An Overdue Review | The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Title: The Wolf and the Woodsman
Author: Ava Reid
Narrator(s): Saskia Maarleveld
Run Time: 13 hours, 10 minutes
Source: Finished Copy Provided by Publisher; Purchased (Audiobook Copy)
Trigger Warnings: Mutilation, self harm, gore and blood, abuse by a parental figure, ostracization, bullying and harassment, cultural genocide, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, antisemitism allegory (NOTE: If you notice I’ve missed any trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant

Purchase: Bookshop | Libro.fm | Book Depository


PLEASE NOTE:

1. I received a finished copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman in advance of publication in exchange for an honest review. This has not affected my review and all opinions expressed in the following review are my own.

2. This post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission if you use them to purchase an item.


Hey there, friends! How’s it going? I hope you’re doing well and, if not, I hope better days head your way soon!

Well, pals, it would appear I’m just not having the best run of luck when it comes to reading lately, because I’m sad to admit that I’ve read another book that was a swing and a miss.

Now, I went into The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid expecting to be absolutely enchanted and to fall completely in love the book. So, of course, you can probably guess what happened next. Yes, that is correct, I was sorely disappointed.

The thing that really disappoints me about The Wolf and the Woodsman is that, despite the fact that I had a lot of issues with the book, I also could see how much amazing the potential the story had, and that Reid has as a writer. Unfortunately, I don’t think that potential was fully realized in The Wolf and the Woodsman. Let’s take a look at my thoughts…

plot & pacing

So, first off, if you’re typically a YA reader going into this book because you’re thinking it might be a YA/Adult crossover title with a faster pace and/or a more action-based plot than is typical for Adult fantasies, let me clear that up for you: it’s not. The Wolf and the Woodsman is very much an Adult fantasy book, not only in content, but also in pace and overall tone. This fact is actually tied into my main issue with the plot: the lack of consistent forward motion highlighted that the story seemed to consist mainly of a lot of filler events with little connection, instead of actual plot.

Evike and Gaspar spend the first half of the book traveling and it just felt like nothing that occurred during this section was truly essential to the story. To be fair, maybe it was just me and my personal tastes because I tend to despise traveling/journey plotlines? But, for instance, the first half of the novel is spent traveling north in search of a magical object, only to turn around without having found the object in question and go somewhere totally different and unrelated in order to do things which are also unrelated to said artifact. WHAT WAS THE POINT?!?!! And yes—at the tail end of the book, the artifact is found by Evike and Gaspar in the place they traveled to in the first half, but there was still no reason why the first journey was essential to the story! And the problem is that this is just one example of plotlines that felt inessential to the story.

I also had some major issues with the climax and resolution, which I won’t go into except to say that there was an obscene amount of plot armor utilized, topped off with deus ex machina.

characters

evike

I’ll admit that in all honesty Evike wasn’t a character who I clicked with. She struck me as childishly petulant and reckless and while I understood her emotional motivations for acting in such a way, her behavior also didn’t feel particularly…smart?…for someone who was the survivor of a brutal life for some twenty-five-ish years? Like, there were so many instances where Evike literally thought to herself, “I know I shouldn’t do or say what I’m about to…” before going ahead and doing exactly that anyway, oftentimes purely out of petulant spite. A lot of the things Evike said and did ended up frustrating me not only because they weren’t the result of smart decisions, but also because she clearly knew better!!

gaspar

Unfortunately, I wasn’t too big a fan of Gaspar either, for both personal reasons and technical, writing-based reasons.

First off, I didn’t really personally gel with him as a character. I think this was largely because, nine times out of ten, Gaspar failed to stand by the principles he clearly believed in when those principles were put to the test. It wasn’t just that this moral cowardice (for lack of a better term) made me dislike him, it also made it difficult for me to understand why a character like Evike—who was so passionate about her own morals—would ever fall for someone like him.

Second off, I feel like, ultimately, Gaspar’s characterization was inconsistent. As I mentioned in my previous point, for nearly all of the book, Gaspar fails to stand by his morals and doesn’t stand up for himself or for anyone else. In only one instance is it even implied that Gaspar is holding back in regards to his physical strength and standing up to the villain of the story. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, at the tail end of the book during the climax of the story, Gaspar decides he wants to stand up to the villain and stand by what he believes is morally right. It just felt out of left field when the entirety of the book had been spent driving home the fact that such actions are antithetical to the person who Gaspar had consistently proved to be.

supporting characters

I hate to say this, but save for the villain serving their role as, ya know, the villain, each and every one of the side characters in this book seemed entirely pointless. None of them served to highlight Evike’s or Gaspar’s personalities through showing their own unique traits and none of them served to spur any sort of personal realization and/or growth in our main two characters. They were all very much just…there. Case in point: what on earth were Tuula’s and Szabin’s purposes??? They literally just lived in the north and had a bear as a pet. Aaaand that was it. Even the villain felt hollow, with no mentioning of how or why he evolved to be who he is. It was frustrating to have such a purposeless secondary cast when these characters could’ve served to add an extra layer of richness and depth to the story.

world building & atmosphere

Okay, so I know it may seem like I didn’t like anything about this book, but I promise that’s not true! I did really enjoy the world building and atmosphere! Reid based the world and cultures of The Wolf and the Woodsman on Jewish and Hungarian cultures and it is very clear that she put a lot of care and research and genuine love into doing so. What results is a rich and intricately woven world, which feels ready to spring to life in front of your eyes. The way Reid infuses her imagery and storytelling with cultural references is *chef’s kiss*!

in conclusion

All in all, I’m sad to say this book just wasn’t for me. I went in expecting to adore The Wolf and the Woodsman, and I’m pretty bummed that it didn’t work out. That being said, I still do see some promise in Reid’s writing. Despite my quibbles with her debut novel, I have a feeling that with time Reid will grow into an impressive author. Having admitted this, I will also say that I want to keep an eye on her works going forward, so I’m definitely willing to give her future books a chance.

the verdict

★★.75

if you enjoyed the wolf and the woodsman, check out these books…

  1. If you enjoy the atmosphere of The Wolf and the Woodsman, try Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
  2. If you liked the themes of The Wolf and the Woodsman, check out Mirage by Somaiya Daud
  3. If you fell for the slow burn enemies-to-lovers romance in The Wolf and the Woodsman, give Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft a chance

spill the beans, friends!

  • Have you read The Wolf and the Woodsman?
  • If so, what are your thoughts on it?
  • If not, is it on your TBR?
  • What are some books you think are similar to The Wolf and the Woodsman?

Grandiosely Mediocre | Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission if you use them to purchase an item.

