Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Monday, October 4, 2021

Review: The Quicksilver Court (Rooks and Ruin #2) by Melissa Caruso


The Quicksilver Court (Rooks and Ruin #2) by Melissa Caruso
Publication Date: October 12th, 2021
Paperback. 544 pages.

About The Quicksilver Court:

"The Quicksilver Court continues the wildly original epic fantasy series bursting with intrigue and ambition, questioned loyalties, and broken magic that began with The Obsidian Tower. 

Ryxander, Warden of Gloamingard, has failed. Unsealed by her blood, the Door hidden within the black tower has opened. Now, for the first time since the age of the Graces, demons walk the world. 

As tensions grow between nations, all eyes-and daggers are set on Morgrain, fallen under the Demon of Discord's control. In an attempt to save her home from destruction, Ryx and the Rookery set out to find a powerful artifact. But powerful enemies are on the hunt and they're closing in fast."

The Quicksilver Court is the latest installment in Melissa Caruso's Rooks and Ruins trilogy, a companion/follow-up series to her Swords and Fire trilogy. As mentioned in my review for the first book of the Rooks and Ruin trilogy, The Obsidian Tower, it is not necessary to have read the first trilogy, Swords and Fire, before reading this one, although I do think that it adds a slightly deeper understanding the world and magic system that just enhances this reading experience. Still, it's an entirely new set of character and time period, and it's truly a fantastic series so far! Since this is a sequel, I'll do my best to shy away from any major spoilers from the first book, but please know going into this that there may be minor spoilers for the first book in this review. There will be no spoilers for this book, as usual!

The Quicksilver Court picks up not long after the catastrophic events of the first book, and I loved nothing more than getting to jump right back into the chaos with this group of characters. Ever since I started reading the Swords and Fire trilogy back when it first starting being published, Caruso has cemented herself as favorite author whose work continuously grabs me and makes me excited to read it and explore her magic systems and fully developed and complex characters. 

Ryx continues to struggle with her 'broken' magical ability, although this book brings with it a whole new slew of problems for Ryx, and trust me when I say that they almost make her previous issues pale in comparison. Ryx, however, continues to be a character that I love fro her determination, strength, and leadership abilities. She truly knows what and who to value, and is not one to back down from doing what she knows is best for those around her. She's an incredibly dynamic person who manages to adapt to whatever any situation requires, and she does all of this without losing her core self, no matter what may be going on either around her or even to her. Caruso seems to have a knack for writing not only amazing characters, but amazing female characters that I genuinely love and find myself unable to stop thinking about or walk away from. Ryx is just as compelling and impressive as Amalia from the Swords and Fire series, but they are both two completely different people as well.  

In addition to Ryx are some of my favorite supporting characters: Severin, Foxglove, Ashe, Bastian, Kessa, and, of course, Whisper. Each and every one of these characters has such a distinct and compelling personality, not to mention the chemistry and differing relationships that exists among them all. Ashe is easily a favorite for her passionate way of navigating life, as well as how she manages to keep moving forward despite any struggles from her past. Her bantering with Kessa, as well as Kessa's more protective and somewhat nurturing personality, makes the two an incredible pair that are so fun to read. Severin is also one of my favorite Witch Lords, largely because I find him incredibly intriguing and a complex figure to follow. 

This sequel as takes us readers into an entirely new setting away from Gloamingard, which was a really welcome and exciting change of pace. I was a little sad to leave Gloamingard, because I seem to find it as compelling as Ryx does, but the events of the previous book definitely changes things, and the new problems that arise in this book make it necessary for Ryx and the gang to visit a new, almost equally imposing place. I love how well Caruso manages to set a scene and create an atmosphere that is captivating and exciting while also being dark, ominous, and leaves readers with a sense of foreboding around every corner. Some of the new villains in this book feel truly evil, and I was impressed by the different ways Caruso managed to incorporate some new horrific elements to their actions. This was a book that I could not stop reading. 

If you thought the stakes were high in the first book, just wait until you get to this book, because the stakes take on a whole new meaning of the word and introduce some horrifying yet compulsive new plot points to explore. (Minor book one spoiler ahead!) The demons that now walk the world are cruel, unpredictable (yet predictable in their destruction), and possess immense, immeasurable powers. As horrible as these demons are, I thoroughly enjoyed that we actually get to meet some of them and see them interact in the human world, and I cannot wait to see what the next book is going to bring us. Overall, it's another five stars from me! 

*I received a copy of The Quicksilver Court courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Indiebound 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review: The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters

The Quiet Boy

The Quiet Boy by Ben H. Winters
Mulholland Books
Publication Date: May 18th, 2021
Hardcover. 448 pages.

About The Quiet Boy:

"In 2008, a cheerful ambulance-chasing lawyer named Jay Shenk persuades the grieving Keener family to sue a private LA hospital. Their son Wesley has been transformed by a routine surgery into a kind of golem, absent all normal functioning or personality, walking in endless empty circles around his hospital room.  In 2019, Shenk—still in practice but a shell of his former self—is hired to defend Wesley Keener’s father when he is charged with murder . . . the murder, as it turns out, of the expert witness from the 2008 hospital case. Shenk’s adopted son, a fragile teenager in 2008, is a wayward adult, though he may find his purpose when he investigates what really happened to the murdered witness.
Two thrilling trials braid together, medical malpractice and murder, jostling us back and forth in time."

