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ARC Review: My Dear Henry by Kalynn Bayron

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: POC, Gay

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is not one of my favorite books, but Kalynn Bayron is one of my favorite authors, so when I heard she was writing a retelling, called My Dear Henry, I was excited! Not only did she write an amazing retelling, she highlighted queer, Black voices in her reimagining! I definitely enjoyed My Dear Henry more than I did the original story of Jekyll and Hyde, and it is certainly a retelling that will stay with me for a long time to come!

Gabriel wants to be a lawyer, but being Black in 1885 London, that is not an option for him. Instead, his father urges him to study medicine, where he meets Henry. The two quickly become close friends, and while they can’t openly share it, they develop deeper feelings for one another. After Henry’s father, who is a professor at the medical school, is fired, Gabriel is left lost and confused when Henry suddenly starts giving him the cold shoulder.

I adored so many aspects of this book! As usual, Bayron focused her story around the main character’s Blackness and queerness, which added so much depth to the book! In a painfully real way, Bayron confronted the obstacles relating to intersectionality. She told Gabriel’s story in such an authentic way. I felt my heart break with his at certain points throughout the book.

Furthermore, I think Bayron did a fantastic job of incorporating aspects of the original story while adding her own spin to the retelling. I love that My Dear Henry is not so much about the duality of human nature, but about accepting every part of who you are. Including some of the more nefarious traits of Jekyll in Henry’s father was absolute genius!

The one thing I didn’t enjoy was the relationship between Gabriel and Henry. While it developed a little more as the story progressed, I would have like to read more about them falling in love.

As a whole, My Dear Henry by Kalynn Bayron is one of the best retellings I’ve ever read! Whether you’re a fan of the original story or not, I highly recommend this book!

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Book Review: You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

Genre: Nonfiction Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I don’t always review the nonfiction books I read, as I think what an author has to say about their life is more important than anything I can say about their book, but I thoroughly enjoyed You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar!

Ruffin and Lamar share stories of racism, mostly those experienced by the latter. They weave in a ton of humor, adding a sense of lightheartedness to an otherwise heavy topic. I appreciated their authenticity. Sometimes the stories were difficult to read, but I think that made them all the more important. Overall, the two authors delivered a hilarious spin on a serious experience. This is definitely a book I think everyone should read!

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ARC Review: Ring of Solomon by Aden Polydoros

Genre: MG Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Gay, Jewish

While I haven’t read a ton of middle grade books, Ring of Solomon by Aden Polydoros just might be my favorite so far! When Zach finds a magical ring that allows him to talk to animals, he is excited. However, shortly thereafter Ashmedai, the King of Demons, appears and announces that he is the guardian of the ring. Zach and his friends are quickly thrown into an adventure they weren’t expecting.

I loved everything about this book! The plot was very immersive, and I frequently lost myself within the story. It was filled with action and also had complex relationships that moved the story along. Zach was a wonderful protagonist. His point of view felt authentic and realistic, especially in relationship to him being gay. Throughout the whole book I felt as though I was on an adventure with Zach and his friends.

Furthermore, I enjoyed Ashmedai’s character too. I appreciated the way Polydoros depicted the demon king as neither benevolent nor malevolent. I’m not familiar with Jewish mythology and culture, but I liked that the author tied that into the story as well. Likewise, it was interesting to read about a protagonist who identifies as Jewish, but doesn’t consider himself religious.

Overall, this book was one of the most memorable middle grade novels I’ve read! I can’t wait to read the next in the series!

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ARC Review: Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

New favorite book alert!!! Wow! To say I was impressed with Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim would be a major understatement! If you are a fan of the Daevabad trilogy by Shannon Chakraborty, then you will love this debut book!

The novel follows Imani as she embarks on a journey with her nemesis to find her brother, who she thought was dead. She faces a series of adversities that challenge her view of life and discovers that her brother’s reasons for leaving the Sahir were not so simple. Along the way she must conceal the fact that she illegally bound a djinn to her dagger because he was the only one who knew where her brother went.

The best feature of this novel is that it was completely immersive. I truly felt like I was experiencing everything with Imani. The descriptions were so vivid, and the actions scenes so intense. Ibrahim did a phenomenal job of creating such a realistic and magical world. I was surprised that this is her debut book because she writes like a well-seasoned author.

Furthermore, the characters in the book made the story come to life even more. Imani is such a compelling main character. She is so humanly flawed, yet also lovable. As a reader, I felt my emotions changing with hers, which is a very powerful feeling. Likewise, the supporting characters were three-dimensional and robust. Each one was necessary to the story and helped move it along in a unique way.

Finally, there was the perfect amount of romance in the book. I am typically not a fan of books where the main character has more than one potential love interest, but that is hinted at in Spice Road, and I ended up loving it. Either way, it seems like Imani’s love story will play into the enemies-to-lovers trope, and I think Ibrahim is setting it up flawlessly. Personally, I am team Qaymani (Imani and Qayn) all the way!

Overall, I literally can’t wait for the next book in this series! Spice Road is going to have a special place on my bookshelf for sure!

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ARC Review: Queen Among the Dead

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

When I saw that Queen Among the Dead by Lesley Livingston was a fantasy novel based on Celtic folklore, I was intrigued! The novel follows Neve, a princess who is second in line for the throne, but no one sees her as worthy of ruling Eire. Fascinated with her land’s history and her fierce, and maybe slightly maniacal, ancestress known as the Scathach, Neve becomes enthralled with the idea of being a warrior. However, a chain of events leads her to being forced into considering the possibility that she will one day rule Eire.

I felt really conflicted about this book for the majority of it. It starts off pretty slow, and doesn’t really pick up until about halfway through. I would have liked to see more interaction between the characters in the first half of the book, and definitely more actions scenes.

That being said, the second half of the novel was fantastic! There were a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and I was happy with how the story ended. The relationships between the characters were interesting, and I enjoyed seeing Neve grow as a person.

Neve’s love for her people and sense of justice added a lot to the story. Her motivations seemed sincere, and as a reader, I couldn’t help but to root for her. I was intrigued by the idea that she did not want to be a queen, but wanted to be a king instead. I get that the author was likely trying to suggest that women are just as worthy and capable of ruling as men, but I almost would have preferred Neve to change the perceptions and connotations around the word “queen” than to strive towards being a “king.” Perhaps this is the feminist in me, but Neve’s adoption of the latter term indicates that she must be like a man in order to rule, whereas embracing the title of queen maybe would have changed her peoples’ perspectives and shown that she didn’t need to change anything about herself.

Overall, I’m not sure if there will be a sequel to this book. The ending kind of leaves open that possibility. However, I don’t know if I would read it or not. On the one hand, I did find this book to be a little slow, and on the other, I was content with the ending of this novel. As a whole, it’s not necessarily one of my favorite books, but it was worth the read!

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ARC Review: City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer

Genre: Urban Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

What a way to start out 2023! While urban fantasy and vampires aren’t typically my favorite things, I wholeheartedly enjoyed City of Nightmares by Rebecca Shaeffer!

The story follows Ness, a 19-year-old self-proclaimed coward, which is not a great thing to be in a world where people turn into their worst nightmares when they dream. Trying to avoid being kicked out of her current residence, Ness ends up being involved in a life-threatening conspiracy theory with Cy, a nightmare-turned vampire.

I will start off by saying that I had high expectations for this book since it was compared to Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. Although I wouldn’t quite say that it achieves the genius that Taylor does, it was a fantastic story! I would certainly recommend it, especially for people who enjoy fantasy, but maybe don’t read a lot of urban fantasy.

One aspect of the novel that I appreciated was Ness’s character development. She starts off as a bit immature, and for that reason, I think this book fits in the YA category, despite her age. Ness is a coward, and she’s not afraid to admit that. Part of what I loved about her was her authenticity. Why are all our protagonists fearless, strong people? The way that Ness embraced her cowardness, but also grew as a person was realistic and added a lot of depth to her story.

Additionally, there wasn’t necessarily romance in the book, but it definitely hinted at it. I’m excited to see what Shaeffer does with the next book in this series, as I’m hoping Ness and Cy develop a romantic relationship. The way we see their friendship progress over the course of this book was fun, and added a lot of tension to the novel. I liked that Ness starts off distrusting Cy, but the two are kind of thrown together through circumstances.

Finally, perhaps my favorite part of the book was the fantastical elements. The premise behind the story, that people turn into nightmares when they dream, was intriguing, and I think the author took that to interesting and unique places.

As a whole, I will certainly be adding City of Nightmares to my collection, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

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Book Review: A Whole New World by Liz Braswell

Genre: Retelling Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

After being disappointed by As Old as Time by Liz Braswell, I was nervous that the author wouldn’t be able to do my second favorite Disney Princess justice either in A Whole New World, but I must admit that it was not bad! If you don’t already know, the Disney Twisted Tales series follow the characters we know and love, but incorporate an unexpected twist. In this book, the twist was that Jafar rubbed the lamp before Aladdin.

Taken as a whole, I enjoyed this book! It focuses more on an uprising and rebellion as opposed to the relationship Aladdin and Jasmine develop, but I appreciated that change. For one, I don’t think it would’ve made sense for this book to focus on their relationship, as the turn of events placed their priorities elsewhere. In fact, I would have been happy if Jasmine and Aladdin’s relationship remained completely platonic, as their love for one another felt underdeveloped in the book.

Similarly, I really enjoyed the way Braswell depicts Jasmine, particularly her efforts to connect with all of her people. In the movie, Jasmine cares about her people, but we don’t really get to see her interact with the people of Agrabah beyond one or two occasional scenes. In this book, she truly takes the time to get to know people, especially those living in poverty.

One aspect that I thought was missing from the novel was the focus on feminism. The fact that Jasmine is a girl and must marry a prince is kind of a big deal in the movie. While I understand that it is not as relevant in this book, I think the author missed out on an opportunity to deepen the themes in the book. I would have liked to see Jasmine take on feminist issues, and I think the problem of her ruling as an unmarried woman still could have been addressed in the book.

Overall, I definitely liked A Whole New World! While there are some things that were missing, Braswell clearly added a lot of depth and darkness to the original story!

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Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Genre: Classic Rating: ⭐⭐

I mentioned in my review of Oliver Twist that classics are either a hit or a miss for me, and if Oliver Twist was a hit, Dracula by Bram Stoker was a miss. I was interested in reading the book because I wanted to see where our modern conceptions of vampires came from, and that aspect of the novel was definitely interesting.

That being said, that was just about the only part of the book that I enjoyed. The pace was mind-numbingly slow, and the plot was relatively uneventful. Stoker could have gone in so many interesting directions since he wrote it as an epistolary novel, but instead he had endless pages of droning on about unimportant details.

Similarly, I didn’t enjoy the fact that so many of Dracula’s characteristics and behaviors were not explained. Much of the novel was very ambiguous, to the point of causing boredom.

As a whole, while Dracula wasn’t quite as torturous as The Catcher in the Rye, it certainly didn’t impress me.