Title: Down Comes The Night
Author: Allison Saft
Format: Audiobook
Narrator(s): Saskia Maarleveld
Running Time: 12 hours, 47 minutes
Source: Purchased
Trigger Warning(s): gore and violence, murder, death, torture, surgery and medical procedure, drugging someone

He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.
Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.
The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.
With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.
Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night.
Love makes monsters of us all.

Purchase: Book Depository | Bookshop | Libro.fm

Oh, Disappointment, we meet again. *deep sigh*

Well, friends, another one bites the dust. I had such high hopes for Down Comes The Night, and yet here I stand, betrayed by the hype once again.

Down Comes The Night was promised to be a dark, gothic fantasy and when I heard that elevator pitch, lemme tell ya, I was here for it! I was so convinced this book would be a new favorite! But did it deliver? Sadly, no.

Down Comes The Night follows Wren Sutherland, a healer in the Queen of Danu’s Army and neice of the queen. When Wren recieves an intriguing invite to the notorious Alastair Lowry’s eerie estate to treat a servant of his who has contracted a mysterious illness, Wren jumps at the chance to prove her usefulness to the queen. But when Wren arrives at the mansion, she finds that her patient is in fact the infamous Hal Cavendish, a.k.a “the Reaper of Vesria” and number one enemy of Danu. However, there are more perilous and sinister forces at work inside Lowry’s mansion, and Wren and Hal just may have to team up in order to find out just what is going on and how to put an end to it.

Sounds interesting, right?! Unfortunately, despite the few aspects of this book that I enjoyed, I ultimately felt like it was poorly executed, with none of the story elements being fully fleshed out. Let’s take a closer look at what I liked and disliked about Allison Saft’s Down Comes The Night

plot & pacing

To be completely honest, the plot and pacing of Down Comes The Night were MAJOR sticking points for me. I found the plot to be watery, thin, and weak and the pacing to be snooze-inducingly slow. I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers say this book is more of a murder mystery with a fantasy twist than anything else, and while I agree, I also think that structure was part of where Down Comes The Night failed. Part of the thing is it felt like the book never fully committed to being a murder mystery nor a fantasy. A fantastical holy war rages in the background of the novel and it’s important enough to impact Hal’s and Wren’s (the main characters) lives, but it’s never really fleshed out and brought to the forefront in order to truly raise the stakes. As for the murder mystery element, the main issue is that Wren and Hal discover the identity of the culprit about halfway through the book…and then nothing really happens except for filler until a flurry of activity during the final quarter of the story. This in particular contributed to the pace of Down Comes The Night just totally stalling halfway through the novel.

The other thing is that the entire story felt incredibly predictable and the ending felt insanely easy. There were no points at which I felt true tension or danger, in part because solutions to all of Wren’s and Hal’s problem came so quickly and easily. Saft never really lets her characters be in peril long enough for readers to feel like anything is actually at stake.

characters

wren

In the past decade in YA, we’ve seen the rise of a very…erm…specific…kind of “strong female character.” You know the one—the sassy, beautiful, confident, tough as nails, she-can-do-anything-the-boys-can-do-too kind of heroine. And while I love a good badass woman, I think there’s a big issue in modeling every heroine around this archetype, namely because it doesn’t show the variety and nuances of women’s personalities and because it sends the message that in order for women to be seen as “just as good as The Boys™,” we have to take on “traditionally masculine” traits such as being physically strong, stoic, sarcastic, and relatively emotionless. But anyhoo, that’s a rant for a different post—the point is that Wren’s character is a really wonderful divergence from this archetype!

Soft, vulnerable, and a tad naïve despite her exposure to the evils of the world, Wren is a refreshing change from the stereotypical “strong female heroine.” Wren lives in a world where being gentle and emotional is not only seen as “weak,” but is also something that will easily get you killed. She’s been repeatedly told that her emotional nature and her compassion make her basically useless. This creates an interesting dichotomy within Wren’s character in that she doesn’t want to be so gentle, soft, compassionate, and innocent, but at the same time she understands that those traits are at the core of her personality and she can’t exactly fundamentally change them or rid herself of them for good.

I enjoyed seeing this duality play out on the page and I even found myself relating to Wren’s personality a good bit. Best of all, though, is that Wren is never forced to compromise or change her soft nature, but rather learns to embrace it. If I’m being honest, Wren’s soft character was definitely my favorite story element!

hal

Hal’s characterization felt a little lacking, in part due to the third person limited point of view which Saft employed. We only ever see Hal through Wren’s eyes, and so in some ways it felt like we were missing bits and pieces of Hal’s history and motives that would have helped to flesh his character out and make him feel a little more rounded and a little less wooden. I mean, all we really know about Hal for the majority of the story is that he has a reputation as a monstrous killer and that he’s paradoxically kind when Wren finally meets him. But why??? The only motive we really get is a vague line from Hal about how he’s haunted by those he’s killed. But somehow, when taken into context with what little we know about Hal, plus the themes of forgiveness and redemption that Saft attempts to play out through his character arc, that excuse feels a little too shallow. What was the catalyst for Hal changing his mind about his nation’s cause?? What emotional arc played out when he realized he didn’t want to be a killer??? Frustratingly, none of these questions are addressed, leaving Hal’s character to ring slightly hollow.

That being said, I did enjoy what glimpses of Hal’s personality, emotions, and motivations that we did get to see. I enjoyed how Saft kind of subverted the archetype of the villainous “bad boy” through his character. When we first meet Hal, we are expecting a remorseless villain. And yet, what we actually find is a soft, compassionate boy who is wrestling with his own conscience. Hal doesn’t embrace his deadly powers or his role as a villain. Instead, he’s haunted by the ghosts of his past and desperate for redemption.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed this subversion, ultimately Hal’s character just needed a bit more in order to feel truly rounded out.

setting & atmosphere

I was promised a dark gothic fantasy and did I get it? Ehhh…well, kind of. The worldbuilding and atmosphere of Down Comes The Night honestly fell a bit short, if for no other reason than that the world of the book wasn’t greatly explored or invested in. We’re told that there are at least three countries in this world, and that two of them—Danu and Vesria—are constantly at war with each other due to religious differences. But Saft doesn’t really go in depth beyond that. This is worsened by the fact that Down Comes The Night pretty much only has two settings that we really get to know—the capital of Danu and Lowry’s estate. In addition, Saft doesn’t build up the religion or magic system, both of which are at the heart of the story’s major and minor conflicts. We know Danu has a goddess…aaaaand that’s it. We know Danubians and Vesrians have magic, but we don’t know its limits. It’s all just…not enough…Together, these factors, sadly, made the world and atmosphere feel disappointingly shallow.

in conculsion

Sadly, for me, Down Comes The Night was a disappointment. I went in expecting great things and instead got a “meh” novel. I did enjoy hoe Saft subverted a few tropes and expectations with her main character and the love interest, but ultimately the characters, plot, and world weren’t invested in enough to provide a truly compelling story. In conclusion, this book was a bust for me.

the verdict

✰✰.5

if you enjoyed down comes the night, check out these books…

spill the beans, friends!