The Quiet Boy is an interesting mix of a legal thriller, medical mystery, and a dash of a speculative note, all of which together made for an oddly compulsive story that I couldn't drag my eyes away from.

The story has a dual timeline setup, which half of the story occurring in the present timeline in 2019, and the second half occurring in the past covering events from 2009-2010. There are also two main legal cases occurring, one for murder and one for medical malpractice, respectively, but everything in this book essentially evolves around a boy named Wesley who has an odd condition in which he sort of just exists–not growing, not shrinking, not eating, not vegetative, just there, endlessly walking in circles–and the medical malpractice suit that arises from it. 
I've never been much of a legal thriller or courtroom drama fan, but that did not get in the way at all of my enjoyment of this book. There is a good portion of this book that does take place in a courtroom, but there is also plenty that occurs outside of a courtroom, which I think makes it appealing to those who both loves courtroom thrillers and those who are here for the speculative elements that are hinted at in the synopsis. I'll be honest, if you are only here for the speculative elements, you might be a little disappointed because that doesn't play a huge role in the narrative itself until near the end of the book. I was pretty confused throughout a decent portion of this book because I was trying to understand when that would all come into play in more than just hints and mentions, but if you hang in there you will get to it, and it's definitely odd. 

We get views into a couple different perspectives throughout the story, but the two main ones are that of lawyer Jay Shenk and his son, Ruben. Jay is a personal injury lawyer who knows what he's doing and knows how to connect with people, both for sincere reasons and for the ability to get them to do what he wants. He's a smooth guy that in real life would probably annoy me, but being able to get inside his head and see that he's actually just as much sincere as he is after money allowed me to really understand and connect with him in a way that I really enjoyed. Shenk is just a guy doing we he loves and helping out people who need it, and he happens to be making a lot of money while doing so–or at least, he usually makes a decent bit of money. At the heart, though, he really is motivated by his desire to help people who have been taken advantage of and to hold the ones who have caused harmed accountable for their actions.

Ruben is rather different from his father in that he's a bit more on the quiet side and isn't quite as outgoing as his father, but he still is just as intelligent and willing to put himself out there. Ruben isn't directly involved in the medical malpractice suit involving Wesley because, at the time, he was still in high school, but the suit still has an enormous impact on him for a variety of reasons, one of which was due to his connection and friendship with Evie, Wesley's younger sister, that would last into his adulthood in the present day. Ruben was an exceptionally interesting character to follow because I never really felt like I knew what he was going to do, and especially in the latter 2019 timeline a lot of the time it really seemed as though he himself didn't know what he was going to do–he seemed like a man who had had a difficult life and was in a place that felt a bit uncertain and lost.

The Quiet Boy was a more heartbreaking book than I expected for a number of different reasons, some of which I anticipated, such as watching a family suffer while they have no idea what is wrong with their son, and some of it was unexpected, which I can't mention in specifics due to spoilers. This is a fast-paced book in the sense that I felt a constant push to turn just one more page because I had to know how some event was going to turn out, and even if I felt like I knew what was going to happen I still had to read it myself to find out for sure. Winters expertly crafted a narrative that felt both thoughtful and intense, full of suspense but never rushed, and packed with characters that each had their own motivations, personality, and goals. 

Overall, I've given The Quiet Boy four stars. If you're looking for a read that's hard to put down, then you really can't go wrong with The Quiet Boy.
 *I received a copy of The Quiet Boy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.* 

Buy the book: Amazon | IndieBound

Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore by Birgitte Märgen

Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore
Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore by Birgitte Märgen
Publication Date: January 4th, 2019
Ebook. 272 pages

About Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore:

"AFTER FALLING INTO a dark hole when she was running through the forest, Evie finds herself trapped in a strange new world that mirrors our own. Her only guide is a compass stick given to her by an angry gnome who lives in an ancient knobby tree. As she travels through the lands of this upside-down world she happens upon creatures that are twisted versions of fairytale folklore. A place where fairies bite, unicorns charge, mermaids are menacing, and nightmares are more than dreams. A world where the souls of those who could not follow the unspoken rules are trapped forever. 

As a southern girl born on the wrong side of the tracks, Evie relies on the wisdom passed down by her grandpappy and the haunting memories of her mama to teach her perseverance of the soul. She learns that things are rarely what they seem as her world is turned upside down."

Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore is an imaginative delight of a novel that combines a myriad of storytelling elements to create a unique and unforgettable story.

The world-building in this book is one of the best parts due its sheer expansiveness and Märgen's ability to bring everything to life in such vivid and creative ways. I loved all of the different fairytale-esque types of creatures and the similarly inspired area that were a part of this expansive and intricate world. I appreciated how much time and care Märgen put into developing her world as something that was realized and full of life.