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Book Review: Oliver Twist

Genre: Classic Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Classics have always been a hit or a miss for me, but I absolutely loved Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I actually listened to the audiobook, and I flew through it. Afterwards, I was surprised to see that it is a longer book because I was completely immersed in the novel.

I loved the themes throughout the book, particularly those of generosity and kindness. I thought the plot made sense, and didn’t seem too far-fetched, but was still filled with hardships. I also watched the 1922 movie, and found the book to be far superior, as the movie left out important details.

Similarly, Dickens’ writing made the novel truly stand out. While I can see how some readers might find it a little slow, I think the writing made up for the slower pace. On top of that, I think many slow-paced books get a bad rap, and although I usually prefer fast-paced novels, a well-written slow-paced one will always have a place on my bookshelf.

As a whole, I was very pleasantly surprised by Oliver Twist, and I’m hoping to read more by Dickens soon!

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ARC Review: Begin Again

Genre: YA Contemporary, YA Romance Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Since her mother passed away when she was a child, Andie has only ever wanted one thing: to join the same secret society her mother did in college. Thankfully, Andie is accepted into the college of her dreams as a transfer student, but everything is not as ideal as she imagined. She must learn to cope with a long distance relationship, a previously absent father trying to connect again, schoolwork that is piling up, finding a place to fit in at her new school, and the huge pressure of living up to her mother’s legacy.

I will admit that this book started out a little rough for me. Andie is a complicated main character to say the least, and I found her a little annoying towards the beginning of the novel. That being said, Andie’s character growth throughout the book ended up being my favorite part! Andie starts off as judgy, idealistic, and overly positive, to the point of being toxic. While these attributes weren’t very appealing, I think they ended up highlighting the ways in which Andie grows throughout the course of the novel.

Additionally, I enjoyed the depth of this book a lot! Andie’s grief for her mother plays a huge role in the novel, and I found that it added a lot to the story. She basically bases her entire life choices on what she thinks her mother would’ve done, and it was great to see her slowly realize that she does not have to be her mother to live up to her mother’s legacy. Similarly, I loved the way different characters connected with one another by sharing about loved ones they lost. At one point, Andie mentions that learning about things she didn’t previously know about her mother feels like discovering treasure. This, along with other sentiments she shares, were really relatable.

Furthermore, I thought the humor throughout the novel added a bit of lightheartedness to what would have otherwise been a somewhat depressing story. The characters all felt very three-dimensional and had a sense of humor unique to them.

Finally, I love a book that incorporates the title into the story in a meaningful way, and Emma Lord did this flawlessly in Begin Again. I won’t share details because it’s a feeling that is best experienced on your own while reading the book, but the way the title was tied into the story was perfect!

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! If you like YA Contemporary or Romance, I highly recommend it!

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ARC Review: Unseelie

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Neurodiverse

Do you ever read a book and feel like you’ve just gone on an epic, life-changing adventure? Well, that’s how I felt about Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman!

The novel follows Seelie, a changeling who ran away from home with her twin sister, but desperately wants to find a way back. The two find themselves in a precarious situation after they steal an enchanted compass from the powerful Leira Wildfall. Unbeknownst to them, the mysterious Raze and Olani were also trying to steal the artifact. Now that Seelie’s magic accidentally caused the item to be imbedded in her hand, her and her sister are somewhat unwilling participants on the journey to find the treasure.

My favorite aspect of this novel is that Seelie is autistic, which is shown through her being a changeling. We really don’t see autistic characters enough in literature, and it was refreshing to see myself in a character. Housman mentioned that her own life likely would have been different if she had seen autistic characters in the novels she read, and she is making that happen for autistic people everywhere.

So many of Seelie’s mannerisms were relatable. As someone who was only recently diagnosed as neurodiverse, it is comforting to read about Seelie’s journey, and know that I’m not alone. That I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to strangers, who needs a while to process how I’m feeling, who can’t always verbalize what I mean, and who is sometimes okay with a hug or a pat on the back, but sometimes not.

On top of that, the way the other characters loved Seelie, not despite her autism, but because of it, gave me chills. So often we see diagnoses as something that others must get past to love someone, but in reality they can make us love someone even more. We can find joy in the ways we are different, and maybe some day, see autism as a neutral or positive attribute about someone, instead of as a diagnosis.

Additionally, the adventure in this novel was fantastic! There’s everything from faeries to shapeshifters to changelings to dragons, and the plot is robust, yet not too overwhelming. I thought the plot complemented the relationships that develop throughout the novel well, and I appreciated how the suspense built all the way to the end of the book.

Overall, there are not many books where I feel the need to message the author immediately after finishing the novel, but this was one of those rarities! I had to use all of my self-control to wait until an appropriate time to send messages, but I am very happy to report that there will be a sequel, and I will certainly be anxiously awaiting its publication!

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Book Review: I Must Betray You

Genre: YA Historical Fiction Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve officially read all of Ruta Sepetys’ books now, and trust me when I say, if you haven’t read her books, you’re missing out! By no means am I a big fan of historical fiction, but Sepetys’ books are everything you could want in a novel!

Her latest book, I Must Betray You, takes place in Romania in 1989, when the country was being ruled by a communist dictator who had the Western world duped into thinking he was a good leader. The novel follows Cristian, a young man who is compelled to inform for the secret police in order to save his sick grandfather. As the book progresses, he finds out that no one is who they seem to be, and Romania is closer to a revolution than he ever imagined.

There’s not a single thing I would change about this book! It’s clear Sepetys did extensive research (as is apparent in all her books) on the time period. Some of the details were incredibly shocking, such as the fact that 1 in 10 citizens were informing for the secret police.

Additionally, Cristian was a phenomenal character! There were many instances where Cristian wonders if aspects of his life that he has come to accept are common in other countries. I thought this was very telling, and highlighted the way Romanians were isolated. Cristian’s relationships with the other characters were compelling and complex. I loved the way Sepetys portrayed this fire inside him, driving him to change things and fight for freedom.

Similarly, the themes in the novel were very strong, particularly the theme of paranoia. It was fitting that Cristian was an informant for the secret police, as that gives readers a unique perspective of being attached to the character while they engage in somewhat nefarious behavior. This truly showed how anyone could be an informant, and that it didn’t necessarily make them a bad person, just a person who wants to survive.

Finally, the emotional connection I felt with this book was unparalleled! Like Sepetys’ other novels, I Must Betray You is heartbreakingly beautiful. Before reading this one, I would have said The Fountains of Silence was my favorite book by her, but now I’m not sure that I can choose between these two! In my opinion, this book is nothing short of literary genius!

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ARC Review: Ace Voices by Eris Young

Genre: Nonfiction Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: A-Spec

After receiving a promotional email from Goodreads, which recommended Ace Voices by Eris Young, I knew I wanted to read it immediately! I’m always looking for more books by and about a-spec people, and I was excited to find another nonfiction book on the topic. I never imagined it would turn out to be one of my favorite nonfiction books of all-time!

One of my favorite aspects of the novel was that it doesn’t read like a textbook. Sometimes nonfiction books can feel really boring, but this book was filled with emotion and soul! I loved that the author spoke to a large group of a-spec people when writing the book, incorporating their different experiences to show a more comprehensive look into what it’s like to be a-spec.

Additionally, Young provided helpful interpretations of different terminology that is frequently used in the a-spec community. I found it very helpful to have multiple clear perspectives on these terms. While I had already heard many of them, I think this feature would appeal to people who are not very familiar with the a-spec community. Likewise, those who have had more experience with the a-spec community will likely enjoy the diverse experiences and nuances that Young references in relation to each term.

On top of that, there were discussion questions at the end of each chapter that really added to the feeling of reflectiveness and introspection. I love that Young wants readers to think, not only about what being ace means, but also about many different aspects of orientation and gender identity. The questions were simultaneously thought-provoking and easy to understand.

The thing that made this book really stand out was the emotions, from those who participated in the creation of the book, from the author themself, and from me as a reader. This made the book very powerful, and I found comfort in many of the things that were shared by other ace people. So many experiences described in the book, from having a fear of being alone forever to not feeling an urge to dive into microlabels, really resonated with me, and made me feel a deeper connection to the a-spec community.

Overall, this is a book that I will be recommending for a long time to come! I’m hoping to add a signed copy to my a-spec bookshelf soon, and I know I will feel a sense of wholesomeness and hope every time I see it on my shelf!

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ARC Review: Nine Liars

Genre: YA Mystery Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Anxiety, Ace

Mystery is not my favorite genre, but I’m convinced that if Maureen Johnson wrote all the mystery books, it might be! Nine Liars is the fifth book in the Truly Devious series, and somehow it was even better than book 4, The Box in the Woods.

The novel follows Stevie and her friends to the United Kingdom, where they are supposed to be learning about history and furthering their studies. When David’s friend Izzy mentions that her aunt was connected to a murder mystery in the English countryside during the 1990s, Stevie’s interest is peaked, and her friends know it’s only a matter of time before she’s on the case.

If I’m being completely honest, the original three books in the Truly Devious series were not phenomenal reads for me. Don’t get me wrong, they were 3-star reads, which is a good book in my opinion. However, this series is one that gets increasingly better over time. When I received an ARC of The Box in the Woods, I’d figured I would try it, but wasn’t wholeheartedly invested in the series. After reading it, I was willing to read more in the series. Now, after reading Nine Liars, I need more books in this series! It completely blew me out of the water!

One thing I love about these novels is that they typically have two alternating storylines. We read a little about the mystery that happened in the past, then we read about Stevie’s life now. This pattern makes the books so compelling in my opinion. As a reader, I found myself more invested in the mystery timeline at the beginning, but the more I read the more invested I was in the present timeline as well.

Furthermore, the mystery in this novel was riveting! The suspense built well over the course of book, and I literally couldn’t stop reading. I couldn’t guess any of the big reveals, yet the series of events was also completely plausible. The cast of characters were dynamic and added a lot to the story. I sometimes feel like authors write very similar characters when they need more murder suspects, but that was not the case with Nine Liars.

Additionally, the characters that we already knew and loved were developed further. I adore the fact that Stevie is a flawed, yet relatable character. Truthfully I don’t think we see enough of this in novels, especially YA novels. We somehow expect the characters to be perfect or stereotypically morally grey, but in many ways, Stevie is just an average teenager who makes mistakes just like anyone else. Her character development throughout this novel drew my emotions into the story even more, and as always, I appreciate the authenticity of reading about a character with anxiety.

Finally, the cherry on top of the cake, there is an ace (asexual) character in this book! This is kind of funny because, at the beginning of this book, I was reading about this character and thought, “Wow, they really seem like they could be ace!” However, it had not been mentioned in the previous books, so I was happily shocked when this character comes out as ace later in the novel. I don’t want to spoil who it is, but I felt like this identity lines up with what we know about this character from the previous novels, and I was so elated to see this representation!

Overall, there is not a single thing I didn’t love about this novel! Maureen Johnson, I sincerely hope you plan on writing another book in this series because I need it yesterday!