  • Have you read Down Comes The Night?
  • If yes, how did you like it?
  • If no, is it on your TBR?

Black Sun Book Tour | Review, Look Book, Quiz, + Aesthetic!

PLEASE NOTE: I recieved a free ARC copy of Black Sun in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in the following post are my honest opinions.

Hello, dear friends, and welcome back to my cozy, little corner of the internet! I hope you all are well, happy, and safe, and if not, I hope brighter days come your way soon!

Tody I have quite a treat for y’all—today, I want to welcome you to my stop on the Hear Our Voices Black Sun Book Tour! I have SUCH a packed post for you today, featuring not only a review, but also lots of extra, fun goodies! But first, I want to thank Hear Our Voices and the publisher of Black Sun for putting this tour together and providing me with a physical ARC copy of Black Sun!

So without any further ado, let’s get to the good stuff, friends!

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book info

Title: Black Sun
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Release Date: October 13, 2020
Format: Physical ARC Copy provided by Saga Press and ALC Audiobook provided by Libro.fm
Narrator(s): Cara Gee, Nicole Lewis, Kaipo Schwab, Shaun Taylor-Corbett
Run Time: 12 hours, 46 minutes
Source: Publisher (Saga Press)
Trigger Warnings: Death, graphic violence and gore, off-page suicide and discussion of suicide, murder, graphic mass murder (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Goodreads Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

Purchase: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Kobo | Google

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aesthetic edit

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review

You ever finish a book and just heave a GIANT sight because wow, what a great ride that was?

Yeah. That was me with Black Sun, friends. Sometimes a book just leaves you speechless.

So, Black Sun was one of my most anticipated books of 2020 and I’m happy that I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment of my reading experience! The story follows four main characters whose destinies put them on a bloody collision course that will change the entire world they live in and what a gripping story it is!

But enough of my incoherent rambling, let’s get on to the specifics of what I really loved about Black Sun

intrigue, anyone?

Okay, so first things first, let me set your expectations straight. Black Sun isn’t exactly an action packed, cover-to-cover thrill ride kinda read. It’s far slower, turning its focus to political intrigue and the main characters involved. Think, like, the pace of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. But it works? It works really well?

I typically go for more medium paced books, but even I couldn’t tear myself away from Black Sun! I think the thing is that, while Roanhorse slowed the pace of Black Sun, she also never once let the actual plot falter. Every scene aches with intention, driving the reader slowly but steadily towards the final scenes of the book.

clever characterization

The other thing Roanhorse placed the focus of Black Sun on was the characters. We follow four central characters in the novel:

  • Xiala, who is a ship captain with a magical secret tasked with carrying some precious cargo to the holy city of Tova
  • Serapio, who is the “precious cargo” in question and who has a dark destiny he seeks to fulfill
  • Naranpa, who is the Sun Priest of Tova and who is embroiled in the politics of the priesthood
  • Okua, the warrior son of one of the Tovan clans’ matrons who returns to Tova seeking answers to a sinister mystery

Throughout Black Sun, we really dig into and explore the motivations of these characters and watch as they’re woven together into a shared fate. Roanhorse takes her time with this, masterfully building and building our knowledge of the main characters.

“They were not good people, Powageh.”
His only remaining tutor chuckled. “No, they were not. Are any of us? Am I? Are you?”
… “Can a bad person become a good person by performing a good deed?” he asked.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

I will admit, I quickly became invested in our main quartet, despite each of them having many a moment that, well, that didn’t exactly shine a light on their best side. Roanhorse chose to showcase each character not as purely “good” or “bad,” but rather as an inherent mixture of both, really displaying and playing on the duality of human nature.

what a wonderful world!

There was magic in the world, pure and simple, things she didn’t understand. Best get used to it.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

And let’s not forget to mention the amazing world of Black Sun! The world was truly so fascinating—and I definitely want to see and understand more of it! Roanhorse did a great job of giving readers nuggets of information about the world that helped to illustrate how expansive it truly was without overwhelming the reader with infodumps. She also managed to make a few select main settings truly feel like part of a much broader world in a way that I personally think truly takes talent, because it mirrors kind of our own view of where we are in the real world and our place in it. The mixture of cultures—of places, of people, of sights and sounds and so much more—made the world feel so real and so vivid in a way I don’t frequently experience in fantasy novels!

in conclusion!

Black Sun is a phenomenal fantasy and I encourage you to snag a copy at a bookstore or library if you can! As a final note, I can’t tell you how much the own voices Indigenous American representation in Black Sun meant to me as a reader who is part Indigenous American. I’ve never before seen that part of my heritage truly represented in fantasy novels, so having the opportunity to experience Black Sun was truly something special. So, with that being said, I’m going to wrap this review up. Until next time, dear friends…

rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

✵.* • : ★ .•

quiz

Take my original character quiz for Black Sun here

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look book

xiala

naranpa

serapio

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So, that’s all for today, dear friends. I hope you enjoyed and had some fun. Now, I’ve got a good book and some tea to enjoy, so if you’ll excuse me. Until next time, dear friends…

A Dream Come True! | Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles Review + Aesthetic

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission if you use them to purchase an item.

Title: Where Dreams Descend
Author: Janella Angeles
Format: Audiobook
Narrator(s): Imani Jade Powers, Steve West
Run Time: 14 hours, 37 minutes
Source: Library
Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Goodreads Summary: In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

Goodreads | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Book Depository

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Sometimes you read a book that just leaves you wanting to sing that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory song “Pure Imagination.” That lovely feeling, dear friends, happened recently when I read Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles.

Here’s the thing: I have a history of not falling in love with magic circus/carnival books, so when I heard that Where Dreams Descend was about a mysterious magic competition with “Night Circus vibes”…well…let’s just say I wasn’t exactly jumping up to run to the bookstore. I mean…it’s a pandemic, so I wasn’t exactly gonna do that regardless, but, er, you get the point, yes? Anyhoo. My point is you wouldn’t think I’d be part of the target audience for Where Dreams Descend. But that’s what’s so wild—the fact that I actually fell head over heels for the book! Let’s take a look at why!

