that you can't help but wince. Yes, Sullivan, it's exciting that Evie has woken up after being almost killed, but since you have woken up and watched her for about ten seconds, suddenly screaming out her name and rushing to her side is a little bit delayed. And while I am a fan of Sullivan and Evie as a couple (thank goodness that finally came to fruition, albeit slightly less explosively than I had hoped for), their story in Protect the Prince went through a lot more turbulence than was necessary.
Evie's big plan to become engaged to Dominic so that she can be close to him, protect him, and therefore attract the attention of those trying to kill him so that they may turn on her and therefore be caught (I'm winded just writing that), was a little weak. It felt like a forced attempt to introduce more turmoil into the relationship between her and Sullivan, and in the end it was less than necessary. Dominic was never again targetted, and she was going to be sought out by Maeven and her assassins eventually.
They have, after all, been attempting to kill her since the beginning of Kill the Queen. This is not going to change until one of them is dead.
The culprit behind the ploy to murder king Heinrich and Dominic was very evident the moment that Evie began to go after Helene, so there was no surprise there. And while it is starting to seem typical for the Mortan “bastards” to kill themselves—or be murdered—once they're revealed or captured, taking their secrets to the grave, it's beginning to get a little old. Keeping Dahlia alive would have not only added another facet to the story, but it would have been fascinating to see how Sullivan, as her son—and Heinrich, as her lifetime lover—would have dealt with that, giving us even more depth into their tale.
Things wrapped up somewhat weakly despite Evie and Sullivan's declaration of love—which was sweet, even if quite sappy for them—but I'm still holding out hope that the next installment will restore this series to what it started off as being (totally exciting, without pause).
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.