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Book Review: Master of Iron

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Social Anxiety

Every time I think I’ve read the best of Tricia Levenseller, she releases another book that is even better than her last! Master of Iron is the second book in Levenseller’s Bladesmith duology, and it picks up right where the last book left off.

This book is one of those rarities that are so amazing they leave me speechless. There isn’t a single thing about this novel that I didn’t absolutely love, but my favorite aspect was the way Ziva’s social anxiety was portrayed. I have never read a book that so accurately depicts what it’s like to have social anxiety. I also loved how Ziva’s friends and family didn’t force her to change, but recognized her social anxiety as part of who she is.

Additionally, Master of Iron offers everything you could want in a fantasy novel. There is plenty of action, yet it didn’t overtake the plot. The supporting characters added so much depth to the plot as well. The romance in the novel was the perfect amount in my opinion. I adored Ziva and Kellyn!

Overall, Master of Iron was a phenomenal follow-up to Blade of Secrets! As if Tricia Levenseller didn’t already have me as a lifelong reader, she would after this wonderful duology!

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Review: Enchanted Coloring and Self-Reflection Journal

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I heard that Elena Shelest, illustrator and coauthor of Enchanted Forests, was creating a coloring book/journal based on the book, I was so excited! I don’t color very often, but I keep a few coloring books on hand, and I try to journal throughout the year. This particular book has everything you could ask for in a coloring book or journal!

I loved the fact that there are quotes that help the reader reflect on nature! I thought there was a great mixture of quotes from the authors of Enchanted Forests and from other writers. One of my favorite aspects is that the quotes are perfectly balanced with the illustrations, and don’t take away from the coloring feature at all. There is the option to color in the letters on many of the quotes, which was fun too!

Furthermore, I loved that self-care is a huge component in the book! Everything from quotes about self-care, to self-care challenges, to journal prompts about self-care were included. All of the journal prompts were fantastic and incorporated nature in a way that was meaningful, yet not too overwhelming. You don’t need to be a nature enthusiast by any means to enjoy this book! Likewise, it is perfect for all ages!

Finally, my favorite part of the book was the illustrations! Honestly, I thought they would just be the same illustrations from Enchanted Forests, which would have still been great because they are stunning. However, these illustrations are different from the ones in Enchanted Forests and expand upon the fantastical worlds in a whimsical and wonderful way!

Overall, this coloring book/journal is the perfect gift for the holiday season, or really any time of year! Whether you want to give someone a special stocking stuffer, or treat yourself with a reflective gift, you can’t go wrong with the Enchanted Coloring and Self-Reflection Journal!

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ARC Review: Of Cages and Crowns

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Once I realized that Of Cages and Crowns by Brianna Joy Crump was a fantasy novel where The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor, I was a little skeptical. That being said, it ended up surprising me more than I expected.

Every generation ten girls are marked by the goddess and gifted with a unique ability. It is an honor coveted by many, but dreaded by Monroe, a goddess-touched girl who has lived hidden away her entire life. The ten girls are required to compete in the Culling, a competition to the death where the prize is the Prince’s hand in marriage and the title of Queen, but they have to outlast nine other girls to win.

I had mixed feelings about a good portion of this novel, but as a whole, I think if you can stick it out to the end, it’s clear that many of the aspects that are a little annoying seem to set up the ending and the next book in the series. The book felt a bit too long for me; especially the first part seemed very slow.

Furthermore, I was not thrilled at the comparison to The Bachelor, but I was excited to discover that it didn’t give off the same creepy vibes as the T.V. show. I went back and forth between loving Monroe and Prince Cohen’s relationship to hating it. There was a little bit of instant attraction on Monroe’s part, which I found odd considering her circumstances. I thought the relationship developed nicely from there though, but fizzled out, and then reignited towards the end. Overall, I wouldn’t say I was wholeheartedly invested in their relationship, but I think that is because other aspects of the novel needed to take priority.

Similarly, I thought Cohen was infuriating! He basically becomes angry with Monroe when she simply takes action to try to survive, and boy was I furious. The nerve of him to be mad at her when he was partially to blame for her circumstances to begin with, when he was not willing to do anything to change those circumstances, was appalling! However, I think the ending of the novel showed some growth in his character, and explained (but didn’t excuse) his poor behavior.

Additionally, there were a lot of elements to the story that made it more complex. For instance, Monroe’s relationships with the other goddess-touched girls, her brothers, and her trainers, really added a lot of depth to the novel. These aspects also showed an impressive growth in Monroe and the other characters in the book.

When I was planning on writing this review, I was ready to say that I saw the ending coming, but it ended up being surprisingly unexpected. Now, I wouldn’t say that it was a major plot twist or anything, but I’ll just say that I was ready for the author to leave the novel open-ended to a certain extent, and that did not happen. There are certainly still some loose ends, but not in regard to what I was expecting. I really appreciated this aspect of the book!

Overall, if you are a reader who can appreciate a book for its complexity, and who doesn’t mind a slow novel, then I think this book is for you. While I initially wasn’t planning on reading the sequel, that ending really drew me in!

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Book Review: Strike the Zither

Genre: YA Fantasy, Retelling Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: WOC

After reading an excerpt of Strike the Zither by Joan He I was enticed, but after finishing the book I was absolutely blown away! To be honest The Ones We’re Meant to Find had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and I eventually ended up donating it because I wasn’t sure that I would ever get to it, but now I’m regretting that. Strike the Zither was one of those books that is clearly a five-star read from the first few chapters!

Having grown up as an orphan, Zephyr was determined to raise herself out of poverty. After studying under multiple mentors she decided to live a life of solitude, but changes her mind when Ren, a warlordess who fights for her people, approaches her, asking Zephyr to be her strategist. When Zephyr finally agrees, she did not realize how much she was committing to, but finds her loyalties truly lie with Ren’s cause.

From the outset of this novel I was captivated! It was interesting reading about a protagonist who is not typical. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with a strategist as a protagonist before and it added a lot of new and interesting aspects to the story. I also enjoyed how He stayed true to Zephyr’s identity as a strategist throughout the novel.

Additionally, this novel was inspired by Three Kingdoms, which is a classic story in Chinese literature. While I have not read Three Kingdoms, it was clear from the author’s note that she made a huge effort to incorporate aspects of the original story into this retelling. One change she made was to change the gender of many characters, as only men were seen as fit to be rulers or strategists in the original story, and in history. I thought this change was fitting and improved the novel, just as the things He mirrored from the original added to the story as well.

Furthermore, Zephyr is such a compelling character. I was so invested in her personal story and seeing where that would take her. The novel is split into two parts (at very logical points in the story I might add) and Zephyr is the biggest constant throughout the novel. When her world was forever changed halfway through the book, I felt heartbroken like she did. Her spirit and defiance added fire to the story as well.

Finally, the plot really made this novel shine. Joan He mentions that she thinks this book is her best, and while I haven’t read her other books, I find it hard to imagine her being able to top the epic adventure of Strike the Zither. It truly was everything I could ask for in a book, and left me begging for answers. There were also quite a few plot twists (some predictable, some not) that added a fun element to the novel.

Overall, Strike the Zither was a heartbreakingly beautiful fantasy novel, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series!

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ARC Review: Silver in the Mist

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Asexual, Nonbinary

I’m always excited to find new fantasy books with ace rep, so I was stoked when I saw that Emily Victoria would be publishing her second novel, Silver in the Mist! I have not had a chance to read her debut novel, This Golden Flame, yet, but if it’s half as good as Silver in the Mist, I know I’m going to love it!

What’s better than an ace protagonist? An ace protagonist who is also a spy! Being the daughter of her nation’s head spy, Devlin is willing to do anything for her country, so when she is sent on a mission to infiltrate the sister nation of Cerena, she is ready to sacrifice anything. However, the more she gets to know her target, Alyse, Cerena’s most powerful caster, the more secrets she discovers. Her mission turns out to be more difficult than she ever imagined.

Normally, I try to keep notes of the things I like and dislike while I’m reading a novel, but I was so wrapped up in Silver in the Mist, I completely forgot to do so! The whole book was very immersive, and the plot had a decent mixture of action and depth. I thought the relationships Devlin made throughout the novel related to the plot well.

Devlin is such a great protagonist! I was fascinated reading about how her character develops throughout the book, and I loved that she starts off confident, questions herself a little, and regains that confidence. Her relationships with her mother, Lochlan, and Alyse really made the story shine.

Additionally, I found quite a few quotes that were simply poetic. On the surface, this book is about a spy trying to save her nation, but deeper down it is a novel about hope and perseverance. I was moved by the way Victoria developed those themes throughout the book, and that is what made it great in my opinion.

Overall, I highly recommend this book, and I can’t wait to finally read This Golden Flame, and to see what else Emily Victoria has in store for readers in the future!

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Book Review: First Earth

Genre: YA Portal Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: disabled, chronic pain

I have written many reviews where I don’t quite have the words to express how much the book moved me, but none quite so much as this one. When I found out that author, Cami Murdock Jensen, chose me as a reader for BookGush October, I was absolutely stoked, but I never imagined that her book, First Earth, would impact me as much as it did.

The novel follows Agnes, who jumps at the chance to do an internship with her mentor. However, when she and her mentor go to view an ancient artifact, her internship takes a wild turn, and she ends up traveling through a portal to another world! Throughout all of this she battles neuropathy pain, and she discovers that she is stronger than she ever could have imagined.

I had absolutely no idea that this book had chronic pain representation until I started reading it. Chronic pain is something I’ve lived with for most of my life, yet I’ve never actually read a book that truly incorporates a character’s pain into their story. Reading First Earth, I have never felt so simultaneously seen and hopeful. I have read fantasy books for a long time as a way to escape reality. Imagining myself in the role of the protagonist has always come with one caveat; that my chronic illnesses and pain would have to disappear for me to be part of these stories. For the first time in my life this book allowed me to escape into a fantasy story that accepts me as I am; a story where I don’t have to change a single thing about myself to imagine myself in that world. Honestly, words cannot convey what that experience means to me.

Additionally, while I personally don’t have neuropathy pain, I found many details about Agnes’ pain relatable. Truthfully, when I started reading the book, I was curious to see how her experiences would be incorporated into the story. Fantasy books that have people with chronic pain constantly running around, saving the day, and showing immense physical strength are really disheartening because they aren’t realistic. But First Earth was so genuine and uplifting. So, maybe Agnes didn’t engage in a harrowing sword fight, but her powers allowed her to show strength in other ways. I absolutely loved how she was just as much a part of the story as the characters who didn’t have chronic pain. I never felt like she was taking a backseat to the action, or only mentioned as an afterthought. She took the spotlight and fought battles in her own way!