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CHARISMATIC CHARACTERS

My first love in Where Dreams Descend was definitely the characters! The cast was so intriguing and endearing! We primarily follow Kallia, a young magician with a dark past who decides to compete in a magic competition, and Demarco, a magician who no longer practices magic and is a judge of the magic competition. We also get fleeting snatches of a POV from Jack, a mysterious figure from Kallia’s past. We also get a cast of colorful side characters who are equally interesting! However, I want to take a beat to focus on our three central characters, Kallia, Demarco, and Jack…

  • Kallia I personally loved Kallia, who’s a true Slytherin queen with a deep hunger for freedom which boils over and becomes a determined ambition. But—and there is a but here, sadly—I also am aware that Kallia may not be to many readers’ tastes. She’s brazen and bold, fiercely competitive and ambitious. She often uses arrogance as a cover for her insecurities and fears. She’s not the traditional archetype of a damsel in distress nor is she the picture perfect Strong Female Character™ which many readers have grown accustomed to reading. She’s “flawed” and complexly human. But that’s a good deal why I enjoyed her character (I know, I know. Me? Liking a “complex and unlikable” female character? Groundbreaking.) and even if I didn’t always relate to Kallia, I did feel like I understood where she was coming from. Call me a Sagittarius (you’d be correct in that assumption, btw), but part of me deeply understood how Kallia’s deep desire to be independent and free could spiral into such arguably reckless ambition.
  • Demarco Demarco cuts an interesting figure, I think, because his personality is a cross between an introverted and reluctant Gryffindor and a gruff and grumpy Hufflepuff (if you can imagine that). Cool, calm, and collected, the quiet Demarco is the steady stream to contrast Kallia’s bright burst of flame. But, half Hufflepuff nature aside, Demarco also has a mysterious past and some dark secrets haunting him. His character is a little more static in comparison to Kallia’s journey across Where Dreams Descend, yet it also doesn’t lack for roundness and depth. I certainly enjoyed his part in the tale and what he brought to the story.
  • Jack Jack is such an intriguing villain for this book, because while I, as a reader, could recognize that he’s quite sinister, at the same time he’s so mysterious that I couldn’t help but wonder if his possessiveness over Kallia is a corrupted form of protectiveness. Like, obviously that “protectiveness” went too far and tipped the scale far towards the side of abuse, but I couldn’t help but wonder if beneath it was motivated by true terror. This question threads through the narrative, making the story of Where Dreams Descend and its villains even more compellingly creepy.

PITCH PERFECT PLOT & PACING

Make no mistake, though, I don’t only love the characters of Where Dreams Descend, but also its enthralling plot! As I mentioned, I don’t typically go for books focused on magical circus/carnival type things, so to say I loved the plot of Where Dreams Descend is saying a lot for me. I think its because books like that seem to typically overdo it in my eyes when it comes to world building, losing the plot in favor of over-the-top, overkill descriptions of the magic (literal and/or metaphorical) of the circus/carnival. Angeles, however, seems to have mastered the skill of giving character, plot, and world building equal attention. We follow Kallia, Demarco, and Jack on a perfectly paced, agonizingly intriguing mystery, experiencing a dazzling magic competition along the way! There are so many threads Angeles manages to tie together with perfect timing, leading us steadily towards the shocking ending—from Kallia’s origin to Jack’s identity to Demarco’s secrets! Friends, if you’re looking for the magical circus competition mystery of your dreams, this is it.

WONDERFUL WORLDBUILDING

And let’s not forget the amazing worldbuilding! Angeles lays out a lavishly magical world that’s dripping with mystery in Where Dreams Descend. While her descriptions don’t wander into the realm of purple prose, they do manage to still paint a vivid picture. We visit the eerie city of Glorian, where magic has been abandoned and where the magic competition at the center of the plot takes place. It was a great choice of setting—a mysterious and magic-less town hosting a magic competition—and added just the right amount of strangeness to the overall atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, Where Dreams Descend absolutely nails it! Angeles creates the right mix of intrigue, creepy-ness, and shimmering magic to perfectly enhance the plot and make the world really pop!

A QUICK QUIBBLE

The single complaint I have is that there was a minor instance of the plot being inconsistent and it was enough to pull me out of the reading experience. The issue is this: When Kallia discovers she is trapped in Glorian, it is described as everyone is trapped inside or outside of Glorian because a wall has replaced the gateway into Glorian. And this does not change after that point—everyone inside Glorian is trapped by the wall. Yet later, Lottie and other outsiders are able to travel into Glorian and Lottie alludes to being able to leave. Also, Demarco mentions sending letters via Glorian’s post office, meaning someone is able to take mail into and out of Glorian. So I was left confused as to what was going on—are only the people inside Glorian plus the contestants and judges of the magic competition trapped within Glorian??? It just seems really inconsistent.

✵.* • : ★ .•

So, as you can see, I just totally adored Where Dreams Descend. There’s so much about it to discover and love, from the characters to the plot to the world! I can say with certainty that it’s definitely a new favorite and I will absolutely be picking up the sequel when it releases!

So that’s it for today, friends! I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you’re having a bright day, full of books and good cheer! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some books and tea to enjoy 😉

✵.* • : ★ .•

SPILL THE BEANS, FRIENDS!

  • Have you read Where Dreams Descend? If so, what are your thoughts on it?
  • If you haven’t read Where Dreams Descend, is it on your TBR?

SUPPORT BLACK LIVES & OTHER CAUSES

Raybearer Book Tour | Audiobook Review, Aesthetic, & Playlist

Hello, dear friends! Welcome to my stop on the Hear Our Voices Raybearer tour! I’m so happy to be a part of this event as and I have so many exciting things coming up in this post! First off, I want to say thank you to all the lovely coordinators of this tour—they’ve made everything run so smoothly and put in so much hard work! I also want to thank Hear Our Voices and Amulet Books for going out of their way to make this tour disability accessible and providing me with an advance listener copy of the audiobook. Today I’ll be reviewing that audiobook and I’ve also got some extra content for you in the form of a moodboard and a playlist. So without any further ado, let’s jump right in…

ABOUT RAYBEARER

Title: Raybearer
Author: Jordan Ifueko
Publisher: Amulet Books
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Run Time: 13 hours, 48 minutes
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: August 18, 2020
TRIGGER WARNINGS/CONTENT WARNINGS: Emotional abuse from a parent to a child, fire, attempted murder, fade-to-black sex, implied rape (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Synopsis: The epic debut YA fantasy from an incredible new talent—perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir


Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?


Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? With extraordinary world-building and breathtaking prose, Raybearer is the story of loyalty, fate, and the lengths we’re willing to go for the ones we love.

Buy: Indiebound | Target | Barnes & Noble | Powells | Amazon | Waterstones | AUDIOBOOK

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jordan Ifueko is a Nigerian-American author of Young Adult fiction. She stans revolutionary girls and 4C curls. RAYBEARER is her debut novel.

Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

AESTHETIC

PLAYLIST

REVIEW

You every read a book that just…gets you? That was Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko. A beautiful story about the importance of diversity and the power of friendship, Raybearer is a great start to what is sure to be an amazing new series! With its measured, yet intriguing plot, lovable characters, and endearing relationships, you could say I fell hard for Raybearer. So let’s take a look at my thoughts…

LIKES

The Dream Team

I loved the cast of characters in Raybearer and the large focus on friendship and found family! Tarisai is a lovely main character who is compassionate and fair-minded, and I adored seeing her relationships with Dayo, Sanjeet, and Kirah! I also loved that Tarisai’s independence didn’t come at the cost of her close relationships or her community and that as Tarisai grew, her friends never wavered in their love for her. I feel like this was particularly reflective of how many communities of color operate, with more of a focus on the importance of family, friends, and community and their place in your life than most Western cultures. It was nice to see something so reflective of my own cultural backgrounds and life.

It’s The Little Things

When it comes to representation, I think sometimes it’s the little things that can end up mattering most. It’s the tiny, minute details that many people will brush over, not realizing that those seemingly tiny things build and build and build into a larger, far more intricate picture. Ifueko seems to have mastered this skill of adding tiny details of representation which speak volumes. I found myself relating through my Black identity to Tarisai in little ways, like when she spoke about wearing a headscarf to sleep or how her hair had been braided tight and her edges were being pulled or how stories mattered so much to her people that their greatest god was an animal storyteller! And! I loved the symbolic moment when Tarisai took out her braids and let her natural hair loose—#DystopianGirlHaircut who, now? More than just being a symbolic reclaiming of identity within the world of Raybearer, it is also a familiar symbolic experience which parallels that of many real life Black girls when we choose to showcase our African roots by going natural. It was a moment that was beautiful within the story, but which also carried real-world power, as hidden from unknowing eyes as it might be. These seemingly small things made reading Raybearer that much more special and made the book itself one that I’ll remember and treasure long into the future.

A Theme That’s More Than It May Seem

I love the theme of seeing and celebrating diversity vs. forced assimilation that Ifueko wove through the story. It was very reminiscent of the real world scenario of White people saying, “We don’t see color and isn’t that unity and peace?” while many people of color say, “The point is actually to see color, to celebrate all of it in its beauty and treat all as equals in their beautiful colors.” This is the crux of the struggle in Raybearer. Tarisai sees that the Empire’s desire to make everyone the same—to take their traditional music, stories, and names and to “unite” them through assimilation—is a control tactic, and one which is a form of cultural violence at that. There is a line that will stick with me from Raybearer, because Ifueko was able to condense this theme into such an elegant, concise form:

Uniformity is not unity. Silence is not peace.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

This is a beautiful message, especially for young readers and Ifueko conveys it in such an evocative manner. It’s certainly a theme that I think will stick with readers—I know it will stick with me!

DISLIKES

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing…

There was a point towards the end where I felt like the plot kind of came to a pause and there was a MASSIVE info dump. The information was definitely necessary to the story, but I just wish that Tarisai could’ve discovered it in a different manner and/or not all at once. Because the information was given to us all at once in a way that the author was telling us the info instead of showing us, it felt like it lacked power because it felt like Tarisai could’ve easily accessed the info at any point.

NARRATION NOTES

The narration of the Raybearer audiobook was absolutely wonderful, with the tone and cadence fitting the story perfectly at every turn! Abbott-Pratt’s voice was very musical and youthful, which fit the characters well, as Tarisa, Dayo, and Kirah are 15 and Sanjeet is 17. Abbott-Pratt’s voice acting also made it easy to distinguish between characters, with each having a fairly unique sound and tone. All in all, I was very satisfied with the narration and with the audiobook as a whole.

IN CONCLUSION…

Raybearer was a wonderful read, and one that I definitely won’t be forgetting! I hope when it releases, y’all won’t hesitate to get your hands on this worthwhile read! So, that’s all for today, friends. I hope you enjoyed my stop on this tour and that you’ll check out the other stops too. Until next time, friends…

RATING

★★★★☆

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE TOUR!

August 11

Hear Our Voices – Introduction Interview
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Original Book Tag (IG)
Loc’D Booktician – Favorite Quotes
The Rantings of a Book Addict – Review
Nancy Luvs Books Favorite Quotes

August 12

Noria Reads – Dream Cast
Cierra’s Cynosure – Favorite Quotes + Mood Board
Curly Book Owls – Review

August 13

Novelisteer – Review
BookishEnds – Playlist
The Bookwyrm’s Den – Favorite Quotes (IG)
Spill the Tale – Review
Strange She Reads – Vlog Review
Literary Intersections – Favorite Quotes
Nox Reads – Look Book
Noria Reads – Dream Cast

August 14

Ms. WOC Reader – Blog Interview
Books Whit Me – Favorite Quotes + Moodboard
Fictional Fates – Video Review
pretty_x_bookish – Favorite Quotes
Black Bookwyrm Reads – Recs in Black Fantasy

August 15

Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Dream Cast
Noria Reads – Video Interview
Curly Haired Bibliophile – Favorite Quotes (IG)
DJ Reads Books – Favorite Quotes

August 16

Em’s Bookish Musings – Blog Interview
Socially Awkward Book Blogger – Review
Phrases & Pages – Favorite Quotes
Bookseats and Booze – Favorite Quotes
Bookish Realm – Dream Cast

August 17

Hardcover Haven – Playlist + Mood Board
Roro Is Reading – Review

August 18

Pages Left Unread – Review
Falling 4 Romance – Favorite Quotes
Vianoniomoh – Review
Vee The Reader – Favorite Quotes

Books Build Life – Video Review

In Love With Incendiary | Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova Review

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains affiliate links for which I receive a small commission when my link is used.

Title: Incendiary
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Format: Audiobook
Narrator(s): Frankie Corzo
Run Time: 14 hours, 27 minutes
Source: Purchased
Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, violence and gore (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Goodreads Summary: I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a Robari, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred–or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she turned “hollow” during her time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit, is taken captive by the notorious Sangrado Prince, Renata will do anything to save the boy whose love makes her place among the Whispers bearable. But a disastrous rescue attempt means Renata must return to the palace under cover and complete Dez’s top secret mission. Can Renata convince her former captors that she remains loyal, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the entire fate of the kingdom–and end the war that has cost her everything.


Goodreads | Bookshop.org | Libro.fm | Book Depository

✵.* • : ★ .•

Friends, Romans, country…people! We have gathered here today to celebrate a WONDERFUL book: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova! Every once in a while, you find a book and you’re just like… “This. This be that good shit.” And that, my friends, was the case with Incendiary, which, let me assure you, is a new all-time favorite of mine.

