No Beauties or Monsters by Tara Goedjen

Summary:
A mystery about a girl whose family secrets are as threatening as the desert that surrounds her—but whose quest to expose the truth may tear apart reality itself.
Rylie hasn’t been back to Twentynine Palms since her dad died. She left a lot of memories out there, buried in the sand of the Mojave Desert. Memories about her dad, her old friends Nathan and Lily, and most of all, her enigmatic grandfather, a man who cut ties with Rylie’s family before he passed away. But her mom’s new work assignment means their family has to move, and now Rylie’s in the one place she never wanted to return to, living in the house of a grandfather she barely knew.
At least her old friends are happy to welcome her home. Well, some of them, anyway. Lily is gone, vanished into the desert. And Twentynine Palms is so much stranger than Rylie remembers. There are whispers around town of a mysterious killer on the loose, but it isn’t just Twentynine Palms that feels off—there’s something wrong with Rylie, too. She’s seeing things she can’t explain. Visions of monstrous creatures that stalk the night.
Somehow, it all seems to be tied to her grandfather and the family cabin he left behind. Rylie wants the truth, but she doesn’t know if she can trust herself. Are the monsters in her head really out there? Or could it be that the deadliest thing in the desert . . . is Rylie herself?

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
I have to say, this book was freaking weird, but in a good way, I think. The story follows Rylie just after her family has moved back to Twentynine Palms (a military base in California). Weird things are happening here and Rylie can’t be sure if she’s remembering things from the summers she spent staying with her grandfather, or if she’s just losing her mind.
I want to say that the mystery of this story was a good one, but I don’t know that it was. I was incredibly confused for most of this story and not in a fun, slowly putting the pieces together kind of way. I just genuinely had no clue what was going on. Rylie is having weird gaps in her memory, trying to remember with hypnosis, but remembering even weirder things that just don’t make any sense. I will say that when we find out what the big twist is, all of the confusion and weird puzzle pieces absolutely make sense. So, it’s a well-constructed mystery, I was just incredibly confused until the absolute last piece was revealed to the reader.
I think the setting of the desert was an interesting one. I feel like I don’t see much outside of the fantasy genre with a desert setting. But I think it worked really well for this story.
Overall, this story was absolutely bizarre. But I found myself unable to put it down until I learned what the heck was actually happening to these characters. Despite my confusion for most of the book, I was compelled to continue. The pace of the story felt quick even though things happened pretty slowly. The characters were interesting, but I didn’t feel any special attachment to them. I do think they were well developed with interesting personalities. I believe this is labeled as a horror story, but I don’t think it totally fits there. I think if anything this would be more science fiction than horror. But I want to know if anyone else has read this.  If you have, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Summary:
The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.
But can she trust them?

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. You can read my review for the first book here.
With the first book, it took me a little while to get into the story because there were a few different points of view that were all in different locations. So, we were learning characters and the world very quickly. I think that was definitely not an issue for this second book. I felt like I was immediately invested in the story since I was familiar with the world and its characters. The first book left all of the characters in pretty tumultuous places, most of them just having come into positions of power and now we’re getting to see what they’re doing with this power. Like the first book, we follow Lin, Jovis, Phalue, and sometimes Ranami. What I thought was really interesting was that Lin and Jovis’ parts of the story almost mirrored Phalue and Ranami’s parts of the story. Both Phalue and Lin have come into positions of power and seeing how they both deal with that was a really compelling part of the story. Lin faces so many challenges and obstacles. I really liked how Stewart didn’t shy away from showing us how Lin was upset and frustrated that things weren’t going her way. She has the best intentions, but the people of the Empire are resistant to accepting her and working with her. The development of all the characters was well done in my opinion. Their motivations were clear and understandable. I felt like it was easy for me to get invested in them.
With the first book, I felt the world building was a little lacking because we only saw a small picture of a larger Empire. But in this one, we get to see more of the island between Lin’s travels and Nisong’s conquests. There were still some things that were left unanswered (hello! The islands are sinking!) but there were so many things going on that the top priority issue kept changing which I feel helped the story feel like it was more fast-paced than it actually was. I was happy to get to see more of the Empire. We also learned way more about the history of the world and of Lin’s father’s backstory. I really liked learning the history and the backstory because it definitely put some pieces together.
Overall, I really liked this book. I liked it more than the first book, I think. Some of my questions from the first book were answered (we learn so much about the Algana which I totally loved and can’t wait to learn even more about) and new questions were raised. I cared about the characters and think their development was reasonable. I loved Phalue and Ranami’s romance. I liked Lin and Jovis’ but it didn’t blow me away. Jovis was honestly my biggest complaint with this book. He was so wishy-washy with whether or not he was going to spy on Lin and then he just kept making poor choices. It was incredibly frustrating. But I adored Memphi and Thrana. Their backstory is something I’m still very curious about and can’t wait to learn more about. This was a pretty good sequel and I can’t wait for book three.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg Long