The main issues I had with this book that prevented me from rating it higher has to do with the characters. I loved Evie and most of the other characters that we come across in the story, but I felt that the development was lacking in Evie's overall character. I would have loved to learn more about Evie and some of the other characters by diving deeper into their motivations and thoughts and seeing them grow more throughout the story. We do get to see a lot of Evie's internal thoughts since much of this journey is undertaken on her own, but I still felt that there was just a little missing.

As much as I enjoyed all of the various plot elements and obstacles that Evie ran into along the way, there were times when the story felt slightly formulaic and repetitive in how she handled them. This didn't take away too much of my enjoyment because it's something that I come across in a lot of fantasy books, but it does still stand out to me at times. The overarching goal still shone through overall and I loved following Evie as she reached the end of her story and as she was able to figure out everything that was thrown at her.

The pacing of Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore was a pleasantly steady one that had a great combination of quicker, action-heavy moments with those of quiet contemplation within Evie's inner dialogue. There were times where I could see it being described as moving slowly, but I enjoyed these parts and therefore didn't have any difficulty with them. I found the prose itself perfect for middle grade readers, though I'm sure adults alike could enjoy this one as I did.

Overall, I've given Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore 3.5 stars (rounded up to four on Goodreads)! If you're looking for an imaginative middle grade read, then I highly recommend you check this one out.

*I received a copy of Evie and the Upside-Down World of Nevermore courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Review: Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay

Ever Alice
Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay
Red Rogue Press
Publication Date: August 1st, 2019
Paperback. 347 pages

About Ever Alice:

"Alice’s stories of Wonderland did more than raise a few eyebrows—it landed her in an asylum. Now at 15 years of age, she’s willing to do anything to leave, which includes agreeing to an experimental procedure. When Alice decides at the last minute not to go through with it, she escapes with the White Rabbit to Wonderland and trades one mad house for another: the court of the Queen of Hearts. Only this time, she is under orders to take out the Queen. When love, scandal, and intrigue begin to muddle her mission, Alice finds herself on the wrong side of the chopping block."

Ever Alice is a book that has left me entirely unsure how to feel about it. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favorite books so I am always excited to check out a new retelling or story inspired by it that’s set in Wonderland. Ever Alice hit a lot of those notes and completely satisfied me in some regards, but in other areas I felt disappointed and felt this book missed the mark.

Ever Alice is essentially a follow-up to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It takes place some years after Alice’s initial adventures in Carroll’s books when she is back home with her family and attempting to come to grips with what happened during that adventurous period. Unfortunately, Alice’s family finds her insistence that the stories about Wonderland are real worrisome and eventually send her off to an asylum, which of course does nothing to help her. From here, the story takes off and through unforeseen circumstances, Alice is able to return to Wonderland.

To start on a positive note, I thought Ramsay’s depiction of Wonderland was absolutely wonderful. I think she captured that incredibly unique sense of oddness and absurdity that makes of the world of Wonderland extremely well and managed to turn it into her own story. Everything in this world is upside-down and often centered around opposites--for example, someone’s bout of good fortune might be described as extremely ‘unlucky’ rather than what we would normally call lucky, and commenting that it’s a truly dreadful day actually means that it’s a beautiful day. Similarly, added details such as everyone loving tea that tastes of oily fish or rotten eggs (and topped off with butter!) and actual animals that talk and characters such as Marco Polo that are actual eggs a la Humpty Dumpty style made me excited to see--almost never do I see retellings where the White Rabbit is actually a rabbit, Cheshire is actually a cat, and so on and so forth. A lot of retellings that I read seem to maintain a certain amount oddity, but they never quite capture that sense of absurdity that Wonderland embodies.

The characters were also both promising and disappointing. Ever Alice switches between two POVs: Alice and that of the Queen of Hearts, Rosumand. Alice was very much the embodiment of a somewhat shy and naive girl who is thrust into situations she is unprepared and manages to make the most of them and find her way. She tries to do good even when she is being pitted to do the opposite, and her development and gradual understanding of her strength and purpose were well done and enjoyable to watch.

In contrast, however, was Rosamund’s character. At first it seemed as though the author was going to make the queen a one dimensional villain with transparent goals and a lack of any interest in her as a person. Then, a little ways into the novel there started to be some more aspects of her character shown and I started thinking that she might have some sort of storyline that would make her more engaging. She was always horrible, but she had some more intriguing qualities and small side thoughts that make me think there might be more to her than meets the eye. Unfortunately, Ramsay always seemed to bring Rosamund back to her one dimensional figure and not explore her development further. I wasn’t expecting a redemption arc to make me like her, but there was so much potential for her character that I feel wasn’t explored enough.

Where this book really lost my interest, however, was with the plot. There was so much wasted potential in this story, and I don’t mean that to sound nearly as harsh it sounds. I didn’t hate this book by any means and elements of the plot were well done, but on the whole it simply lacked a major source of intrigue and coherency. Compared to the world-building, the plot was completely lackluster. There seemed to be a lot of things constantly happening, but when I look back on it I can barely even think of what events specifically moved the plot forward.

The last thing I’d like to briefly mention is that I had a hard time even figuring out what Ramsay’s target audience was supposed to be. I first assumed this was an adult book, but once I started reading it I thought the writing style seemed young due to how Ramsay set up the story and some of the actions and dialogue of the characters. However, there were also certain events and themes that occurred that felt much more mature and not for younger audiences, so I can only conclude that is for young adult audiences.