Furthermore, I appreciated another aspect of the way Agnes’ chronic pain and physical scars were portrayed. Now, I want to preface that this is completely my opinion and personal preference. By no means do I speak for the disabled and chronic pain warriors of the world. That being said, I thought it was fitting and relatable that Agnes’ pain and scars were not magically healed. Don’t get me wrong, I would have absolutely no issue with someone choosing to have chronic pain magically healed if they could. I certainly would. However, that feature was vital to the story. I’m not saying that people with chronic pain become their chronic pain, but it does become a part of them. Agnes’ story isn’t powerful because she lives with chronic pain or despite her living with chronic pain. It is not the defining factor of who she is, but it is one of the many attributes she has. The story would have drastically changed if Temnon wasn’t fiercely loyal or if Grimmal wasn’t feisty or if Dominath wasn’t wise. In a similar way, it would have been vastly different if Agnes didn’t have chronic pain and scars.

On top of the phenomenal representation, the book was fantastic! The characters were clearly well thought out and the plot was robust and immersive. I know it’s cliché to say this, but I truly couldn’t put it down. I also thought the ending was a good mixture of satisfaction and curiosity.

As a whole, First Earth quickly became one of my all time favorite books! I can’t wait to go on more adventures with the wonderful characters!

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ARC Review: Princess of Souls

Genre: YA Fantasy, YA Fairytale Retelling Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2 Rep: Bi

When I heard that Alexandra Christo was publishing a new book that is a Rapunzel retelling, I was so excited! I absolutely loved To Kill a Kingdom and jumped at the opportunity to read an early copy of Princess of Souls!

On the outside, everyone thinks Selestra is a princess, the next in line to take her mother’s place as the royal witch, but Selestra knows she is really a prisoner to the immortal and cruel king. When her ancestor tied her family’s magic to the king, she doomed generations of women to blindly serve him. However, every year the king offers citizens a chance to cheat death and earn a wish if they make it a couple weeks, or steal his immortality if they survive the month of the blood moon. Nox, a solider in the king’s army is determined to steal his immortality, but when his fate is tied to Selestra’s, things become much more difficult for the two of them.

While I found the first half of the novel kind of slow, I thought the action really picked up in the second half, and truly captured my attention. Towards the end of the novel, things were moving so quickly that I literally could not put the book down. I also loved the adventurous elements of the novel, and the way the characters traveled to different lands.

Furthermore, despite being a Rapunzel retelling, I thought the novel would have benefitted from more focus on the romance between Selestra and Nox. Although it was certainly part of the story, it felt like it took a backseat for most of the book. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but being a Rapunzel retelling, it was a bit unexpected.

In addition, I really enjoyed Selestra and Nox’s points of view throughout the novel. Having the dual POVs highlighted the ways the two main characters interpreted events differently throughout the book. I also appreciated the way Selestra’s doubts and hesitations were apparent from her POV, but not as obvious from Nox’s POV. It definitely emphasized her growth throughout the novel, and the way the two characters’ feelings developed.

The supporting characters in the book were interesting, but I would have like to see more of them throughout the book. Especially, Selestra’s mother, since she plays a vital role in Selestra’s story. Pretty much all of the supporting characters were compelling, I just think some of them could have taken on a more significant role in the novel.

Overall, Princess of Souls was pretty good, but unfortunately didn’t quite live up to my high expectations after reading To Kill a Kingdom.

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Book Review: The 716

Genre: YA SciFi Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: LGBTQIA+

Every now and then an indie author reaches out to see if I would be willing to read and review their book, and I absolutely love these interactions! Connecting with indie authors is one of my favorite parts of being a book reviewer, and it was no different when S.J. Pratt reached out to see if I would read her book, The 716. I have to say, this is one of the most memorable and underrated scifi books I’ve ever read!

The 716 is a futuristic novel that completely obliterates gender stereotypes. Olivia and Andy couldn’t be more different. Olivia was raised to eventually take her mother’s place as the leader of their society, while Andy is told he will never be more than a house-husband. However, Olivia and Andy have more in common than they think; they both want to be an engineer. While Olivia is told her dream is beneath her social status, Andy is told that his head is in the clouds, wanting to do a woman’s job.

I could go on an on about this book for days, but my favorite part of the book was the way it incorporated feminism and highlighted the obstacles women face in our own society by attributing them to men in the novel. The small details were perfect, such as vehicles being referred to as “he” instead of “she” and “resting b@stard face,” which will forever change my usage of the phrase it was created from. These details showed how closely Pratt thought this novel through, and made it feel even more authentic.

Additionally, the bigger details of the novel were wonderful as well! For instance, in Olivia and Andy’s society, nursing and teaching are considered prestigious careers that women should aspire to. Pratt makes a huge statement suggesting that teaching and nursing should be viewed as more valuable than they are in our society. Similarly, the way she suggests that only women could do these jobs in the novel, brings up the absurdity of associating certain jobs with certain genders in real life.

Another detail that I truly appreciated was Olivia’s brother, Will’s, outrage that men are not included in medical trials in the novel. I think it is shocking when people find out that many medical trials in reality do not include women, which ultimately kills women. Will in general was a great character, and I really related to his perspective and desire to fight for change.

Furthermore, Pratt tackles sexism head-on with her characters in The 716. Multiple times in the novel Olivia is forced to confront her sexist views. I absolutely loved that she made the mistake of acting sexist towards Andy, because this mirrors the way that people are sexist in real life. Even better though, was the fact that Olivia took the time to reflect on her behavior and realize her wrongdoings.

Finally, I enjoyed the fact that Pratt included people with various gender identities. While the focus at the beginning of the novel is on the unfair and unequal treatment of men, she further develops this theme to include trans, nonbinary, gender fluid, and people across the gender spectrum. It was not only heartening that she included everyone, but also that Andy discovered new gender identities along his journey towards equality.

Honestly, I feel like my review doesn’t even begin to convey how wonderful this book truly is. On top of all the major issues it brings to light, it also has fun characters, a complex world, and a solid plot. I especially think fans of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer will love this book, but truthfully I think pretty much anyone and everyone that enjoys scifi or YA will absolutely adore it!

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Book Review: The Newlyweds’ Window

Genre: Short Stories Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: POC

After reading Send Her Back by Munashe Kaseke, which was published by Mukana Press, I was interested in the Mukana Press 2022 Anthology of African Writing, The Newlyweds’ Window. I try to read books that have diverse characters, written by diverse authors, so this anthology sounded fantastic. As a whole, it was definitely one of the best anthologies I’ve read!

The stories are all from different genres, and I thought I wouldn’t like this feature, but I ended up loving it! The anthology still felt cohesive and the different genres actually added more depth to the book. Many of the stories left me wanting more, and wishing that each author had published a whole book instead of a short story!

My favorite thing about the anthology was that the stories elicited such strong and varying emotions. I felt everything from fear and disgust to outrage and lonesomeness; from thoroughly creeped out to heartbroken. Most of the stories were so simple, yet so effective in conveying emotion, and that made it a very powerful book.

Honestly, it’s hard to pick my favorite stories from this anthology, but if I had to choose, I would say “The Daya Zimu” by Vanessa Nakayange, “Rain” by Muuka Gwaba, and “This is for My Aunt Penzi, Who—” by Idza Luhumyo were my top 3. These stories were so inventive and unique! I highly recommend this book, especially because it combines immense talented with the representation of overlooked authors!

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ARC Review: The River of Silver

Genre: Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: POC, Gay

Ironically, I recently picked up The River of Silver by S.A. Chakraborty for the exact reason the author wrote the book; I was going through personal issues and I needed some familiarity in my life. Like Chakraborty, I was excited to revisit a world I already knew and loved. The River of Silver turned out to be the exact mixture of comfort and adventure that I needed!

The book is an anthology of short stories that take place in the same world as Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy. There are stories for many of the characters we all know and love, that span a huge time period, from before the other novels to after them. It also included an alternative ending to The Empire of Gold.

Once again, I find myself at a loss for words to adequately describe the immense talent that Chakraborty so clearly has in abundance! I love that she decided to revisit this world and expand on so many of her characters. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t feel as connected to this book since the stories follow quite a few different characters, but that worry was completely unfounded. I ended up loving that I got a deeper look into the histories and lives of characters I already knew, especially Hatset’s and Rustam’s stories.

My favorite part of the book is that it is so immersive just like Chakraborty’s other books. I truly felt like I was in Daevabad while reading, and that feeling of escaping reality is indescribable. Likewise, I have only found a handful of authors who have this uncanny ability to fully transport their readers to another world.

Chakraborty has a solid place among my favorite authors, and I can’t wait to read The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi when it comes out next year!

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ARC Review: Writing Gatsby

Genre: Nonfiction Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

After reading William Elliott Hazelgrove’s books about the Titanic and Cassie Chadwick, I was so excited to see he was publishing a book about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby! The book was certainly enjoyable, but didn’t necessarily live up to the other two I’ve read by Hazelgrove.

I absolutely love the idea behind the book, to tell the story of how The Great Gatsby became one of the greatest American novels ever written. One of my favorite parts was reading about the publication process, and finding out that the novel gained popularity during WWII through Armed Service Editions. The fact that this novel that everyone knows and loves might have been unheard of if it weren’t for this book giveaway during WWII is astounding!

Furthermore, I thought Hazelgrove captured Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald exceptionally well in his writing. While I knew a little bit about the couple before reading this book, I didn’t know a lot, and Hazelgrove really made them come alive. Similarly, I appreciated that their depictions were not sugarcoated. While that made me like them (especially Scott) less than I did before, it was important that the book stayed true to their personalities.

That being said, I think the book was a bit unclear in some aspects. For one, it is not written in chronological order, which normally doesn’t bother me, but it was a little difficult to follow. Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that some of Scott’s and Zelda’s quotes from their books were included, but it was not apparent at the beginning of the book that these quotes reflected their relationship and real-life experiences. It would have been better if Hazelgrove had shared at the beginning of the book that Scott and Zelda later stated that some of their fictional works applied to their lives.

Finally, after reading the entirety of this book, I’m not sure that the title is completely accurate. While it is about the process of writing and publishing The Great Gatsby, it seemed like that took a backseat to Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s tumultuous relationship. Although this was still an interesting topic, it was not altogether expected based on the title.

As a whole, Writing Gatsby by William Elliott Hazelgrove was pretty good! His books about the Titanic and Cassie Chadwick are in another category in my opinion, but this was definitely worth the read!

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ARC Review: Forestfall

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐ Rep: Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian

After absolutely loving Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone, I couldn’t wait to read the sequel and conclusion, Forestfall! The book picks up where Lakesedge left off, Leta made a deal with the Lord Under to save everyone and mend the corruption. Unfortunately, the deal did not go as planned, and she ends up stuck in the World Under. The book revolves around her efforts to return to the World Above.

Devastatingly, I did not enjoy Forestfall very much. By itself, it is a great story, but the plot made absolutely no sense after the events of Lakesedge. Leta develops a romance with another character in the book, and this was the main issue I had. Not that someone can’t be in love with two people at once, but Leta’s love for this character in the second book was simply illogical and contradictive from what we know about her from the first book. This issue really influenced my opinion of Forestfall, and was the main reason why I didn’t like the novel.

That being said, Clipstone’s writing is absolutely poetic and lyrical. There are not many authors that have the talent to write such beautiful prose, and that was Forestfall’s one saving grace.