Summary:
After angering a local gangster, seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen must flee with her prize fighting wolf, Iska, in tow. A team of scientists offer to pay her way off her frozen planet on one condition: she gets them to the finish line of the planet’s infamous sled race. Though Sena always swore she’d never race after it claimed both her mothers’ lives, it’s now her only option.
But the tundra is a treacherous place, and as the race unfolds and their lives are threatened at every turn, Sena starts to question her own abilities. She must discover whether she’s strong enough to survive the wild – whether she and Iska together are strong enough to get them all out alive.
A captivating debut about survival, found family, and the bond between a girl and a wolf that delivers a fresh twist on classic survival stories and frontier myths.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves follows Sena, a girl that’s just trying to earn enough money to escape the ice-covered planet she grew up on. I don’t know that I can say I liked or disliked Sena. I think I liked her by the of the story but she did so many self-destructive and just plain dumb things. Her story was compelling for sure though. So, even when I was rolling my eyes at her actions, I was interested to see what she would try next. I liked the supporting characters as well but I felt like we didn’t really get to know them very well.
The world was fascinating. Sena lives on a frozen planet where mining and the yearly races attract the wealthy and other corporations. The draw of the planet’s natural resources and the money to be made from them was a really interesting one. I think the negative light the corps were painted in was very much compared to modern society and I liked that. Aside from these, the setting was stunning with the frozen rivers and lakes and the woods full of deadly predators. But most of all, I was interested in the culture of Sena’s ama. One of Sena’s mothers left her home of the native population to be with Sena’s mom. But she still taught Sena about the culture she was raised in and I liked learning about that culture the most.
Overall, this was a pretty nicely paced story. Long did a great job of showing things instead of telling them to the reader (though there were things told, mostly bits of backstory here and there). I think I will probably read more by this author.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochran

Summary:
Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.
Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.
As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.
In this witty and heartwarming romantic comedy—reminiscent of Red, White & Royal Blue and One to Watch—an awkward tech wunderkind on a reality dating show goes off-script when sparks fly with his producer.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. This story is basically what would happen if the star of the bachelor fell in love with one of the crew members instead of one of the fellow contestants. But also, make it gay and bring some really great conversations in about mental health.
I loved this. I thought the forbidden romance between the star of the show, Charlie, and his producer, Dev, was really well done. We see them make excuses for their actions, but there’s still an ‘oh no, what if we get caught’ element to the story and that’s a trope that I totally eat up. I liked both Charlie and Dev. They both struggle with different mental illnesses. Charlie has OCD and anxiety and Dev has clinical depression. It was so heartwarming to see them interact when they were struggling with their mental illnesses and they simply asked what the other one needed. Saying “what do you need from me?” is such a simple way to show someone you love that you’re listening and that you’re there for them. I also think this book did a great job showing lots of different aspects of having a mental illness. The stigma is shown and talked about with how people with mental illness are treated in the workplace. I think the representation was so great.
Overall, I liked this book. I was easily invested in the romance. I didn’t totally hate the third act break up. I had a lot of fun with the reality tv aspect of the story too. I really loved how things turned out with the reality show. I really loved all of the characters. Dev and Charlie were a very lovable couple, but their friends were also such great additions to the story. I definitely think this one is going to be a hit with romance readers.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Dating Dare by Jayci Lee

Summary:
Tara Park doesn’t do serious relationships. Neither does she hop into bed with virtual strangers. Especially when that particular stranger is her best friend’s new brother-in-law. It isn’t an easy decision, though. Seth Kim is temptation personified. His unreasonably handsome looks and charming personality makes him easy on the eyes and good for her ego.
When a friendly game of Truth or Dare leads to an uncomplicated four-date arrangement with Seth, Tara can’t say she minds. But their dates, while sweet and sexy, have a tendency to hit roadblocks. Thankfully, their non-dates and chance meetings get frequent and heated.
Seth is leaving for a new job in Paris in a month and a no-strings attached fling seemed like a nice little distraction for both… But soon Seth realizes that Tara Park doesn’t come in a “nice & little” package–she’s funny and bold, sweet and sexy, and everything he ever wanted and never expected to find. Neither of them are ready for something serious and both have past relationship baggage they’ve been ignoring, but with a shot at forever on the line will they follow their hearts and take a chance on happily-ever-after?