Overall, I’ve given Ever Alice three stars. I had a lot of problems with this book, but I kept reading because I did want to know what happened and I genuinely enjoyed the world-building and all of its details.

*I received an ARC of Ever Alice courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

Monday, July 8, 2019

Review: Below by Alexandria Warwick

Below (North #1)
Below by Alexandria Warwick
Wolf Publishing
Publication Date: February 4th, 2020
Paperback. 320 pages

About Below:

"In the heart of the frigid North, there lives a demon known as the Face Stealer. Eyes, nose, mouth—nothing and no one is safe. Once he returns to his lair, or wherever it is he dwells, no one ever sees those faces again. 

When tragedy strikes, Apaay embarks on a perilous journey to find her sister's face—yet becomes trapped in a labyrinth ruled by a sinister girl named Yuki. The girl offers Apaay a deal: find her sister's face hidden within the labyrinth, and she will be set free. But the labyrinth, and those who inhabit it, is not as it seems. Especially Numiak: darkly beautiful, powerful, whose motives are not yet clear. 

With time slipping, Apaay is determined to escape the deadly labyrinth with her sister's face in hand. But in Yuki's harsh world, Apaay will need all her strength to survive. 

Yuki only plays the games she wins"

Last year I read, reviewed, and loved Alexandria Warwick's debut fantasy novel The Demon Race, so when she contacted me about her upcoming North trilogy, I was immediately and eager to read the first book. Below has proved to be another ambitious and compelling story by Warwick that I had a wonderful time reading and now can't wait to continue the trilogy.

Below is set int he Arctic among the Inuit, a group of people that I have become interested in learning about as of late and whose mythology and culture I find deeply fascinating. I really appreciated how Warwick managed to weave in elements of Inuit culture in ways that felt natural and respectful, it's clear that Warwick went into this book having done her research and ready to craft a story that incorporates these elements into an exciting fantasy setting.

Apaay is a bold and seemingly unafraid young woman who is constantly thrust into frightening and unexpected situations, yet remains steadfast even in the face of danger. No matter how intimidating or impossible some situations seem, she never truly gives up and is always loyal to both herself and others. I really enjoyed getting to know Apaay and following her through this book, as she really undergoes a lot of strong personal development that Warwick carefully showcases and expands upon as various events occur.

The Face Stealer and Yuki are both great villains with a lot of depth to each of them. Yuki is easily the more vocally cruel and intimidating of the two, as she lieks to play games with those who end up at her labyrinth and is unafraid to inflict harm or shame on those before her. The Face Stealer is equally as intimidating as Yuki in many ways, though he is much more dangerous due to the powers that he holds and how he enacts his own power over others. Both characters are deeply conflicted and the Warwick carefully unfolds more and more about them, allowing the reader to more fully understand some of their actions and what led them to where they are now.

The thing that I have loved the most about Warwick's books is how her stories aren't just about the plot and how the characters get through whatever present danger they're facing: they are also about how these characters find inner strength, how they grow and learn to understand the world, and how the themes are relevant not only to the characters' lives, but to our own lives as well. There is a lessont o be learned in everything and Warwick weaves this in in such a deft way that you never really notice. The characters are all crafted so carefully and with such detail to background and character development that it's easy to get inside their heads and feel connected to them.

Below is intense and not afraid to throw some punches. This book is filled with a lot of intense and emotionally challenging moments that really establishes the severity of these life or death situations that occur. Despite these moments of despair, what I love about Warwick's writing and her characters is that there are often constant underlying current of hope littered throughout. When a situation feels hopeless or impossible to navigate out of, there is still some reason to believe that maybe, just maybe there is still a way out. I don't see that sort of hope a lot, so it was a nice refresher to see here.

Overall, I've given Below four stars! I can't wait to continue the trilogy and would highly recommend this to anyone interested in a dark YA fantasy inspired by Inuit mythology!

*I received an ARC of Below courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review: Salvation Day by Kali Wallace

Salvation Day
Salvation Day by Kali Wallace
Publication Date: July 9th, 2019
Hardcover. 320 pages

About Salvation Day:

"A lethal virus is awoken on an abandoned spaceship in this incredibly fast-paced, claustrophobic thriller. 

They thought the ship would be their salvation. 

Zahra knew every detail of the plan. House of Wisdom, a massive exploration vessel, had been abandoned by the government of Earth a decade earlier, when a deadly virus broke out and killed everyone on board in a matter of hours. 

But now it could belong to her people if they were bold enough to take it. All they needed to do was kidnap Jaswinder Bhattacharya—the sole survivor of the tragedy, and the last person whose genetic signature would allow entry to the spaceship. But what Zahra and her crew could not know was what waited for them on the ship—a terrifying secret buried by the government. A threat to all of humanity that lay sleeping alongside the orbiting dead. 

And then they woke it up"

At this point, it doesn't seem like I'll ever tire of reading space thrillers, and Salvation Day proved to be yet another thrilling one that kept me hooked throughout. 