✵.* • : ★ .•

LIKES

  • Ren! I’ll be perfectly honest: Ren is incredibly flawed. But. I also think her perspective is an absolutely brilliant one to tell this story from! And I’ll admit, she grew on me, in part because she is so flawed. Ren is such a complex, layered, nuanced character with an emotionally and morally intricate history and loyalties that are equally as complicated, and I really appreciated that. I also love that Córdova allowed Ren to be both messy and good, which is something that I think many YA writers don’t often make room for their characters to be, especially when it comes to their female characters! We see Ren struggle with her guilt and with who she knows herself to be versus how people see her, as well as with the fact that her reaction to that dichotomy isn’t always the best reaction, and yet Ren is also allowed the room to recognize her mistakes and to grow and change and to be good. Ren isn’t some pillar of morality, she’s a young woman who has made mistakes in the past, still makes mistakes in the present, and most likely will continue to make mistakes in the future. She’s the epitome of a human being, recognizing her own wrongs and striving to make amends in such a way that she won’t be broken by her own guilt and shame. And that’s precisely what makes her a compelling and relatable character to follow.
  • Thematic Complexity! I think a trap that a lot of YA books fall into is “black and white” moralizing. Even when you have “morally gray” main characters, their actions tend to fall solidly on the side that we as a global society generally recognize as morally “right”. And for all their “morally gray” grumbling, those characters also generally recognize “right” from “wrong” (however begrudgingly) and don’t typically have too many “complex” emotions surrounding those concepts. Incendiary diverges from that norm in the way it examines the emotional complexity surrounding the ideas of “right” and “wrong.” We see Ren struggle with the nearly crippling guilt of her childhood actions, despite understanding that she was just an innocent, young child who didn’t understand the impacts of her actions. We see Justice Mendez is an objectively abhorrent human being…and yet, we also see that he is kind to Ren . We see that The Whispers are on the objectively “good” side of the fight—fighting to free the oppressed—but we also see that most of them are genuinely unkind to Ren, despite the fact that she was an innocent child whose deadly actions were a result of her being as much a victim as any other Moria and despite the fact that she has shown her guilt and shame and clearly demonstrated her trustworthiness time and time again. Again and again we are shown that kindness and moral “rightness” are very very much not the same thing—an idea which is a pretty tough truth to present to a young adult audience, yet one which Córdova conveys with ease, clarity, and nuance.
  • Plot & Pacing! So, by now, you might be able to guess that Incendiary is a book that is full of action and intrigue and, well, friends, you aren’t wrong! The plot of Incendiary kept me gripped and guessing at every twist and turn! Was Dez really dead? Who was the mysterious magpie?? What was the deal with Castien??? I needed to know!! I gotta hand it to Córdova, she kept me hanging on for one heck of a wild ride! I do know that some reviewers have complained that Incendiary is a tad predictable and, while I, personally, don’t think that’s necessarily true, I also don’t go into books with the intention of trying to figure out how the book will go, but rather prefer to let the story unfold before me. If you are a reader like me, then I think I can say with sureness that you’ll love this book as much as I did!
  • The Supporting Cast! It’s no secret by now that I’m a fan of a strong supporting cast which has purpose in the story and enhances other story elements. And, boy oh boy, Incendiary doesn’t disappoint in this regard! Incendiary has a cast of colorful and complex characters that played perfectly into the plot and captured my heart and mind and imagination instantly! So, if you too like intricate casts, Incendiary is absolutely a book you should check out!

✵.* • : ★ .•

DISLIKES

  • Repetition. The only thing I really noticed that very slightly detracted from my experience was the repetition of some information one too many times. This may just be a “me thing,” but there were certain pieces of information that got repeated throughout the book, in the exact or nearly the exact same wording, and, for me, it was just kind of like, “Okay, I got it the first time.” But, obviously, as you can see, it wasn’t a big enough issue to even knock a star off, it was just something I noticed and figured I might mention.

✵.* • : ★ .•

Boy oh boy, am I glad to have read this book! It’s rare for me to find a book that is so much fun, but also gets me thinking deeply, so Incendiary was such a treat to read. The only thing leaving me kinda bummed is that I have to wait until next year for the sequel (there’s not even a set release date yet just the nebulous “coming in 2021”!) which…*sigh of despair*… But I suppose at least I’l have plenty of time to concoct all the ridiculous fan theories that my big ol’ book loving heart could desire!

Anyhoo, that’s all for today friends. Until next time…

✵.* • : ★ .•

MY STAR RATING

★★★★★

✵.* • : ★ .•

SPILL THE BEANS, FRIENDS!

  • Have you read Incendiary?
  • If so, what are your thoughts?
  • If not, is it on your TBR?

✵.* • : ★ .•

SUPPORT BLACK LIVES

✵.* • : ★ .•

Onward & Upward | Skyward by Brandon Sanderson Review, Aesthetic, & Recommendations

Title: Skyward

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Format: Audiobook

Narrator(s): Suzy Jackson

Run Time: 15 hours, 28 minutes

Source: Purchased

Trigger Warning(s): Death of a loved one (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. 

Goodreads Summary

✵.* • : ★ .•

Y’all. I am speechless. All I can say is that Skyward was out of this world! (See what I did there? It’s a space book that’s out of this world! Hahahahaaaaaaa I’m so lame…)

I took forever before finally getting to this book and I’m just left wondering why it took me so long, considering the (well deserved) hype? Because now that I’ve read it, I can 100% see what the fuss is all about. Skyward is the type of book to make reader’s eyes light up and to immediately suck them into the world. It’s the type of book that makes those of us who don’t read sci fi as much wonder why we aren’t reading more of that genre.