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this advanced copy, here is my honest review. The Dating Dare follows Tara (who is the bff from A Sweet)and Seth (the brother of the love interest in A Sweet Mess). The story starts off at the wedding of the couple from A Sweet Mess. Tara tells Seth to stop staring at her and they are immediately flirting and the attraction between them is obvious. The issue is that both Seth and Tara have sworn off of serious relationships because they were both hurt very badly in their first serious relationships in college. So, Seth dares Tara to go on four dates with him and not fall in love with him while he’s house sitting for his brother, before he leaves to move to Paris. Obviously the two fall in love, but not without some bumps in the road.
I liked this book. It was a fun romance that had great sexual tension and flirting. The lead up and tension to the pair finally having sex was excellent. They kept finding themselves out in public or in other places where it wasn’t really appropriate to get naked and I thought that was a funny, but good way to build up the anticipation of them finally getting together. I didn’t love that both Seth and Tara had the same emotional issues. I don’t know why I didn’t like that though. There was just something about it that had me rolling my eyes a little bit. I also didn’t love that they didn’t really talk about any of those things until after they finally mended things after the third act break up.
Overall, I had fun reading this book. Their dates were fun and sweet. It was a bit funny to see them try to keep things between them a secret. I liked the familiar setting of Wheldon. And I was happy to see them end up together at the end of the book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: The Boy With Fire by Aparna Verma

Summary:
Dune meets The Poppy War in Aparna Verma’s The Boy with Fire, a glorious yet brutal tour-de-force debut that grapples with the power and manipulation of myth in an Indian-inspired epic fantasy.
Yassen Knight was the Arohassin’s most notorious assassin until a horrible accident. Now, he’s on the run from the authorities and his former employer. But when Yassen seeks refuge with an old friend, he’s offered an irresistible deal: defend the heir of Ravence from the Arohassin, and earn his freedom.
Elena Ravence prepares to ascend the throne. Trained since birth in statecraft, warfare, and the desert ways, Elena knows she is ready. She only lacks one thing: the ability to hold Fire. With the coronation only weeks away, she must learn quickly or lose her kingdom.
Leo Ravence is not ready to give up the crown. There’s still too much work to be done, too many battles to be won. But when an ancient prophecy threatens to undo his lifetime of work, Leo wages war on the heavens themselves to protect his legacy.
The first of The Ravence Trilogy, The Boy with Fire is the tale of a world teetering on the edge of war and prophecy, of fate and betrayal, of man’s irrevocable greed for power — and the sacrifices that must come with it.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced review copy. All opinions are my own. The Boy With Fire follows three points of view, for the most part. The king, Leo, his daughter and heir, Elena, and an assassin, Yassen. Yassen is defecting from the assassin organization he’s been a part of since they recruited him as an orphaned child. He’s been made a part of Elena’s guard. It’s almost time for Elena to claim the throne. Elena’s coronation is what most of this book is leading up to. Until the coronation, it’s mostly world-building and character building, as well as, the politics of the kingdom and the potential arrival of someone called the Prophet.
I thought the world-building was interesting enough. I think fantasy is just not my genre lately. I had a really hard time focusing until more than halfway into the story. It wasn’t that the world-building was overly complicated because it wasn’t. It was detailed and complex, but not so much so that it was confusing. It was interesting, I just wasn’t invested. I don’t think it was any fault of the story that I wasn’t invested either. The writing was really good. There were quite a few parts where the writing really stuck out as good and memorable. I think I just personally need to take a break from fantasy.
I felt similarly about the characters. They were all well developed and interesting. But I wasn’t invested. Again, I think this was a me thing and not really the fault of the book. I liked Elena the most because she’s about to become Queen and her father won’t prepare her in the ways that he’s supposed to. So, she takes it upon herself to train from scrolls and literature. She’s stubborn and very obviously loves her kingdom. Yassen was an interesting character too because he’s finally back home in the country he grew up in and that brings some tough memories back up. He’s also is not looked upon very favorably because of the assassin organization he was a part of. But he proves himself loyal. I think the twists involving Yassen were some of the better ones in the story and also the twist at the end with Samson was totally a surprise.
Overall, this was a well-written and well-explained fantasy world with characters that were well developed. I don’t have any negative things to say about the story aside from the fact that I wasn’t really invested in any of it, the world or the characters. But, one last time, I think that’s a personal thing that I’m dealing with for the genre of fantasy at the moment and not the fault of the story.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: Luminous by Mara Rutherford