Salvation Day is a fast-paced adventure in space following a disparate group of people with a variety of different motivations at play. The concept of violent, lethal virus existing on a spaceship and becoming a huge threat is not the most original one to exist among thrillers in space, but Wallace combines it with a unique hostage situation that changes things up enough to keep this book fresh.

The book alternates POVs between Zahra, leader of the crew attempting to take over the House of Wisdom, and Jaswinder, or Jas, survivor of the tragedy that led to the House of Wisdom being abandoned and also whom Zahra also plans to kidnap. Sound confusing yet? Don't worry, things eventually make sense...right before they take some unexpected twists and turns to make sure you never know what to expect. Wallace did a great job with developing characters that have in-depth background and a plausible explanation for what has led them to the points they are in the present day in this novel. Something that I really liked was that the characters had a lot of morally grey aspects to them, as our "good" guys aren't necessarily all that good, and the "bad" guys aren't always that bad, either. I thought she did a great job of realistically portraying how people's backgrounds and circumstances lead them to do things and be influenced in ways they wouldn't necessarily be otherwise. There is a good amount of character in this study despite the major focus being on the more suspenseful aspect of the plot.

The world-building in Salvation Day has both strong and weak points, though overall I found it steady enough to convey a believable world and current situation. There were a few specific areas that Wallace developed really well, such as the location of the House of Wisdom and other relevant space ships/ports used or mentioned in the story which really cemented the current physical world. However, outside of the settings in which the majority of the story takes place, there were only brief mentions of other areas of the world that left me feeling not quite as clear about the state of the world as I could have been. Wallace does mention, for instance, how space exploration has become a crucial investment for the world, but I would have loved to explore more about how it happened and what exactly caused it. This is mentioned briefly, but it felt a bit insufficient as well. Despite this, I didn't have any major issues with understanding the present state of events in the novel, and because of that I had no problem enjoying this book fully.

As I mentioned, Salvation Day is a book that runs through its events at a breakneck speed, though not too fast to keep up, and it seems as though most of the events of the book happen within one or maybe two days total. I enjoyed this quick pace because it helped keep my attention and the intensity of the plot high, but this timeline is also where I had one of my minor issues, as it was never explicitly said how long things were taking or what the time-frame was. Even if it did only take place in one day, I felt confused because there was also never any mention of anyone need food, water, or even a restroom break, despite being stranded onboard an abandoned spaceship. This wasn't a huge problem because I'm sure everyone involved was stressed and not really thinking about necessities, but it definitely still made me wonder why people didn't seem to have any regular bodily functions to deal with. Maybe something was mentioned in passing that I missed, but this is just one of those inconsistencies in books that can frustrate me. There were a few other inconsistencies like this throughout, especially in regards to the virus, but nothing that drastically pulled me out of the story and instead only left me questioning a few things.

Salvation Day isn't afraid to pull punches and readily explores the motivations and consequences of people trapped in dire, unexpected circumstances of survival. It has moments where you might be able to guess what happens, but the overall picture is entirely unpredictable and kept twisting in places I wasn't expecting it to. There are constantly secrets to uncover and new parts of the characters' and world's history to explore.

Overall, I've given Salvation Day 3.75 stars! I had a few minor quibbles here and there, but in the end I sped through this book and had a great time doing it. I can't wait to see what Kali Wallace writes next!

*I received an ARC of Salvation Day courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the novel.*

Monday, June 17, 2019

Double Reviews: The Defiant Heir & The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso (Sword and Fire #2 & #3)

The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire, #2)

The Defiant Heir (Sword and Fire #2) by Melissa Caruso 
April 19th, 2018

The Tethered Mage was a fantastic 2017 debut that I immediately loved. I had high hopes for this trilogy and anticipated that it was only going to get better, and let me tell you, it exceeded those expectations more than I could have ever possibly imagined. The world keeps expanding and Caruso’s skills at writing become more and more apparent as the story moves on.

The Defiant Heir is where this trilogy really seems to ramp up on the political components and also the sheer gravity of all the stakes involved. The first book certainly had intense moments with some fairly high stakes, but this book takes it to another level of depth with more lives are on the line. The story picks up a short time after the final events of The Tethered Mage when things in Raverra aren't in an immediately dire situation, but they aren't exactly calm and worriless, either. There is unrest among the Falcons and Falconer, especially as some start being murdered and fear begins to rise. This is also where the Witch Lords begin to gain importance to the plot, as there is now question whether the Witch Lords are behind this, and thus the plot begins to expand.

I’ve really liked learning about the relationship between the Falcons and Falconers and the political ramifications that go along with that. It’s one of those situations where it’s not an overtly negative situation, but it’s certainly not a positive one, either. I’ve been intrigued by the ways in which people want to rectify how this is handled, and I appreciate Amalia’s understanding and empathy for those who must live in the Mews.

The best part about this book, other than the incredible political maneuverings and intelligent dialogue, is that we get to visit more of the world and explore more locations. Events of this book lead our characters to Vaskander, which thereby allows us to explore more of this land and the Witch Lords that inhabit it. I particularly loved learning about the magic and political methods of the Witch Lords and how they all seem to have a unique sort of style or theme associated with them, such as the Lady of Spiders who is just as horrifying to be around as you might imagine. In addition, there are also many additional characters introduced that take on important roles and add so much more color to this world in both positive and negative ways.