Overall, I would not recommend this book to those who enjoyed Lakesedge. Like I said, the story is good, it just doesn’t make sense as a sequel to Lakesedge.

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ARC Review: Shadowsphere

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Shadowsphere takes place after Bewilderness, but the contents consist of a character telling a story that takes place before the events of Bewilderness. In the novel Tavarian and Dexius are enemies from the same mountain village called Rethia. The Council that governs Rethia needs rokenstones to help improve the productivity of the town, but only a few citizens can breath the air of Rootcore, the unknown land below the mountain where the rokenstones are. When both Tavarian and Dexius are chosen to descend the mountain they are excited to become the hero of their town, but also not looking forward to spending time together.

While I absolutely loved Bewilderness, Shadowsphere was good, but not necessarily great. I think the main thing that bothered me was that it tells the backstory of a character from Bewilderness, but that was not apparent at first. I would have preferred to know this ahead of time, as I would have immediately felt more invested in the story.

The story was interesting, and once the characters started their adventure, I felt more immersed in the novel. It was a little slow starting off, and a few of the action scenes were a little confusing.

That being said, I really liked the characters, and the growth of the MC throughout the book was phenomenal. The characters relationships with one another were complex and tumultuous, and the found family trope was perfection!

Furthermore, I enjoyed the greater themes of corruption and the questions of morality that arose throughout the book. Although the plot was a little predictable, I thought it was interesting to feel like I knew more as a reader than the MC did.

Overall, I was expecting Shadowsphere to be a continuation of Bewilderness, so I was a bit surprised, but there were many compelling aspects to the story!

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ARC Review: The Christmas Clash

Genre: YA Romance Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ Rep: POC

The Christmas Clash by Suzanne Park, is a cute rom com about Chloe Kwon, a young Korean American girl, whose family owns a café in Riverwood Mall. Unfortunately, Chloe’s nemesis, Peter Li, is never far away, as his family owns a competing restaurant in the food court. When the mall is in jeopardy of being demolished, the two must work together to save their family’s livelihoods.

After reading the synopsis of this book, I was really excited to read it! It sounded similar to Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, which was adorable. While The Christmas Clash was cute, it fell a bit short of my expectations.

I will say that many of the characters were well-written. Park did a fantastic job with Chloe’s and Peter’s character development, and they both felt very distinct and unique. Similarly, both Chloe’s and Peter’s friends also had memorable personalities. I enjoyed the fact that the friends in the story stood out instead of feeling like part of the background. Chloe’s friends especially were very supportive of her, and I loved that they knew her so well!

Sadly, I was expecting more from this story than it offered. It’s clearly supposed to focus on the enemies-to-lovers trope, but I felt like neither the enemies aspect, nor the lovers aspect, were done well. At the beginning of the novel, when Chloe and Peter are allegedly enemies, they are swapping dinners from their families restaurants. That, along with other details, suggested that they weren’t truly enemies to begin with. Likewise, the romantic tension was practically nonexistent, both before and after they became lovers.

Other than that, nothing about the book necessarily stood out to me. While I read an ARC version, a lot of the writing was incomprehensible, which drew my attention away from what was happening in the novel. As a whole, not my favorite read this year.

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ARC Review: My Name is Ona Judge

Genre: Historical Fiction Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: POC

Typically I am the one to recommend books for my mom, but she recently read The Girl at the Back of the Bus by Suzette D. Harrison, and couldn’t stop gushing about it! So, when I saw My Name is Ona Judge by the same author on NetGalley, I quickly requested it!

The book is written from two perspectives, Ona Judge, who lived as a dower slave to Martha Washington, and Tessa, a close family friend of Ona’s descendants. When Tessa accidentally finds Ona’s diary, she gets a glimpse into a life she could never imagine, and learns some life lessons herself.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is that it is based off of a true story! Ona Judge Staines was one of Martha Washington’s slaves, and escaped to live in freedom for the rest of her life. Prior to reading this novel, I had never heard of Ona, and I loved that Harrison took the time to share such an important part of history. Hopefully Ona Judge will be a household name like Harrison mentions in the novel.

Additionally, I felt as though Harrison told both Ona’s and Tessa’s stories in such an eloquent way. While there are many books about slavery, I don’t think I’ve ever read one from the perspective of a child, so that truly made this book stand out. Similarly, I thought it was important that the novel addressed significant issues, such as colorism and the belief that slaves working in the house had it easier. Ona’s story dispelled the common belief that all slaves working in the fields had more difficult lives, and encouraged readers to recognize that all slaves faced different types of adversity.

Furthermore, Tessa’s story amplified the power in Ona’s story, but also stood on its own. The fact that Tessa found bravery through reading Ona’s diary was inspiring, and I liked that she did not compare her experience to Ona’s, but was still able to find the wisdom in Ona’s story and her own.

Overall, I will certainly be checking out Suzette D. Harrison’s other books! My Name is Ona Judge was a wonderful novel that speaks on both past and current issues in our society!

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Book Review: Coven

Genre: YA Fantasy, Graphic Novel Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Queer, Sapphic, POC

I typically don’t read many graphic novels, but after reading an excerpt of Coven, written by Jennifer Dugan and illustrated by Kit Seaton, I could not wait to continue reading! Honestly, this book has convinced me that I need to read graphic novels more often!

The book is about Emsy, a young witch whose family moved away from her coven when she was young. She has a life, friends, and a girlfriend in California, but when tragedy strikes her coven in New York, her family forces her to move across the country. She soon learns that she is more powerful than she thought, but being part of a coven is not all fun and games.

Everything about this book was fantastic! When it was advertised as a queer fantasy graphic novel, I was interested because you don’t see that every day. The queer rep in the book really elevated the overall quality, and I loved that it was normalized within Emsy’s family and coven. While it is important to have books about coming out, it is equally important to have books that simply show queer people living life, and this book was a phenomenal example of the latter.

Furthermore, I enjoyed both the fantastical and mysterious elements of this novel. The magic system was compelling, and not too complicated. Watching Emsy discover more about her powers was fun, and it was endearing to see members of her coven teaching her more and being open with her.

Similarly, the friendships that Emsy developed were complex, personal, and inviting. She developed relationships with different dynamics, which added a lot to the story.

Finally, the illustrations in this novel were what really made it stand out. All of the drawings were well thought out and pretty consistent. Every now and then there would be a drawing that was simply breathtaking, and gave me chills.

As a whole, I will definitely be trying out more graphic novels in the future. I would love it if Dugan and Seaton decided to create a sequel to Coven because the book was truly fantastic!

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ARC Review: The Sunbearer Trials

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Transgender, Nonbinary, Gender Fluid

I was absolutely blown away by The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas! The novel takes place in a world where the god, Sol, sacrificed their life to save the world from the evil Obsidian gods. Every 10 years the Sunbearer Trials take place with 10 demigods, who are almost always Golds. The loser of the trials must be sacrificed to protect the world from the Obsidians. Teo, a Jade demigod, is shocked when he is chosen to compete in the trials, but throughout his journey, he realizes things are even more complicated than he initially thought.

While I’ve heard people compare this book to The Hunger Games, I personally loved this book so much more. The trials in the book were inventive and action-packed. I found myself wanting to skip ahead just to see what the results would be. Likewise, I appreciated the fact that the demigods were ranked after each trial, and that those rankings made sense.

On a similar note, I thought the camaraderie in The Sunbearer Trials was phenomenal! Teo develops complex and multifaceted relationships with most of the other competitors, and I adored this human element of the story. Teo, Niya, and Xio were the perfect trio! They truly complemented each other well, and the way that they knew each other’s flaws and still had such a strong friendship was endearing.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about the book was the queer representation. Teo, the main character, is a trans boy. The way Thomas used Teo’s wings to convey messages about what it’s like to be trans was moving. Additionally, Xio is also a trans boy, and he and Teo connected over their shared experiences and struggles. In my opinion, this connection was so vital to the story, and it shows why more books need multiple trans characters. Having two trans characters converse and connect amplified Teo’s and Xio’s experiences, whereas we might not have gotten that insight if there had only been one trans character.

Similarly, the worldbuilding was fantastic, and I enjoyed the way Thomas made being queer a normalized part of this world. There was both subtle and overt representation of queer people in this book, and we truly need more books like this, especially within the fantasy genre!

Finally, I loved the way I just got lost in this story! You can always tell a great book from a good book because you will lose track of time while reading a great book. I found myself shocked to reach the end of the novel, and obviously disappointed because I want more of this story now! I also laughed out loud a few times throughout the book, and I thought the touch of humor was the perfect addition.

Overall, while The Sunbearer Trials has been compared to other books in the genre, I can certainly say it stands on it’s own and has the potential to become a new classic within YA fantasy. It’s not often that you find a book that seamlessly incorporates queer representation with a compelling story, but that is exactly what this book accomplished!

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ARC Review: Kindred Kingdoms

Genre: YA Fantasy Anthology Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Rep: Queer, Disabled, POC

As a whole, I absolutely loved this anthology! There were quite a few 4 and 5 star stories, and the representation was fantastic! My top 3 were:
1. The Necromancer’s Army by Agatha Lopez
2. From the Ether by E.M. Lacey
3. Dawn by Morgan Daimler

Weight of the Arrow by Erin Casey (3 Stars)
I liked that the MC is in the midst of a journey towards body positivity. I also really enjoyed the dragons in this story!

Daughters of the Jungle by R.L. Medina (4 Stars) 
I really liked that the story focused on both sisters, but it was from Yara’s perspective. I loved the magic in the story and the way Yara and Leku are opposites, but also connected. The ending was fantastic!

Enchanted by the Elven Prince by Sirena Knighton (5 Stars)
I feel like elves are overdone in fantasy nowadays, but I must say I absolutely loved this story! I will definitely be reading the full novella of this story and, if it’s not too spicy for me, I will be ordering Knighton’s first book in this series as well. Her writing was simply exquisite and the romance was perfect!

Kingdom of Blood and Bane by K.R.S. McEntire (4.5 Stars)
Another wonderful story! It certainly drew me in from the beginning. I really liked the plot twist towards the end of this story. The plot in general was interesting and I adored the main character, Sura.

Akin to Magic by Jessica Cage (2.5 Stars)
I was not a fan of this story. The writing was repetitive at times and inconsistent at others. For instance, one character is described as having the ability to wield fire, but a few sentences later is said to have no magical affinity. Additionally, the story itself was disappointing. I would have liked to see Adain stick to her decision to make a point.

From the Ether by E.M. Lacey (5 Stars)
The best word I can think of to describe this story is powerful. It was absolutely phenomenal and packed a lot of emotion in a short story. The plot was unique, and I appreciated the way the main character was disabled, but also had special abilities. Overall, this was a beautiful and moving story, and I will definitely be checking out the author’s books!

They Call Him Destroyer by John Wells (3 Stars) 
This story was good, but nothing really stood out to make it great for me. I wasn’t particularly attached to any of the characters. However, the plot was solid and the story moved at a quick pace.