✵.* • : ★ .•

LIKES

  • Spensa! Okay, I’ll admit it: at first I wasn’t the biggest fan of Spensa. She and I have very different personalities and handle difficult situations very differently. But I came to understand her and view her as different from me and perhaps even “flawed” in my eyes, but still valid and good. And, in my humble opinion, that’s how you know that a hero/heroine is a good protagonist—because even if they are different from you, the author provides enough context and emotional incentive for you to understand the character and ultimately to sympathize (if not empathize) with them. Sanderson pulled this feat off with expertise and I left the book rooting for our scrappy heroine.
  • A Spunky Space Crew! One of the best things about Skyward is the found family aspect. At flight school, Spensa is assigned to a team (called “Skyward Flight”) of other new pilots and…well, let’s just say Alexander Hamilton isn’t the only one who’s “young, scrappy, and hungry.” The crew is assembled of a variety of differing personalities and perspectives and it’s wonderful to see the group mesh together and clash and eventually learn to respect each other and grow to care deeply for each other. The squad is composed of awesome and unique individuals, including…
    • Rodge (Call Sign: Rig): Spensa’s childhood best friend and the squad’s resident boy genius.
    • Kimmalyn (Call Sign: Quirk): A friendly, bubbly pilot who quickly befriends Spensa.
    • Jorgen (Call Sign: Jerkface): Skyward Flight’s painstakingly rule following wing leader.
    • Frejya (Call Sign: FM): A classy pilot with a secret rebellious side.
    • Nedd (Call Sign: Nedder): A funny pilot who’s good friends with Jorgen and Arturo.
    • Arturo (Call Sign: Amphisbaena): Skyward Flight’s fact bank and Jorgen’s other friend.
    • Hudiya (Call Sign: Hurl): A competitive, athletic, easy-going pilot.
    • “Morningtide”: A quiet pilot from a different cavern than Spensa and who doesn’t speak English.
    • Bim: A friendly, blue-haired pilot.
    • Cobb: Skyward Flight’s gruff teacher/commanding officer.
  • Sassy Machinery! I’m a STEM girl, so you know any time AI gets involved I’m gonna be all in but give that AI a quirky personality? I will pledge my soul to it. So you can imagine my excitement when MBOT, an AI spaceship overflowing with personality, showed up on the scene! I was already enjoying Skyward, but MBOT’s appearance in the narrative sealed the deal.
  • The Weird And Wonderful World! Skyward takes place far in the future, on a different planet where humans have sought refuge from an alien race called the Krell, who seem determined to destroy them. One neat thing is seeing how the world Sanderson created is built by familiar elements, like caverns and trees and humans, as well as new, unfamiliar elements, like alien species!

✵.* • : ★ .•

DISLIKES

  • Hmmm…Nothing? Yeah. Nothing.

✵.* • : ★ .•

RATING

★★★★★

✵.* • : ★ .•

RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF…

✵.* • : ★ .•

TELL ME ALL ABOUT IT

  • Have you read Skyward? What are your thoughts on it?
  • If you haven’t read Skyward, is it on your TBR?

✵.* • : ★ .•

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Mini Review + Aesthetic! | Winterwood by Shea Earnshaw

Every once in a while you find one of those slow, quiet, atmospheric books that are just so softly magical that they calm your soul a bit. Winterwood by Shea Earnshaw was one of those books for me. It wasn’t flashy or fast-paced, but it was just what I needed.

L I K E S

  • Walkin’ In A Winter Wonderland! Winterwood takes place in winter in the Pacific Northwest and the book really leans into the atmospheric, wintery setting. The magical wood which Nora and her family have lived at the edge of for an eternity basically becomes its own stunning character. If you’re looking for the perfect read for a quiet, snowy day, this is it!
  • It’s The Witch’s Fault! Nora and her family are witches—but not the “double, double, toil and trouble!” kind. They’re more quiet witches, each gifted with a special, peculiar, magical skill. The witchy vibes in Winterwood fit the atmosphere of the book so well and added that extra spark of magic to an already excellent book!

D I S L I K E S

  • Mid-Book Blues. The pacing of Winterwood is very slow and even, but while, for the most part, I didn’t mind too much, I will admit that the middle of the book dragged just a tad. There’s this point where it feels like nothing much is going on with the story and we’re just sitting there observing. I wish there was a bit more push or urgency during the middle portion, but ultimately it didn’t destroy Winterwood‘s enjoyability.

All in all, Winterwood was an enjoyable experience, which perfectly set the mood for this winter season. I had a lovely time reading it and would definitely recommend it!

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Devious & Delightful | Truly, Devious by Maureen Johnson Mini Review + Aesthetic

Title: Truly, Devious

Author: Maureen Johnson

Format: Audiobook

Narrator(s): Kate Rudd

Run Time: 10 hours, 12 minutes

Source: Purchased

Trigger Warning(s): Murder, loss of a loved one, anxiety and panic attacks (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Summary: Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym, Truly Devious. It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Every once in a while, a book just pleasantly surprises you with how meant for you it seems to be. It’s like biting into an egg, only to discover it’s made of chocolate—and you love chocolate! For me, that book was Truly, Devious. Delightfully creepy yet also wonderfully funny, Truly, Devious shocked me with how much I enjoyed it, especially considering I don’t typically go for mystery/thrillers.

what i liked

  • Ravenclaw Representation! You ever notice how there seems to be a lack of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs in YA literature? There are plenty of Gryffindors and, recently, a surprising amount of Slytherins, but somehow Ravenclaws and, Hufflepuffs seem to get left behind. Which always surprised me, because as a curious-minded Ravenclaw myself, I always figured Ravenclaw would probably be one of the most adventurous houses, especially as the house of curiosity and discovery. To add insult to injury, most of the few Ravenclaws in YA lit are male. BUT AT LONG LAST I HAVE FOUND A BOOK THAT DEFIES THIS SADDENING TREND! The book being, of course, Truly, Devious. Stevie is delightfully Ravenclaw girl! She’s curious, intelligent, and passionate plus a little zany! Like me! I really related to Stevie and appreciated her Ravenclaw-ness—it gave me all the good feels to see a girl who was allowed to be intelligent and curious! So if you’re looking for good female Ravenclaw representation, this is the book for you!
  • Ellingham Academy And Its Students! Let’s take a brief detour to allow me to indulge in some reminiscing about my own past. It was the summer of 2012 and I was 17 when I was admitted to Governor’s School for STEM. What’s that? That’s the summer program my state sends the best and brightest high school students in the state to. There are several Governor’s Schools summer programs—one for the visual and performing arts, one for marine biology, one for agriculture, and one for STEM (which is the one I attended). Attending that program, where we stayed at a college for a month and a half with like-minded students and took a class, went on field trips, and got into any and all kinds of mischief that “smart kids” could, was one of the best experiences of my life. The point of this nostalgic detour being that reading about Ellingham Academy—a school for the gifted—was a special treat for me! And, based on my experience, I can say the Johnson got a school for “gifted teens” so right! She had just the right of mischief and academic and artistic passion, in addition to the right amount of togetherness and friendship and just general weirdness that occurs when you put smart kids in a room together. It was such a delight to read!
  • Brilliant Anxiety Representation! Guess what? Stevie may be an amateur detective but she has at least Generalized Anxiety Disorder, if not also Social Anxiety! And—she doesn’t let it stop her! Further, instances of her having panic attacks, taking medication, and doing calming exercises like breathing exercises are explicitly written into the narrative! As someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder myself, I loved that Johnson wrote Stevie in a manner that showed that, while Stevie’s anxiety does massively impact her life, she also isn’t crippled by it or “abnormal” for having to do things a little differently in order to deal with it. I also adored that Stevie’s methods of dealing with her anxiety, like taking medication and doing calming exercises, were normalized and not at all demonized or stigmatized. It was such a lovely experience to see such good anxiety representation and I just appreciated it from the bottom of my heart!
  • Murder! Mystery! Mayhem! Humor?! Johnson somehow managed to author a mystery novel which is simultaneously creepy and also hilarious. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Johnson’s plot is solid as a murder mystery plot, but the voices of her characters are so ridiculously funny. I was worried that the mystery might freak me out, and admittedly it was slightly creepy at some points, but it was so perfectly balanced out with humor that it was perfect for me!

what i disliked

  • Um? Is it not obvious that the answer is, “absolutely nothing”?! I freaking loved this book!!!

rating

★★★★★

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  • Have you read Truly, Devious?
  • If so, what are your thoughts on it?
  • If not, is it on your TBR?