Amalia continues to impress me. She is slowly learning to take on the role her mother has been grooming her for and while also beginning to take more risks associated with her station for the good of Raverra. She’s an extremely knowledgeable character, which I appreciate, and I enjoyed researching more about the magic and history of this world along with her. Zaira, of course, continues to be a grumpy gem of a woman that I can’t help but love, and I have so enjoyed seeing her and Amalia’s relationship develop from strangers (where Zaira hardly tolerates Amalia) into something maybe possibly resembling friendship.

In this book, we also get introduced to Kathe, a Witch Lord that seems interested in working with Amalia--or rather, in trading favors and using one another for political gain. Kathe is one of those dark, mysterious characters that seems tricky and not entirely trustworthy, but you also just can't help but be intrigued by him and want to find out what he's doing constantly.

I could continue going on about this book probably endlessly, but as I’m writing two reviews for this trilogy today, I’m going to keep this one a bit brief in order to jump into the review for The Unbound Empire! Overall, I’ve easily given The Defiant Heir four and a half stars.

*I received a review copy of The Defiant Heir courtesy of Orbit (thanks, Paola!) in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire #3)
The Unbound Empire (Sword and Fire #3) by Melissa Caruso
April 25th, 2019

I could not have asked for a better or more satisfying ending to a trilogy.

For as intense and unpredictable as The Defiant Heir was, The Unbound Empire is--somehow--even more intense and unpredictable. I was constantly on my toes, constantly dying to pick this book up whenever I wasn't reading it, and more engaged with these characters than any I've been with in a long time.

Much like in the previous books, the world-building and magic system are wonderfully crafted and full of depth. Since I have written two reviews for this trilogy so far and touched more on the world-building, magic system, etc., I'm going to mostly skip over that in this review because all I can really say about it is that I loved it just as much as in the previous two books, if not more. Caruso has developed a world that is expansive, compelling, magical, and full of intrigue; it's complex, but as I’ve mentioned before, it's not too complex to where enjoyment is lessened.

It's hard to even know where to start when talking about this book because all I really want to do is simply rave. The characters continue to grow and develop in so many ways that felt entirely realistic and logical. Characters underwent changes that I couldn't have predicted and that left me devastated at what might happen to them in the end, as well as changes that left me falling in love with them even more. Amalia and Zaira continue to be one of the best friendships I've ever seen developed in a book in a while. Their back-and-forth bickering now comes more from a place of heart and understanding, and I love how Zaira's no-sense, endlessly practical side blends so well with Amalia's own logical yet more emotional side. They both work to keep one another in check in the best ways possible, making them truly a wonderful pair. I also grew to love Kathe even more in this book than I imagined I would, and I'm so glad where Caruso decided to take his storyline.

As for the pacing, plotting, and politics in The Unbound Empire, Caruso executed this book almost to perfection. I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen at any particular time. This entire book has a bit of dread and intensity looming at every moment, though there was a wonderfully even mix of plotting and "relaxing" with other characters and more intense battle-like scenes or scenes of pursuit and confrontations. Similarly, the politics play a steady role throughout the book, more overt and abundant in the beginning, but still forming a constant presence in the background at all times, especially when it comes to the various decisions made by characters. I really liked how Caruso had everything play a role, incorporating both moral and ethical elements as well as those that would be most beneficial to a country or land. The way Caruso handles topics in such a deft way is remarkable and kept me constantly hooked. She really dives deep into difficult moral crossroads and explores the various paths that can be taken by these characters in a logical and interesting manner. This is not a shallow book about one land’s struggles, but rather a book that tackles real-world themes and conflicts that really makes you think.

Overall, I've given The Unbound Empire and well-deserved five stars. I can't believe how fantastic this trilogy was and I can't wait to re-read it sometime. If you're looking for a completed fantasy trilogy with incredible characters, a rich world, an interesting magic system, and plenty of politics, then I implore you to give the Sword and Fire trilogy a chance!

*I received a review copy of The Unbound Empire courtesy of Orbit (thanks again, Paola!) in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Review: Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams

Under Ordshaw
Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams
Publication: May 29th, 2018
Ebook. 304 pages.

About Under Ordshaw:

"Welcome to Ordshaw. Don’t look down. Pax is one rent cheque away from the unforgiving streets of Ordshaw. After her stash is stolen, her hunt for the thief unearths a book of nightmares and a string of killers, and she stands to lose much more than her home. 

There’s something lurking under her city. 

Knowing it’s there could get you killed."

I hadn't read an urban fantasy in a while, so I was excited to dip my toes back into the subgenre and see how it went. Under Ordshaw was brought to my attention courtesy of the wonderful TBRindr service started on r/fantasy that helps to connect indie authors with reviewers! When I was asked about reviewing Under Ordshaw, I was really drawn to it for a variety of reasons, the largest of which being how interesting the concept sounded. I love the idea of there being creatures or mysterious unknown things existing beneath a city that is otherwise unknown to its inhabitants and I had a great time exploring that concept in this book.