Summary:
Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.
To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos–and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for a review. I was actually supposed to read and review this for a blog tour, but my life is a mess and I completely forgot. So, here we are, better late than never they say, right?
This story follows Liora who is a witch. Her powers include glowing like a star (and more as we follow her journey in this story). She’s been kept hidden her whole life because there is a powerful mage, Darius, that seeks out other mages and kills them or makes them come work for him at the palace. One thing leads to another, and Liora is found out by Darius. But instead of taking Liora to the palace, he takes her younger sister, Mina, as leverage. This also leads to Liora taking an apprenticeship with her neighbor, the mother of the boy that Liora is in love with. Her neighbor is a weaver and she can weave things and make them come to life. This adds some complications to the story.
This was very much a story about Liora finding herself and learning about her power. Everything that happens plot-wise in this book was so that Liora would use her magic in ways she’s never been able to and in turn, learn more about herself. I liked Liora. She was curious but cautious. She cares so much for her friends and family that she’s putting herself in danger for them. She just had a really big heart which we see by how she feels sympathy for Darius after she learns of how he came to be the way he is. Darius was definitely the most interesting character. He’s the villain of the story, and rightfully so, but as we get to know him from his sharing with Liora, his childhood was not an easy one. I thought his ending was a fitting one. But I did end up really liking him.
The magic was absolutely the best part of this story. Every mage has a different ability. Liora is basically a star. We see a mage that controls shadows, one that can teleport, another that can shapeshift, and one that can read minds and speak telepathically. I thought it was really interesting that no two mages had the same ability.
The romance was good. It’s the childhood friends to lovers trope, which is usually one of my favorites. And while I enjoyed them and was happy with how their story ended, I couldn’t help but hope for some romance with the villain.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. The writing was good. It kept me interested and the story felt like it was moving right along even though things didn’t really get exciting until about halfway through. The characters were well developed and interesting. I just had a hard time feeling attached to them. This was a really unique and compelling standalone fantasy that I think many people will love.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

Summary:
Travis Wren has an unusual talent for locating missing people. Hired by families as a last resort, he requires only a single object to find the person who has vanished. When he takes on the case of Maggie St. James—a well-known author of dark, macabre children’s books—he’s led to a place many believed to be only a legend.
Called Pastoral, this reclusive community was founded in the 1970s by like-minded people searching for a simpler way of life. By all accounts, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore and soon after Travis stumbles upon it… he disappears. Just like Maggie St. James.
Years later, Theo, a lifelong member of Pastoral, discovers Travis’s abandoned truck beyond the border of the community. No one is allowed in or out, not when there’s a risk of bringing a disease—rot—into Pastoral. Unraveling the mystery of what happened reveals secrets that Theo, his wife, Calla, and her sister, Bee, keep from one another. Secrets that prove their perfect, isolated world isn’t as safe as they believed—and that darkness takes many forms.
Hauntingly beautiful, hypnotic, and bewitching, A History of Wild Places is a story about fairy tales, our fear of the dark, and losing yourself within the wilderness of your mind.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. I loved Ernshaw’s two YA novels, so when I heard she was publishing an adult novel, I was incredibly excited. I have to say, it did not disappoint.
The story starts off following Travis who is looking for a missing woman. Travis is grieving the death of his sister who recently committed suicide. He’s not in a super great place. So, when his longtime friend asks him to take on one more case of trying to find a missing woman, it takes some convincing to get him to help. You see, Travis can see memories within objects. So, he follows the path that Maggie took and it leads him to Pastoral. Pastoral is a town in the middle of the woods that most people don’t even know exist. The people in this town live off the land and never leave their town. The story changes a bit from here. We follow Calla, Theo, and Bee who all live in Pastoral and have lived there for many years.
I have to say that the switch from Travis’s point of view to the alternating points of view of Calla, Theo, and Bee was a little jarring. I totally see why the author did this the way that she did. But I liked Travis and I was immediately invested in his story and following him while he searched for Maggie. Though, I think the changing of the points of view did a great job of creating suspense and mystery because it really left me wondering what happened to Travis after he found Pastoral. I liked Theo right away. He pushed the boundaries of what was “acceptable” for their community. And though he kept it a secret, his wife, Calla, knew that something was up with him. I didn’t really like Calla until she and Theo were finally on the same page. I liked her once the two of them were working together. Bee was my favorite. Bee is Calla’s sister and all three of them live together in the farmhouse that Bee and Calla grew up in. Bee is blind, her vision disappeared when she was younger. But because of that, her other senses are heightened. This fact is exaggerated to almost make it seem like Bee has magic. I think I liked Bee the most because she pushed boundaries and spoke her mind. She wasn’t a super likable character, always abrasive and doing what she needed to to help herself with what she was going through.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I would definitely recommend it. I think if you enjoyed Ernshaw’s previous two books, you’ll like this one too. It’s a winding story that builds and builds before it spills all of its secrets. The setting of Pastoral was a fascinating one and the characters were a group that I easily found myself invested in. I will be looking forward to more adult works from this author.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman

Summary:
The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.
Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.
The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world–one thought long depleted.
This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly: a choice – accept their fate or rewrite their story.
But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. I was a bit disappointed by All of Us Villains, honestly. It’s pitched as “Hunger Games but with magic” which isn’t wrong, but I just didn’t love it.
We meet Alistair first. He’s supposed to be a monster. This is a self-given title as well as one that’s been thrust upon him by his family and the rest of the town. But his actions and feelings don’t support that title at all. We’re told he’s a monster but we’re not shown anything monstrous from him. The same goes for Briony except in the opposite direction. She claims to want to be a hero when she’s wanted a place as one of the seven champions and to win the tournament her whole life. But when she’s not chosen, she does some pretty monstrous things. We’re shown that she’s a monster even if she’s whiney and pathetic about it.
As for the other characters, I just didn’t care about them. I didn’t care about the romance between two of the points of view, I didn’t care about their struggles or any of it. They all knew what they were getting into with being champions of their family and going into the tournament. I was intrigued by what Briony was trying to accomplish, but not enough.
I think the magic could have been really interesting, with the magic that’s stored in stones to be used at a later time. And the stored magic needs to be carefully crafted with the risk of damage to the caster a possibility. But the silly names for the spells really took me out of the story every time they were used.
Overall, I wanted to like this story more than I did. I didn’t really like any of the characters because we’re told they are one thing but they act completely against that. I think the setting was an interesting one that was entirely overlooked. Finally, the ending really put me off. They never finished the tournament one way or the other. So many things were left still up in the air and the story felt like it just cut off before it was actually supposed to be over.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda. 

Little Thieves by Margaret Owen

Summary:
Vanja Schmidt knows that no gift is freely given, not even a mother’s love–and she’s on the hook for one hell of a debt. Vanja, the adopted goddaughter of Death and Fortune, was Princess Gisele’s dutiful servant up until a year ago. That was when Vanja’s otherworldly mothers demanded a terrible price for their care, and Vanja decided to steal her future back… by stealing Gisele’s life for herself.
The real Gisele is left a penniless nobody while Vanja uses an enchanted string of pearls to take her place. Now, Vanja leads a lonely but lucrative double life as princess and jewel thief, charming nobility while emptying their coffers to fund her great escape. Then, one heist away from freedom, Vanja crosses the wrong god and is cursed to an untimely end: turning into jewels, stone by stone, for her greed.
Vanja has just two weeks to figure out how to break her curse and make her getaway. And with a feral guardian half-god, Gisele’s sinister fiancé, and an overeager junior detective on Vanja’s tail, she’ll have to pull the biggest grift yet to save her own life.
Margaret Owen, author of The Merciful Crow series, crafts a delightfully irreverent retelling of “The Goose Girl” about stolen lives, thorny truths, and the wicked girls at the heart of both.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. I have to be honest. I only requested this book because of my friend Avhlee over at Tea Cups and Torn Pages. She loves Owen’s books and was fangirling about this one in the group chat for long enough that when I saw it on NetGalley, I had to request it.
I’m so glad that I did because I really, really enjoyed this book. The story follows Vanja, who was given to the Low Gods Death and Fortune when she was just a small child. She was the thirteenth child of the thirteenth child, so her birth mother believed her to be bad luck. Once Vanja got to a certain age, she couldn’t stay with Death and Fortune (titled as godmothers to Vanja) anymore, so they found her a position in a castle where she met more mistreatment. Vanja has led a hard life and because of that she has quite a sizable chip on her shoulder. She steals her mistress’s (Gisele) life while traveling and proceed to steal from the rich people she must be around while playing the role of Gisele. But she crosses the wrong Low God and is cursed for her greed. On top of that, a junior prefect arrives looking for the thief known as the “Red Penny” (who is Vanja).
This is a Goose Girl retelling, but that doesn’t actually mean anything to me because I’m not familiar with the original Goose Girl story. So, I can’t speak to the retelling aspect of the story. But I loved Vanja. She’s been treated poorly her entire life, so who could really blame her for finally taking things into her own hands to secure her future? Certainly not me. But even further, the mystery and magic surrounding the case that Vanja and the junior prefect team up to solve was a fascinating one. Owen did an incredibly job of weaving all the mysteries in the story together. How was Vanja going to break the curse? Who was trying to kill princess Gisele? There were lots of questions and the suspense of finding the answers was really well done. I also just plain liked Vanja. She does whatever she needs to survive. But she’s incredibly clever and resilient.
Without going into too many details because I don’t want to spoil anything, this book really had it all. There was a romance between two women. There was a romance for Vanja. There was a sister-like relationship that was pretty fractured at the start of the story that we got to see slowly mended. There was murder and mystery. There was magic and fascinating world building. I loved the idea of the Low Gods and their magic. I really loved everything about this book. There wasn’t a single moment that I thought, “oh this book would be better if XYZ.” I really loved this book and I highly recommend it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Truth of the Divine by Lindsay Ellis