Beauregard by LaLa Leo (1.5 Stars)
I’m not sure if this story is related to some of the author’s other works, but it was very confusing. Keep in mind that I read an ARC copy, so perhaps there will be significant changes, but the writing was so jumbled and inconsistent, it was difficult to tell what was happening in the story. There were some incomplete sentences and scenes that just seemed random.

A Mother’s Love by Kristen S. Walker (4.5 Stars)
I absolutely loved this story! Maylayna’s love for her daughter is moving and I think the story being told from her perspective made it better. I really liked that it highlighted the experience of a trans girl, showing what that is like in real life. It warmed my heart that Nestia’s mother stuck by her as every mother should!

Lucky Scales by Kat Zaccard (5 Stars)
I need more Avina, Saphie, and Finneus!!! This story was wonderful! I loved the fact that there were various creatures and beings included, and the three main characters, really made the story shine. Who wouldn’t love an adventure with an orphan, a dragon, and a leprechaun? This story seems like it could set up a larger series, and I’m sincerely hoping the author has plans on writing more with these characters!

Season of War and Blood by D.L. Howard (5 Stars)
I definitely got lost in this wonderful story! The characters were fantastic, especially Tiaret. Tia’s powers are very intriguing and I love that she forms a bond with a lion cub. My favorite aspect of the story was the theme of acceptance!

Heads Will Roll by Amanda Ross (4 Stars)
I really enjoyed this Alice in Wonderland retelling! I love that Roisin is a morally grey character. Ross did a phenomenal job of connecting to the reader’s feelings. At first Roisin’s feelings towards Allis are a bit alarming, but as the story goes on I felt myself understanding Roisin more and more. Overall, a great and unique retelling!

The Sword, the Scepter, and the Crown by N.D.T. Casale (4 Stars)
I have read a few of Casale’s short stories now, and she is surely becoming a new favorite author of mine! This story was cute and exciting. I’m always amazed by Casale’s writing because it is so vividly descriptive, which is by far my favorite aspect of this story. I can’t wait to read her debut book, which is coming out this year!

The Necromancer’s Army by Agatha Lopez (5 Stars)
If the title of this story doesn’t draw you in immediately, the first few paragraphs surely will! This is perhaps the most unique short story I’ve ever read, and I loved every minute of it. Everything about it was stunning; the plot, the action scenes, the characters. Not to mention the MAJOR plot twist. I did not see that coming at all! Reading that this is Lopez’s first published work is shocking. When I read a story this epic, I typically assume that it is written by a seasoned author. I feel this only attests to how talented Lopez is, and I cannot wait to read more of her work!

Dawn by Morgan Daimler (5 Stars)
As a fan of fairytale retellings, I absolutely loved this Beauty and the Beast meets a gender-swapped The Boy Who Cried Wolf retelling! Una was a perfect character! As someone who also uses a cane, I really liked the representation and felt as though I related to her a lot. Similarly, I liked how Daimler points out that the elderly, like the disabled, are often overlooked. Marie and Una were the perfect team. The story was beautiful, and I would have love to read more about Una! 

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ARC Review: The Liar’s Crown

Genre: Fairytale Retelling Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

As usual, as soon as I heard the word “retelling” I immediately requested The Liar’s Crown by Abigail Owen on NetGalley. While I’m not typically a huge fan of romantic fantasy, I absolutely loved this book!

Meren is a princess, but no one is allowed to know about her. There are a set of twin girls born in the royal family every other generation, and the second-born is always raised to give her life to protect the future queen. Meren is no different. She knows that her sole purpose in life is to protect her sister from the evil king, Eidolon, but when Meren is kidnapped things go awry quickly.

I adored so many things about this wonderful book! Probably my favorite aspect is that the plot is not lost to the romance. That is definitely the biggest issue I run into with romantic fantasy novels, but The Liar’s Crown was the opposite. The romance was well thought out, and more importantly, the plot was the main focus of the novel. Usually I feel like you end up sacrificing one or the other; either you have a great romance with little plot, or a great plot with no romance, but this book balanced the two perfectly!

Furthermore, Meren was a phenomenal character! She felt so realistic and very three-dimensional. Her character growth was fun to read and extremely complex. Similarly, I was initially worried because the romance seemed to rely heavily on Stockholm Syndrome, which should not be romanticized, but the author was really clever about handling this, and the romance did not feel creepy to me at all.

The entire book was written so eloquently, but the ending was everything! It doesn’t really leave you with a cliffhanger, but I’ll just say the characters are in precarious situations towards the end of the book. However, Owen adds, what I think is the perfect detail, at the end that gives the reader hope while also building intrigue for the next book!

Overall, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romance, fantasy, or retellings!

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ARC Review: Three Kisses, One Midnight

Genre: YA Romance/YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Sandhya Menon, and Evelyn Skye is a cute atmospheric romance novel that includes 3 connected stories. The 3 stories follow Onny, Ash, and True on Halloween night, four hundred years after their town, Moon Ridge, was founded. All three have complicated histories with relationships, but they just might be destined to find love on this mysterious and spooky night.

Sometimes I’m just in a mood where I want to read a lighthearted romance. Prior to reading Three Kisses, One Midnight I did not realize that I needed a lighthearted spooky romance novel in my life! The cute stories of romance along with the ghostly details turned out to be the perfect mixture for a fun, easy read! I cannot recommend this book enough if you want romance and Halloween/Autumn vibes!

While the book follows three characters on one night, it is really 3 separate stories. The first one, which follows Onny was absolutely fabulous! I adored the enemies-to-lovers trope, which is honestly unusual for me. However, the romance in that story simply felt right. Onny was an eccentric and spontaneous character, I simply couldn’t get enough of her!

The second story follows Ash, who is a shy and artistic guy, pining after his next door neighbor. While the love story was cute, it was my least favorite out of the three. I didn’t particularly feel the sparks flying between Ash and his love interest, so the story was okay, but not necessarily great.

Finally, the third story follows True, a girl who is unapologetically skeptical about anything supernatural. Her romance was cute, but I really loved her character more than anything else. She relies on evidence and data, but when possibly paranormal events occur, she is stuck between relying on her logical instincts and giving into her curiosity. I certainly felt like True was such a relatable character, which made that story enticing.

Overall, I found the book to be entertaining, and a quick read. It would be perfect for people who enjoy romance, but also for anyone that loves the spooky aesthetics of Halloween!

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ARC Review: The Stars Between Us

Genre: YA Romance/YA SciFi Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Vika Hale is willing to do anything so she can live a life of wealth and abundance. Her and her family have lived a life of poverty on Philomenus for far too long, and Vika wants more for her life. However, when she is offered the chance to live a wealthy life after a famous billionaire essentially requires his son to marry Vika in order to inherit his fortune in his father’s will, Vika is not so sure that a wealthy life is worth a loveless marriage and her dignity. Little does she know that events will unfold and make her life much more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

As a whole, I really enjoyed The Stars Between Us by Cristin Terrill. The plot was predictable, but fun to read and I enjoyed the premise of the story. I will say that I found myself a little bored at many points throughout the novel. For the first 30% of the novel, I wasn’t sure who I should ship Vika with, so it lagged a bit. Once Terrill introduced a few romantic scenes between Vika and her love interest, I was more attentive, but I felt like there wasn’t enough romantic tension.

Additionally, I enjoyed the characters for the most part. I appreciated that Vika is a little selfish and not your typical protagonist. Other than that, I liked the other characters, but didn’t feel as though they necessarily stood out.

The mystery element in the novel was good, but again, highly predictable. This book is great if you want a quick and easy read. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are looking for surprising plot twists or a riveting romance, but as a whole, it was pretty good. Overall, The Stars Between Us was one of those books that was good while I was reading it, but nothing particularly stands out that would make it great.

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ARC Review: All of Our Demise

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

So many of us have been anxiously awaiting the release of All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman! With the shocking ending to All of Us Villains, I was also excited to get my hands on the conclusion to this duology!

The plot is a little hard to discuss without majorly spoiling you all, so I will just say that the book picks up right where book one left off.

While I did find the novel a bit slow, I was thoroughly impressed with the book as a whole. The aspect of the novel that I enjoyed the most were the villainous endeavors the characters experienced. Too often, I find books that advertise morally grey characters, usually have a redemption arc, which is disappointing. I want truly villainous characters who are ruthlessly evil! In this regard, All of Our Demise did not disappoint! There is deceit, betrayal, and even torture…not that torture is something to be excited about, but you know when a character engages in it, they are a genuine villain. In my opinion, some of the things the characters did in the book were past redemption, which was refreshingly unique.

Furthermore, I think part of the reason why I found the book a little slow was due to the fact that there is extensively complex character development. If you’ve read the first book, you know the novel switches between multiple POVs. By the end of the second book those characters are almost unrecognizable! I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that not only pulled off phenomenal character development, but which did so for more than 4 characters!

Likewise, there was just the right amount of unpredictability that I felt surprised by certain events in the book. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is shocking, but it was still unexpected.

Overall, this book definitely lived up to the hype. Between All of Us Villains and All of Our Demise, Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman wrote one of the best YA duologies of all time!

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ARC Review: The Monsters We Defy

Genre: Historical Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

I saw Leslye Penelope at a virtual author event for another author, and she seemed like such a genuine and nice person, I wanted to support her writing. Little did I know how talented she truly is!

The Monsters We Defy is a historical fantasy novel that takes place in Washington D.C. during the 1920s. The main character, Clara, has “the sight,” or the ability to see into the world of spirits and communicate with them. When people suddenly start mysteriously vanishing, Clara knows it is up to her to do something to stop it, but she unwillingly picks up a few helpers along the way.

There are so many aspects of this novel that were simply phenomenal, it’s hard to know where to start! What truly blew my mind was the author’s note at the end of the novel, explaining that the story was based off of a real person, Clara “Carrie” Minor Johnson, and real events. Penelope seamlessly incorporated the true story into the book, not only staying true to the real person’s story, but also adding an element of fantasy that was believable and intriguing.

Furthermore, I am usually not a fan of paranormal fantasy, but The Monsters We Defy had a great balance of believable fantastical elements and reality. While the main problem that Clara faced was seemingly fantastical, it was clearly symbolic of the way Black people have been viewed as worthless throughout history. I loved how Clara was an extraordinary yet ordinary person who was determined to change this, both in her every day life, and in her quest to stop an evil spirit.

Additionally, I always love the found family trope, but I particularly liked Penelope’s use of it in her book because Clara is seemingly completely uninterested in having friends. This aspect really added to her growth throughout the novel, and her reluctance to connect with the other characters made those connections that much more meaningful.

Overall, there are so many other aspects of this novel that I could go on about, but trust me when I say this is a book you don’t want to miss! It certainly appeals to readers who enjoy many genres, and addresses important issues, such as racism, classism, and the importance of fighting for what’s right. I will definitely be reading more books by Penelope in the future!