The underground tunnels were one of my favorite parts of this book and were so fun to explore. I loved learning about the various creatures Williams developed and how he introduced them to the story. His descriptions of the creatures, the underground, and even other characters and settings were really well done and vividly established. As an added bonus, there was never too much in the way of heavy info-dumping, everything was instead introduced and elaborated upon at reasonable points in the narrative and without being excessive. The additional world-building added to incorporate the fantasy elements was strong and I felt firmly grounded in the narrative.

Pax is really a fantastic urban fantasy character. Her personality is highly relatable and she's a rather tough and unafraid person with plenty of street smarts, but she's also not overly cocky in ways that would put her in danger, which I particularly liked. She's a bit headstrong and impulsive at times and certainly makes some mistakes, but these were all sort of done in ways that were understandable rather than frustrating to read about. There are a few other characters we follow throughout the story that consistently bring strong personality and excitement to the narrative as well.

One thing that I liked about the characters in this book was that none of them seemed explicitly good or bad; there was a lot of grey area sprinkled amidst the plot that left me unsure what to really expect from anyone. In turn, this helped to keep me on my toes and constantly wondering what would happen next--and end up reading this book so quickly!

Under Ordshaw is a really fun adventure with a lot of interesting characters (and creatures) thrown in to keep things interesting. I found the major plot thread that ran through the book to be a compelling that I actively cared about and was interested in finding out the conclusion of.

Overall, I've given Under Ordshaw four stars! If you like urban fantasy or are looking to check out something from the genre, this is a perfect book to check out!

*I received a copy of Under Ordshaw in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher
Publication: April 23rd, 2019
Hardcover. 388 pages.

About A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World:

"My name's Griz. My childhood wasn't like yours. 

I've never had friends, and in my whole life I've not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs. 

Then the thief came. 

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

 Because if we aren't loyal to the things we love, what's the point?."

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a remarkable, heartbreaking, and almost meditative journey for both the reader and the main character in this book.

To be completely frank, I was initially rather hesitant to read this book in the first place because I knew that a dog would be a prominent character and I also knew that it was going to be stolen. This doesn't bode well for my inability to handle any book or movie in which a dog is harmed or placed in harm's way, but I started seeing a ton of glowing early reviews and decided I needed to read it anyway...and it's absolutely worth it. I can't tell you anything about the fate of said dog, but I can tell you that this book is worth your time and emotions because of it's incredible and touching nature. 

The author specifically requests at the beginning of the book that readers refrain from sharing spoilers of the book, and though I generally keep all of my reviews spoilers free, I will take extra care in this review to keep things rather general and not too detailed when it comes to plot points and characters. This actually works well for me because this book is a journey that every reader needs to experience by themselves. You don't need to read a huge review of this book before reading it--it speaks for itself. That being said, I'm still sharing my thoughts!

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is told from Griz's POV in a journal format. Griz sets up his journal as if he's writing to a specific person that we don't know, but he's really just writing it so as to keep his story somewhere. It's the end of the world, so the amount of people still available to talk to or share things with is, well, rather slim. Because of the journal setup, the writing style is a very readable conversation-style that pretty much made me fly through this book. However, there were a few areas where Griz would explain certain things he was doing, such as in relation to how he maneuvered his boat or built something, that did admittedly drag a little, but for me this really just fit the entire narrative style of Griz sharing his entire journey--not just the exciting bits. 

I loved Griz's honest and blunt nature as he slowly discovers the world and the types of people that once inhabited it. Accompanying Griz on his journey into a world he's never experienced was one of the most wonderful parts of this book, as he discovers and learns about all the different things people did in the "Before," including amusement parks and various buildings, as well as contemplating things such as the existence of zoos and what happened to the animals. Griz is also a huge book lover, which of course spoke to me at many times throughout the book, and I'm positive that other book lovers will identify with Griz as well. And, of course, if you love dogs as much as Griz (or myself), then you'll identify with the amount and type of love that he has for his dog and why he will literally travel the world just to try to find it. Because, as Griz says, "if we aren't loyal to the things we love, what's the point?"

As mentioned, I won't go into specifics in regards to individual characters, but suffice to say that each character payed some form of a crucial role in this book in one way or another. Whether it was because a character physically interacted with Griz and affected his journey or simply impacted Griz's thoughts or actions in some way, the development of role of each character was truly outstanding.

This book also plays with a lot of themes that have left me thinking about them a lot. The simplest of them all seems to be simply to be kind to others and not resort unnecessarily to hate, anger, or violence. There's also the bond between man and dog, something that I think many readers can easily relate to. There are also a lot of small almost throwaway comments that Griz makes at various points in the book that are actually very poignant and make you stop and think, something that really made me continue to fall in love with this book. This book is filled to the brim with discover, humor, strong emotional moments, joy, anger, and motivation to be a person you can respect. 

Overall, I've given A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World 4.5 stars! 

*I received a copy of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Monday, April 22, 2019

Review: King of Fools by Amanda Foody

King of Fools (The Shadow Game, #2)
King of Fools by Amanda Foody (The Shadow Game #2)
Inkyard Press
Publication: April 30th, 2019
Hardcover. 608 pages.