Summary:
The human race is at a crossroads; we know that we are not alone, but details about the alien presence on Earth are still being withheld from the public. As the political climate grows more unstable, the world is forced to consider the ramifications of granting human rights to nonhuman persons. How do you define “person” in the first place?
Cora Sabino not only serves as the full-time communication intermediary between the alien entity Ampersand and his government chaperones but also shares a mysterious bond with him that is both painful and intimate in ways neither of them could have anticipated. Despite this, Ampersand is still keen on keeping secrets, even from Cora, which backfires on them both when investigative journalist Kaveh Mazandarani, a close colleague of Cora’s unscrupulous estranged father, witnesses far more of Ampersand’s machinations than anyone was meant to see.
Since Cora has no choice but to trust Kaveh, the two must work together to prove to a fearful world that intelligent, conscious beings should be considered persons, no matter how horrifying, powerful, or malicious they may seem. Making this case is hard enough when the public doesn’t know what it’s dealing with—and it will only become harder when a mysterious flash illuminates the sky, marking the arrival of an agent of chaos that will light an already-unstable world on fire.
With a voice completely her own and more than a million YouTube subscribers, Lindsay Ellis deepens her realistic exploration of the reality of a planet faced with the presence of extraterrestrial intelligence, probing the essential questions of humanity and decency, and the boundaries of the human mind.
While asking the question of what constitutes a “person,” Ellis also examines what makes a monster.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. I made the mistake of reading some of the reviews of the first book once I finished reading Axiom’s End. I had a lot of fun reading that book and enjoyed it without taking it too seriously. But since I did read reviews, I couldn’t help but think about the things mentioned while I was reading this sequel.
While we get more of the unique alien situation that I enjoyed from the first book, there’s more than just hinting at a romantic relationship with an alien. Some people may want that, but I do not. Something about the idea of Cora and Ampersand going from friends (potentially family members) to something more romantic made me feel uncomfortable. I was sad about this because I really loved their friendship from the first book. We do get more of that friendship at the start of this book, but it quickly turned into thoughts of more, and then they were both having mental health crises’ for essentially the rest of the book. So, I still liked the aliens in this book. I think they’re unique and seem to be well thought out. I just didn’t like the hinting at a romantic relationship.
The idea of the human/alien romance was nixed when Kaveh came into the picture. He’s a reporter for the New York Times. He’s significantly older than Cora (not my preferred romance trope, but I know many people like that). I really liked Kaveh for the first half of the book, but then things about his and Cora’s romantic relationship started to make me feel uncomfortable. He does thinks like think about how he probably shouldn’t have sex with Cora at the moment because she just had a panic attack. Or that it’s very obvious her body is saying no even when her words are telling him to do it anyway. I get that she’s consenting vocally, but she clearly needs some mental health help, and having sex with her while she’s dealing with that didn’t feel right. Small things like this happened again and again in their relationship. I was sad to feel this way because I really liked Kaveh and I wanted to be able to wholeheartedly root for his romance with Cora, but I just couldn’t with all the red flags.
The final thing I want to mention is the writing. I didn’t really notice it in the first book, but after reading reviews where it was often brought up, I couldn’t help it. The writing was not good. Ellis uses phrases like “veins clogged with vehicular cholesterol” and it totally took me out of the story having to think about these metaphors she was trying and failing to use. The one that took me out of the story the most was seeing the word “carefuller” in the book. Even my iPhone (where I’m typing this review immediately after finishing this book) is telling me that this word is incorrect. I think listening to the audiobook for the first book and the skill of the narrator didn’t make the poor writing as obvious, but I read an eARC of this one and there were so many weird metaphors and clunky sentences that I highlighted that I can’t reasonably include them all.
Overall, I finished this book instead of DNF’ing it, so I would say that I was invested enough to finish the story until the end (which was incredibly unsatisfying). I’m not sure if that says more about this book or the first one. But I liked the concept of the aliens and the conversations of the politics of “what kind of rights would humanity give to an alien species on earth.” I think Ellis did a good job with the political aspect of the idea of aliens on earth. I just don’t think, overall, that this was a very good sequel. I ended up disliking many of the characters I grew to care about in the first book. I’m not sure if there are supposed to be more installments in this series, but if so, I probably won’t continue it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Summary:
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. I grabbed this one from a ‘read now’ email I got from NetGalley. I saw a few trusted book friends hype it up online and then saw that it was about giant fighting robots and an angry girl. So, that’s really all I knew going into the story. But I was already super interested just from those two things. There was an interesting author’s note before the start of my eARC copy of the book where the author talked a bit about how this story was inspired by the only female Empress that Chima ever had. She mentions that this book is heavily inspired by her own Chinese culture, but that specific woman in history really stuck with her and she wrote this as a retelling of sorts, of how the author thought that Empress might be as a teenage girl in the world that the author created for this story.
We follow Zetian Wu as she’s about to enlist herself as a concubine-pilot for the Chrysalis (the giant fighting robots). This is a position that many families pressure their daughters into singing up for despite knowing that most concubine pilots will die. Zetian isn’t signing up for any reason other than to kill the pilot that murdered her sister and she knows that she will probably die soon after if she succeeds. I’m not explaining the Chrysalis very well, they’re complicated machines that are gifts from the gods, and the actual science behind how they’re built isn’t really explained, but the way that they’re piloted was absolutely fascinating. When Zetian succeeds in her mission, she’s surprised that she isn’t immediately killed afterward. Instead, she’s paired with another pilot: the famous murderer. This is where the story really takes off.
Iron Widow is action-packed and will suck you into the story so quickly. Between the fighting robots and the unlikely team that Zetian finds herself in, it’s hard not to get pulled into the story until you’re spat out at the end left wondering what the heck just happened. The world-building was phenomenal. We see the world through Zetian’s eyes, so it’s easy to be angry about the way women are treated. And when she uncovers some of the military’s secrets that prove this unfair treatment, I raged right alongside the characters. I would have loved to know more about the gods of this world, but I think that’s something we will get in the next book if the ending of this one was giving any hints about what’s to come. I’d also loved to have known more about the nomads that Zetian meets (but it wouldn’t have really made sense in the story if that had happened. I just thought they were really interesting and maybe there was a bit of hinting that we will learn more in the next book.)
The characters were easy to love. Zetian is angry. She’s angry that her sister is dead. She’s angry about how her family treats her. She’s angry about how her mother and grandmother are treated. She’s angry about the way the world treats women. Then she realizes that she just might be able to do something about that unfair treatment. I loved her. I was angry right along with her. The author made it so easy to feel the things that Zetian was feeling. There was a smidge of a polyamorous relationship that I absolutely was rooting for. It starts off between Zetian and her second pilot, but also there’s a romance between Zetian and another character. But both are accepting that she might love them both until they realize that all three have feelings for one another. I wanted more of the three of them. I loved the way the romance was developed. We got to see a slow formation of the dynamic between the three of them, but I wanted more of it. It felt cut short, but I’m hoping that we will get more of that in the next book.
Overall, I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was beautiful and enraging, compelling, and fast-paced. It had characters that were easy to root for and love. There was a romance that I couldn’t help but get invested in. Plus the giant fighting robots, of course.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