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ARC Review: Send Her Back

Genre: Short Stories Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Send Her Back by Munashe Kaseke is a collection of short stories that describe the lives of many Zimbabwean women. Some of Kaseke’s characters immigrated to the U.S., while others are living in Zimbabwe, but all of them have a complex, and often complicated, story to tell.

First off, I was impressed to see that this is Kaseke’s debut book, because she writes as if she has been doing so for her entire life. Her stories are so detailed and descriptive. Each character felt unique and three-dimensional in her own way. Honestly, I would have been happy to read an entire book for each story that Kaseke included because the writing was simply stunning.

Additionally, I had to go back and check the genre of this book because the stories felt so realistic, I thought it must be nonfiction. While I can confirm that it is in fact fiction, I have no doubt that these stories are representative of the experiences of real women. Having the opportunity to see what life is like for women who are different from myself was eye-opening. I think most of us have preconceived ideas of what immigrants are like, and what Black women are like, but this book expanded my perception of humanity.

Finally, every single story was not only captivating, but also emotionally moving. It is a powerful thing for authors to have the ability to evoke such strong emotions in readers, but after reading this book, I have no doubt that Kaseke clearly has that talent.

Overall, I hope Kaseke writes another book soon because it will certainly be a must-read for me! Even if she never wrote another book in her life, Send Her Back is an amazing feat, the likes of which most authors strive for just once in their lives!

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Book Review: Soul Shade

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Soul Shade picks up right where Soul Render left off. I don’t want to spoil the first book, so I’ll leave it at that.

Not to be that pushy, annoying reader, but where’s book 3? I NEED it now! In all seriousness, I know that amazing books like Soul Render and Soul Shade take time, so I will try to be patient.

Soul Shade had all the action that I loved from the first book! That was definitely one of my favorite aspects of the novel; I was never bored because things were constantly happening.

Additionally, I loved seeing some of my favorite characters from book one grow and develop more, with the addition of some new and interesting characters too!

The fact that more soul stones were in play throughout this novel really added a lot to the book as a whole. It was fun seeing how the soul stones interact with one another and learning the limits and abilities of some from book 1. This feature of the series is truly unique and riveting!

Overall, this series has the potential to become classics in fantasy in this reader’s opinion! This is not a series you want to miss out on!

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Book Review: Soul Render

Genre: YA Epic Fantasy Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Have you ever heard that video of Owen Wilson just saying “wow” over and over again? Well that was me while reading this wonderful book!

Soul Render follows multiple characters, but mainly Will. After an attempt to fight back against the corrupt king fails, he suddenly finds himself with the powers of a stone made from one of the 12 gods, the soul render, which allows him to steal and/or obliterate souls. As if he wasn’t already in a sticky situation, the king will do anything to get the power of the soul render back.

Literally from page one you are thrown into action, and that does not stop throughout the entire book. I sometimes struggle with books keeping my attention, but Soul Render was so action packed that I felt like I couldn’t read fast enough and didn’t want it to end.

Additionally, the plot twists were fantastic! There were a couple I saw coming, but a few took me by surprise, and the one at the end… blew my mind! 🤯

The whole premise of the book was interesting, but the execution was phenomenal! The sequence of events flowed so well and simply made sense, and I lost myself in the book quite often.

Finally, the characters were complex and interesting. I enjoyed the dynamics between multiple characters and I found myself growing close to many of them throughout the novel.

Once again my TBR plans are upended because I don’t think I can wait to read the next book in this series! I rarely stick to my planned TBR anyway, but Soul Render gave me the best excuse to ditch my original plan and hopefully binge Soul Shade ASAP!

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Book Tour: Sunset Rising

Genre: YA Dystopian Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recently, I saw on social media that an indie author plagiarized the work of another indie author. While I am very disheartened to see that happen in the book community, it led me to the original book, Sunset Rising by S.M. McEachern.

300 years after a nuclear fallout in the United States, Sunny O’Donnell is one of the survivors. You might think she be pretty lucky to survive such a disaster, but there are two classes in the biodome, the elite “Domers” and the unlucky laborers who live in the “Pit.” Being part of the latter group, Sunny’s life isn’t easy, but when she ends up being pulled into a dramatic farce with the President’s daughter, her life is quickly turned upside-down.

I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! The plot is definitely the aspect that appealed to me the most, as it was robust and interesting. There wasn’t necessarily constant action, but so many things happened that it felt like a whirlwind just reading the book, which emulated what Sunny was likely feeling.

The theme of government corruption was perfect and I thought the events in the book were realistic, but also inventive, which is not easy to pull off in a dystopian novel.

Furthermore, I thought the characters were well-written. I particularly liked Sunny and her love-interest (I won’t spoil who it is!). Many of the supporting characters were great too!

Finally, the ending certainly left me wanting more! I was bummed because I have so many other books that I’ve committed to reading, but I just wanted to abandon all my responsibilities and read the next book in the series.

Overall, Sunset Rising was a wonderful YA dystopian novel! I am a huge fan of dystopian books, and I think anyone who enjoys that genre will love this book too!

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ARC Review: Blood and Moonlight

Genre: YA Fantasy/Mystery Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

It’s been a long time since I read a book that was so good that I felt compelled to skip ahead and read the ending, but that is exactly what happened with Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty!

The book is about Catrin, an orphan who was basically adopted by her town’s architect. One night, as she is inspecting the scaffolding of the Sanctum, she witnesses a murder. She is too late to help the victim, but is set on helping with the investigation, which may be more trouble than it’s worth. Add to the mix the mysterious young man appointed to lead the investigation, Simon, who is dark and complicated. On top of all that, Cat’s association with the investigation brings her closer to the magical and shunned Selenae, who worship the moon instead of the Sun.

This was the first book in a long time where I was urgently turning the pages, trying to read as fast as I could because the story was so interesting that I needed to know what happens immediately! The plot was certainly robust, as Catrin goes on adventures to catch a serial killer. Although I don’t read a lot of mysteries, this was the best one I’ve read in years, and it’s convinced me that all mysteries should incorporate elements of fantasy!

As I said, the mystery was fantastic, and would have kept me guessing until the end if I had not purposefully spoiled the ending for myself, but the elements of fantasy really made this book shine! The Selenae are essentially very mysterious, nocturnal people who secretly have magick. Most of society isn’t aware of the Selenae’s powers, but Catrin’s involvement in the murder investigations immerse her within their world, which added a lot of excitement to the story.

Finally, I thought the little bit of romance in the novel was cute, and didn’t take over the plot. I appreciated the fact that Catrin had ambitions outside of her feelings that develop for Simon, such as her dedication to her job, her friendships with Marga and Remi, and her determination to learn about her past. These aspects on top of the romance added a lot of depth to the story, and I feel as though the book would have felt incomplete if it had been missing even one of them.

As a whole, Blood and Moonlight was a wonderful book! I would recommend it to both fantasy and mystery readers, especially if you also enjoy YA.

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ARC Review: Into the Mist

Genre: Apocalyptic Rating: ⭐⭐

Unfortunately I did not finish Into the Mist by P.C. Cast. Honestly I really tried to push through and finish the book, but I simply couldn’t…. First off, the characters were extremely annoying. When I read an excerpt of the book, I though they were teenagers, only to find out that they are women in their 40s, who speak and act like teenagers.

While the novel is advertised as feminist, I did not get that from the portion I read (about 22%). Simply killing off most of the men in the novel doesn’t make it inherently feminist. Not to mention the fact that all the characters were extremely superficial.

Finally, many aspects of the novel were highly unrealistic. The characters conveniently had everything they would need in an apocalypse, which was a bit absurd. Likewise, there was supposedly an EMP, yet the characters claimed that electronic cars would still work as long as they were off at the time of the EMP, they were also able to use batteries and cell phones (even though they had no service), which wouldn’t be possible after an EMP. It really showed a lack of research on the author’s part because that is not how EMPs work.

Overall, I just found this book disappointing, unrealistic, and a little annoying.

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Book Review: Hotel Magnifique

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

It’s been a while since I finished a book in less than two days, so I’m so happy I finally decided to pick up Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor because I literally couldn’t put it down!

The story follows Jani and her sister, Zosa, who are enthralled by the mysterious magic of the famous Hotel Magnifique; a hotel that travels to a different place every night, and is full of magical people. When Hotel Magnifique comes to their town, Jani and Zosa will do anything to get a job at the hotel and leave their dull lives behind. When Zosa is offered a job and Jani is not, Jani is desperate to do anything so she can stay with her little sister, but she quickly learns that the hotel is not the perfect paradise she imagined.

I was absolutely immersed throughout the entirety of Hotel Magnifique! There is an element of mystery that really added a lot to the story and made the plot flow really well. On top of that, while the major events in the novel were a little predictable, I found most of the book unique. Specifically, the way Jani solves problems throughout the novel was wonderful!

Additionally, I loved Jani’s relationship with her sister. It made the tension in the novel much more urgent and I wish more fantasy books incorporated family. Likewise, Jani’s other relationships also added depth to the story. The found family trope was great, but I would have liked to see how it could have developed across more books.

Overall, I absolutely loved Hotel Magnifique, and I can’t wait to read whatever Taylor writes next!

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Book Tour: Amethyst Pledge

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was so excited to read my first YA book with Blackberry Book Tours, Amethyst Pledge by Leonie Rogers. If you’ve seen my review for the second book in the series, Dark Days, then you likely already know how I feel about Amethyst Pledge!

In the world Rogers created, every 15-year-old must make a decision that will impact the rest of their lives; pledge their service for The Lady, or choose another path in life. Only a few are called on to serve The Lady, but Kazari knows she is one of them. Once a person declares that they will spend their lives in service to The Lady, she chooses what role they will have. Kazari never imagines that she would be destined to become a Hunter, but that is exactly what happens, and she is quickly thrown into a new and dangerous world.

So many aspects of this book were absolutely wonderful! First off, the writing and plot both flow really well, which made the book go by really quickly. The storyline is action-packed, and I felt like the writing swiftly carried me through the events of the novel. On top of that, I also thought that the events that occurred made sense for the storyline and kept the novel interesting throughout its entirety.

Furthermore, I found many of the characters captivating, especially Kazari. There was something about her that I couldn’t really put my finger on that felt fun, yet relatable. She certainly shows some immaturity, but it felt true to her age, and honestly added to the book as a whole. The character development for Kazari was absolutely phenomenal.

The one thing I didn’t necessarily love about the book was The Lady and the religious aspects. That addition just isn’t appealing to me, and I felt like Kazari’s references to The Lady were a tad bit annoying. That being said, there was a point in the novel where one of the other Hunters subtly suggests some hesitation in his faith in The Lady, so I think it’s possible that Rogers could further develop this idea into something more unique and exciting.

Overall, I was so pleasantly surprised by Amethyst Pledge. If you don’t already know, I ended up emailing Rogers’s publisher immediately after finishing it to see if I could read and review the sequel, Dark Days. If you’re looking for a fast paced fantasy novel that has compelling characters and a robust plot, then this is the book for you!