King (Er…*Queens*) of My Heart | Kingsbane by Claire Legrand Review

40523458Title: Kingsbane

Author: Claire Legrand

Format: Audiobook

Narrator(s): Fiona Hardingham

Run Time: 22 hours, 26 minutes

Source: Purchased

Trigger Warning(s): suicide (graphic depiction), attempted sexual assault, graphic violent sex, blood, gore, death of a loved one, multiple graphic/explicit sex scenes (NOTE: If you believe I have failed to include any necessary trigger warnings, please inform me and I will add them)

Summary: In this sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller Furyborn, two queens, separated by a thousand years, connected by secrets and lies, must continue their fight amid deadly plots and unthinkable betrayals that will test their strength—and their hearts.

Rielle Dardenne has been anointed Sun Queen, but her trials are far from over. The Gate keeping the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the seven hidden castings of the saints. Meanwhile, to help her prince and love Audric protect Celdaria, Rielle must spy on the angel Corien—but his promises of freedom and power may prove too tempting to resist.

Centuries later, Eliana Ferracora grapples with her new reality: She is the Sun Queen, humanity’s long-awaited savior. But fear of corruption—fear of becoming another Rielle—keeps Eliana’s power dangerous and unpredictable. Hunted by all, racing against time to save her dying friend Navi, Eliana must decide how to wear a crown she never wanted—by embracing her mother’s power, or rejecting it forever.

Here’s the thing. It’s really difficult to write reviews for books you love with all your heart. Why? Because all you want to do is scream about how amazing and awesome the books is and ohmygodohmygodohmygod you just HAVE to read it too!!! And it’s tricky to do that without accidentally spilling all the spoilers.

So here I am. A frustrated fangirl, flustered with excitement and struggling to talk to y’all about Kingsbane by Claire Legrand. But, true to my stubborn nature, I’m gonna try anyway.

Kingsbane…isn’t an “easy” book. In any sense. It’s not a light, fluffy fantasy about “good” heroes fighting for a just cause and defeating “evil,” mustache-twirling, obvious villains. No, Kingsbane is instead messy and complex, an intricate, scrambled tangle of morality, emotion, and humanity. And it’s beautiful.

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FURYBORN (BOOK #1 IN THE EMPIRIUM TRILOGY)

When we left off in Furyborn, both Rielle and Eliana were at crossroads. Kingsbane shows the crooked paths our two “heroines” (for lack of a better term) slowly begin to follow as those paths unfurl before the two them. The book illuminates the uneven growth and development of the two queens with care, showing each step forwards and backwards that Eliana and Rielle take on their respective journeys.

Eliana is in a new kingdom, attempting to gather allies and, more importantly, trying to learn how to harness her powers. But the battle isn’t far behind and she soon finds herself on the run again. This storyline unearths so many new facets of her character. She is no longer just an angry girl hellbent on keeping herself and her brother alive. Now we see a new side of Eliana—scared and hesitant, yet simultaneously fierce and determined. Legrand masterfully digs into each emotion Eliana feels, drawing a rich, deep portrait of the young queen.

Meanwhile, Rielle wants to attempt to fix the Gate, but in order to do so she must gather the castings of the saints. Unfortunately, Obex (the guardians of those castings) aren’t all sympathetic to Rielle and thus the castings aren’t always forthcoming. All of this while Corien’s darkly seductive pull echoes through Rielle’s mind as he attempts to coax her onto his side of the fight. Rielle’s journey is a dark one, filled with fear, desolation, lust, arrogance, and a deep hunger for power which grows stronger with every use of her magic. Rielle’s transformation across Kingsbane from a hurt, confused young woman to a power-hungry villain is in turns fascinating and aggravating (but in the best of ways). Legrand deftly handles this transformation, illuminating every heartbreaking facet of Rielle’s character, crafting the perfect picture of a broken young woman trying desperately to find her footing in a harsh world.

In a change from book one’s dual POV, we also saw minor chapters from the POVs of Ludivine, Simon, Corien, Harkan, and Audric, all of which were super intriguing and greatly enhanced the story! In particular, I loved the peeks we got into Ludivine’s and Corien’s minds—and the hints we got that they may not be exactly who they seem. I’d love to see more of them and to find out what they may be hiding in book three. Harkan’s and Audric’s perspectives where heartbreaking, of course, but also contributed to the book beautifully. The perspective that made me most intrigued at the prospect of hearing more in book three, however, was actually Simon’s, much to my surprise! At first, I was puzzled as to why we needed a POV chapter from him, but by the end of the book I completely understood why it was necessary and I’m dying to hear more from him (and, hopefully, to learn his secrets) in book three.

Outside of the characters, I loved the world and how much Legrand expanded it in Kingsbane! Both Rielle and Eliana are travelling around Avitas in this book and it was exciting to see all of the new places and cultures, and to meet new people! I especially want to learn more about the Deep, the Obex, and Queen Obritsa! Legrand really knows how to build a vast universe and play around with it in the ways that most enhance her plot.

Speaking of plot—aaaaaaaa ohmygodohmygodohmygod!!! So much happened and I have so many questions that I need the answers to!! Legrand totally took the plot to the next level and it left. me. dead! Who is the Prophet? What’s going on with Simon?? And what is Ludivine hiding??? Also—will we get to see other worlds???? Where are the angels from, like, originally, and what are they????? Adsfvuumndfttfklksgfsfsvfv it’s all too much!!! I can’t wait to find out what happens next cause the suspense is killing me!

So, in conclusion, Kingsbane wrecked me in the best of ways. It was an excellent expansion on book one and left me screaming for more. I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on the third and final book of the trilogy and you have no idea how much it kills me that I’ll have to wait at least a year to do so. Claire Legrand already has my heart with this series, so I have no qualms about her taking my money too.

R A T I N G

★★★★★

T E L L   M E   A L L   A B O U T   I T

  • Have you read Kingsbane?
  • If so, what are your thoughts on it?
  • Also—do you have anything you hope will happen in book three? Any theories??