Summary:
Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.
Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. She lost all her friends. Her boyfriend dumped her. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.
But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?

Book Cover

Review:
I’m a part of the blog tour for You Can Go Your Own Way. So, thank you to Inkyard Press and NetGalley for this advanced copy to read and review honestly.
This was a fun story full of love and nods to the city of Philadelphia. I’m from New England and I’ve never been to Philly, but Smith’s love for the city definitely shone through. I could, however, absolutely related to the weather problems that the characters had to deal with in the story. Adam and Whitney get ‘trapped’ in Adam’s family arcade during a blizzard. The thing with the weather though is that they had warning, they all knew the snow was coming. I’m not sure what the snow is usually like in PA, but in New England, if there’s a risk of a blizzard, everything is shut down. From what it sounded like, they don’t do a super great job clearing and salting the roads. So, one would assume that they would close everything down as well (which eventually happened, but way too late to be realistic in my experience).
Despite my personal issues with the weather, I liked both Adam and Whitney as individuals. They both have things that they’re dealing with and needing to work through. For Adam, he’s still grieving his father but he also really needs to learn to move on and let things go. He’s letting himself get stuck in the past and unable to look toward the future. Whitney is a people pleaser, specifically her father. She craves his attention and the only way she thinks she can get it is by working for his business (a rival to Adam’s family arcade.) But running the social media and worrying about her father’s business is negatively affecting the rest of her life. Her friends are really not great. Her boyfriend breaks up with her. Adam and Whitney are connected by their past. They’re childhood friends that drifted when they got to high school.
The synopsis was a little misleading since I thought the whole book was going to be the day/night they were trapped in the arcade, but there’s so much more to the story than that. I really enjoyed the book. I think Whitney and Adam were interesting and well-developed characters. I liked them as individuals and how they came back together to be friends again and then more than that. I loved the setting. I especially liked the bits we got to see of the business’s social media interactions with one another. They were really funny at times. I definitely think this will be a hit for fans of YA contemporary books.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling

Summary:
Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him.
By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for an advanced copy of The Death of Jane Lawrence in exchange for an honest review. This story follows Jane, a woman that is seeking a platonic marriage of convenience so that she is no longer the responsibility of her foster family. She meets with Augustine Lawrence, a local doctor, who eventually agrees to her proposal. But she’s never allowed to stay overnight at his family home, Lindrige Hall. As things tend to go in stories, the first night they are married, Jane’s carriage is washed off the road on its way to town by a rain storm, so the only alternative is that Jane walks back and stays the night with Augustine at Lindrige Hall. This is when things start to get creepy.
I really liked Jane. I thought her backstory and character development were well done. We didn’t get her life’s story dumped on us, but instead got to know her as the story developed. We learned that she was a level headed, logical woman. But the things happening at Lindrige Hall were anything but logical. It was really interesting to see Jane in a situation where her brain couldn’t use reason and logic to explain what was going on around her. I liked Augustine, too. He had secrets that he never thought he would have to share with Jane. It was a marriage of convenience, after all. But when his secrets start coming out, the reader isn’t left with a clear idea of whether or not Augustine is a good or bad person. He was a complicated man and Jane’s growing romantic feelings for him didn’t make things any easier.
The mystery and weirdness of Lindrige Hall made this story excellently spooky. There are ghosts, we think. But they might not actually be ghosts. There’s magic, but is magic actually real? I guess it’s only real if you believe that it’s real. There was so much that defied the logic that Jane depended upon and this really added some confusion to the story, in a good way.
Overall, The Death of Jane Lawrence is the perfect book for October. It’s creepy and atmospheric. It’s weird and confusing. It leaves the reader wondering ‘what the heck is actually going on?’ But all the things that the reader learns are wrapped up for the most part by the end of the story. I liked the characters, the setting, and the magic. I would definitely recommend this one and I will be seeking out Starling’s backlist very soon.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: Cazadora by Romina Garber

Summary:
In Cazadora, Romina Garber weaves together Argentine folklore and what it means to be illegal in a timely, intimate, and emotionally powerful narrative.
Werewolves. Witches. Romance. Resistance.
Enter a world straight out of Argentine folklore…
Following the events of Lobizona, Manu and her friends cross the mystical border into Kerana–a cursed realm in Argentina–searching for allies and a hiding place. As they chase down leads about the Coven–a mythical resistance manada that might not even exist–the Cazadores chase down leads about Manu, setting up traps to capture and arrest her.
Just as it seems the Cazadores have Manu and her friends cornered, the Coven answers their call for help. As Manu catches her breath among these non-conforming Septimus, she discovers they need a revolution as much as she does.
But is she the right one to lead them? After all, hybrids aren’t just outlawed. They’re feared and reviled. What happens when the Coven learns of Manu’s dual heritage? Will they still protect her? Or will they betray her?
And after running this far, for this long–how much farther can Manu go before her feet get tired, and she stops to take a stand?

Book Cover

Review:
Thank you NetGalley and the publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review. Cazadora starts off not long after Lobizona ends, which I liked (find my review here!) I prefer books that start right after the events of previous books. I don’t like when books jump a bunch of time and things supposedly happen in that time that the reader is just told about. I also really liked how the author refreshed the readers memory about events from the previous book. I was going to try to read Lobizona again, but I ended up deciding to just jump into Cazadora and see what happened. Garber reminded me of things from the previous book without dumping a bunch of information into the story.
We still follow Manu and friends, but they’re on the run and trying to figure out a plan for what comes next. It felt like there was a bit of aimlessness for the characters where they sort of just ran because they didn’t know what else to do. But when they find the Coven things picked up and I really liked that. Once the friends have a goal and a plan, the story was excellent again. I think once a plan was made the pace really picked up and stayed steady for the rest of the book.
I still liked all of the characters like I did from the first book. Manu, while still uncertain of who she really is, was brave and admirable. She’s had so many titles, but is still trying to figure out who the real Manu is. I liked this part of the story. I also liked that her friends had their own parts of the plot too. Some of them are struggling with their magic and others are working through relationship issues. I liked that they all had their own part to play in the story instead of just being there to support Manu.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I want more from this world and these characters. I’m sad to see that this is only a duology. But I’m hoping that this series does well enough that Garber will write more books set in this same world.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.