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Book Review: The Light and The Loyalists

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

What a way to start out the Indie Fantasy Addicts Summer Reading Challenge! I connected with one of the authors of this book, in the Indie Fantasy Addicts Facebook group! I was hooked when I read “If you like The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer…” and I was not disappointed!

The novel follows multiple characters in a futuristic earth. The main character, Zara, is thrown into a course of events that tear her from her home and ask her to take on a powerful mission: save the fate of both worlds.
I really enjoyed the found family trope in this book, and I loved the characters. I can’t wait to see how the authors further develop the characters in the next books. If anything, I would have liked to see a character that was more morally grey. Either a hero that is clearly flawed, but lovable, or a villain that I love to hate would have been wonderful. Some of the characters seem to start out this way, but they come off as smug more than morally grey.

Furthermore, I appreciated the traveling in the novel. It definitely gave off Lunar Chronicle vibes without losing originality of its own.

Additionally, the events in the book certainly feel like they’re setting up the plot for the next book, but it was still interesting and fun to read.

My TBR list is way out of hand with this challenge, but I look forward to reading the next books in the Lodestar Diaries, hopefully soon!

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ARC Review: Little Bird

Genre: Adult Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐1/2

When I saw Little Bird by Tiffany Meuret on Edelweiss, I was immediately captivated by the cover and the fact that it has the “found family” trope! Unfortunately, the book didn’t really live up to my expectations.

Basically, it follows Josie, a 30-something alcoholic divorcee who is struggling just to make it through life. Her dog Po is the closest thing she has to a friend, and she doesn’t mind, but when a new neighbor moves in and a mysterious sentient skeleton appears in her backyard, her life suddenly becomes more interesting.

Josie, started off as a salty yet intriguing character. Sadly, this did not last, and she felt pretty one-dimensional to me. There was very little character development throughout the novel, and Josie’s personality quickly became stagnant and a bit boring. As a whole, I was really disappointed with Josie’s character.

Furthermore, I was genuinely excited about the found family trope in this book. It is one of my favorite tropes, and I honestly had not read a book with that trope that I didn’t enjoy. However, I did not really like the way the author executed the trope in Little Bird. Josie’s found family is apparently her dog, her new neighbor, and the skeleton that appears in her backyard, but she doesn’t really connect with any of them throughout most of the book. I generally like the found family trope because of the sense of comradery, but that aspect was lacking in this novel. Josie was utterly lonely throughout the course of the book, and that just didn’t fit well with the idea of the found family trope in my opinion.

Finally, fantasy is by far my favorite genre, so I was looking forward to exploring the fantastical in Little Bird. Disappointingly, the fantasy aspects in the book were minimal, and didn’t play a huge role throughout much of the novel. Don’t get me wrong, fantasy played a role in the book, but it felt like Josie’s alcoholism and social issues took the spotlight. There were a lot of missed opportunities that could have been explored more, and they weren’t. For instance, the origin of Skelly, the skeleton, was never fully explained, and the ending of the novel was vague in an anticlimactic way.

Overall, Little Bird was pretty disappointing… It wasn’t wholly unenjoyable, but it certainly fell short of the expectations I had prior to reading it.

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ARC Review: Not Good for Maidens

Genre: YA Horror/Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino was off-the-scales impressive! I have not read The Devil Makes Three, so I was certainly blown away by the talent and skill Bovalino showed throughout the entirety of Not Good for Maidens!

This wonderful novel switches between two POVs; May who had a traumatic experience at the goblin market 18 years ago, and her niece, Lou, who grew up ignorant of the market’s existence. When May’s younger sister and Lou’s aunt, Neela, gets stuck in the goblin market, Lou is exposed to an entirely new, and dangerous world.

By far the best thing about this book is its immersiveness! From the first chapter to the last page I felt like I was part of the story and couldn’t wait to read what would happen next. I would frequently lose track of time while reading, and I definitely felt like the book was over too quickly. While I believe Not Good for Maidens is a standalone, the ending leaves a good opening for a sequel, so I will hold out hope that Bovalino might write one some day!

Similarly, the world-building was absolutely wonderful! While the novel takes place in our world, Bovalino creates an entirely new world within the goblin market. She describes it so vividly, and it added a lot of depth to the novel as a whole.

Finally, the representation in Not Good for Maidens is phenomenal! The main character, Lou, is ace, which was extremely exciting to read since I am also ace! On top of that, Lou’s Aunt May is bi and her Aunt Neela is pan. While the characters’ sexual identities are not a huge focus of the book, I sincerely believe we need more books that include this kind of representation without necessarily focusing on it. Regardless, I was elated to read a book with an ace character, and I related to a lot of what Lou experienced, which truly means a lot to me as both a reader and an ace person!

I could go on about this book for hours, but I will leave you to discover its amazingness on your own!

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Book Review: Bewilderness

Genre: YA SciFi, YA Dystopian Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wow! I don’t actually know what it feels like to be in the middle of a tornado, but I’d imagined it is similar to what I felt while reading Bewilderness by Kevin Cox!

The novel follows a girl who has lost her memory and is in an entirely unrecognizable world. She soon discovers that this world is filled with dark and dangerous entities, and ends up accidentally traveling to yet another world while trying to flee. Throughout the book she faces much adversity, meets new friends, and has an adventure of a lifetime learning more about herself and existence as a whole.

There were so many things about this book that I enjoyed, but the depth and world-building were a whirlwind! I love philosophy, but very rarely do SciFi and Fantasy books incorporate it well, if at all. Bewilderness is the existential crisis that I’ve been wanting to read for years! The novel raises philosophical questions about our experiences of the world and the meaning of life. I feel as though I could immediately read it again and take away a ton of messages and ideas that I missed the first time.

While there were many moving and philosophical moments throughout the book, my favorite was towards the beginning when the main character, Ambrielle, briefly experiences a memory in which she felt as though she had a greater understanding of the universe for a split second. Cox described this particular phenomenon extremely well because I instantly knew the feeling he was talking about, and I did not think there were words to truly convey an experience like that.

Additionally, the world-building in Bewilderness was mind-boggling! Cox describes, not one, not two, but three unique worlds in such depth, that I felt as though I had explored them myself! Truly, the world-building in this book is a feat that is exceptionally difficult to accomplish, and can only be compared to authors like Laini Taylor and S.A. Chakraborty. I am excited to read the sequel, for many reasons, but mainly because I cannot wait to read the ways that Cox further develops and enriches these worlds!

The only aspects of the story that I didn’t absolutely love were the romance and, occasionally, the descriptions. I honestly feel torn about both of these things because I think they could be improved upon through development in the second book, so they didn’t negatively influence my overall enjoyment of the novel. However, I did not feel the chemistry between Ambrielle and Gavian. I would have preferred either no romance, or a stronger connection between the two characters. As I said, I think there is potential for development in this aspect, which could completely change my opinion of their relationship.

Similarly, there were certain points in the novel that went into great detail, but almost too much detail. Whenever I’m reading a book, I love losing myself in it, but a couple times while reading Bewilderness, the length and detail in the descriptions were overwhelming, to the point where I felt myself briefly disconnect. That being said, there is a fine line between too much detail and not enough, and I am a reader that would certainly prefer too much, so I can’t complain.

As a whole I was entirely impressed with Bewilderness! It addresses so many deep and significant topics, both philosophically and in a way that is easily understood. Overall, I know this book will stay with me for a long time!

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ARC Review: Dark Days

Genre: YA Fantasy Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every now and then I read the first book in a series and I feel as though I need the next one immediately! After reading Amethyst Pledge by Leonie Rogers, I was dying to read the sequel, Dark Days, which is out now. Thankfully, Hague Publishing graciously sent me an eARC, fulfilling my urgent need to continue the series!

This is kind of a unique situation, since I won’t publish my review of Amethyst Pledge until June, with Blackberry Book Tours. So, I won’t spoil anything from book one, but I’m sure you can guess how I feel about it since I read the sequel!

Dark Days picks up a few months after the events in Amethyst Pledge, and I must say, it was just as riveting as the first book in the series. The main character, Kazari, shows a lot of growth throughout the novel. While book one subtlety emphasizes the physical trials Kazari goes through, book two deals with the emotional challenges Kazari faces. She slowly learns more about what it means to be a Hunter for the Lady, and the effects that has on her personal relationships. Similarly, she starts to come to terms with the events that took place in Amethyst Pledge.

Furthermore, the plot in Dark Days flowed really well. It really made me feel like I was going through the experiences with the characters, and Rogers’s writing kept my mind present throughout the novel. While the writing was occasionally a bit repetitive, as a whole, it was vividly descriptive and detail-oriented.

Finally, the aspect of the book I enjoyed the most was the way in which it alluded to the real world. While I felt a little conflicted about the Lady after reading book one, I appreciated the way that Kazari’s relationship with the Lady and understanding of the world evolved in Dark Days. Although I still don’t necessarily like the religious undertones, I love the way that Kazari’s belief in the Lady reflects the way we view the Truth in our world. I am excited to see what Rogers does with these ideas in book three!

Overall, I highly recommend reading Amethyst Pledge so you can immediately start Dark Days! They are such fun and surprisingly deep books! I’m so grateful to have had the chance to read an eARC of Dark Days, but now I am left urgently wanting to read the third book. Unfortunately, I think I’ll have to wait a little longer this time, but I’m sure book three will be worth the wait!

ARC Review: Arch Conspirator by Veronica Roth

Genre: Adult SciFi/Fantasy Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A SciFi retelling of Antigone? YES PLEASE! As a philosophy nerd, I was so excited when I saw that Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth is a retelling of Antigone by Sophocles. The novel takes place in a futuristic society where it is seen as wrong to have children without first editing your genes. Antigone is one of four children who were conceived naturally, an abomination in her society. When her brother is killed and her uncle decrees that no one can extract his cells in order to place them in the Archive, Antigone knows she must do something. However, with the threat of execution looming over her head, things are not as simple as they seem.

I absolutely loved what Roth did with this wonderful story! There were enough elements that mirrored the original play, but also some interesting touches that updated the story as well. I appreciated the fact that Roth used the original names from the play. I enjoyed how she put a spin on the original twist of incest, but pretty much removed the creepy undertones. The way in which she stuck to the original plot was wonderful as well.

There were a few differences from the original play that I found entertaining. First, the fact that this story takes place in a futuristic and dystopian society added an interesting spin. Roth took Antigone’s original story, which is pretty far removed from our society today, and morphed it into something that feels plausible, akin to what George Orwell did with 1984. The society was not too far-fetched and had elements that made me feel like our world could go in that direction.

Similarly, I thought Roth slightly improved Antigone’s relationship with Haemon. In Sophocles’ play, I felt like their relationship felt a little too forced and inauthentic. In Arch-Conspirator I enjoyed how Roth showed their relationship from both Antigone’s and Haemon’s point of views, suggesting a long-term attraction on his part, and more of an enemies-to-lovers style on hers.

Overall, if there was anything I didn’t enjoy about this book, it was that it is only a novella, and I would have loved to read more about these characters. Whether you’re a fan of the original play or not, I highly recommend this book!