About King of Fools:

"'Indulge your vices in the City of Sin, where a sinister street war is brewing and fame is the deadliest killer of them all... 

On the quest to find her missing mother, prim and proper Enne Salta became reluctant allies with Levi Glaisyer, the city’s most famous con man. Saving his life in the Shadow Game forced Enne to assume the identity of Seance, a mysterious underworld figure. Now, with the Chancellor of the Republic dead and bounties on both their heads, she and Levi must play a dangerous game of crime and politics…with the very fate of New Reynes at stake. 

Thirsting for his freedom and the chance to build an empire, Levi enters an unlikely partnership with Vianca Augustine’s estranged son. Meanwhile, Enne remains trapped by the mafia donna’s binding oath, playing the roles of both darling lady and cunning street lord, unsure which side of herself reflects the truth. 

As Enne and Levi walk a path of unimaginable wealth and opportunity, new relationships and deadly secrets could quickly lead them into ruin. And when unforeseen players enter the game, they must each make an impossible choice: To sacrifice everything they’ve earned in order to survive... 

Or die as legends."

King of Fools is a remarkable follow-up to Amanda Foody's imaginative The Shadow Game series. I enjoyed the first book, Ace of Shades, and thought it had a lot of great potential for future books. I still wasn't entirely sure where Foody would take this trilogy, however, but the places she ended up going in this book were even better than I could have imagined and I'm thrilled to be able to say that the sequel is a huge improvement on the first book. It clocks in at 608 pages, but I promise they flew by far faster than I could have imagined. I was fully engrossed throughout the entire novel and fell even more in love with all of the characters, including all of the new additions. 

The most notable aspect of this book is how much growth and development each and every character has. Enne in particular continues to learn the ways of her new life in New Reynes in this book and I loved seeing her slowly adapt to her new way of life in ways that were surprising to both the reader and herself. Enne maintains her somewhat proper background, but she also realizes that she must succumb to new traits and lifestyles in order to survive, something that she doesn't find herself hating as much as she expected to. I was impressed with the ways in which Foody allowed Enne to evolve in this book and can't wait to see how things end up for her in the next book--this ending leaves a lot to be anticipated. 

Levi and Jac are the other two main characters from the first book that we follow, Jac's being a new POV addition, and I also enjoyed seeing their own growth throughout the story. Jac really took me by surprise in this book with his newfound independence and strength, and Levi had to battle a lot of his own demons at many points in this book that I thought Foody handled really well. I look forward to seeing what befalls them in the next book. In addition to the old characters are some new additions, such as Grace and Tock, as well as others, and I thought these new characters were fantastic. They added even more color and depth to the story and also brought in some new perspectives about life in New Reynes and in the current situations, which in turn made the entire story more vibrant.

The villains in this trilogy so far are also ones that I really appreciate for being multi-dimensional and not strictly the black and white Bad Guy. In this book, we get to see so many new sides to Vianca that reveal a lot about her personality, her motives, and her actions in both this book and the Ace of Shades. A lot of the 'villains' in this book are actually rather grey and can be both bad and, well, not as bad; they can help the main characters, but they can also wreak extreme havoc. And when the villains are bad, they're pretty evil.

In addition to the characters, the world-building also had a lot more development that allowed me to become more invested in the world and understand various events. The world was developed well in the first book, but things still felt somewhat fuzzy and not fully explained at times, so this book really did a great job of expanding and cementing various ideas and parts of the world. I also thought the way the magic system worked was delved into more, which I really appreciated, though there are still a few things that I find confusing about it. I would love if the final book fully explained things for me, but at this point I'm not sure if it will. Still, this never really detracted much from my enjoyment or overall understanding of the world itself and I still think Foody's magic system has a lot of creative elements that keep things interesting. 

King of Fools is dark, captivating, and impossible to put down. If you enjoyed Ace of Shades--or even if you were on the fence--I highly recommend you still give King of Fools a try, as I found it even better than the first book. There's no sophomore slump here! Overall, I've given King of Fools 4.5 stars!

*I received an ARC of King of Fools in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

Monday, March 25, 2019

Review: The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

The Girls in the Picture
The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin
Bantam, 2019 
(original hardcover pub. 2018)
Paperback. 480 pages.

About The Girls in the Picture:

"'It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone's lips these days is "flickers"--the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you'll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all. 

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title "America's Sweetheart." The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution. 

But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender--and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world's highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered."

I've been eager to dive back into some historical fiction lately, and Melanie Benjamin fit that mark perfectly. The Girls in the Picture is an ambitious undertaking, tackling two incredible women who paved the way for so many other women to come, and Benjamin did truly epic work in chronicling this fictionalized account.

Prior to reading The Girls in the Picture, I'd say that my knowledge of the beginnings of the movie industry--from the "flickers" to longer silent movies to "talkies"--was relatively lacking. I knew the basics of how things developed, but nothing more than that. With this book, I feel like I now have a fairly solid foundation of how the movie industry developed and who some of the biggest players were and I'm thrilled that I got to go on this journey with the incredible screenwriter Frances Marion and actress Mary Pickford.

The Girls in the Picture switches between the narratives of Fran and Mary, the former being told in first person POV and the latter told in third person. Because Fran was told in first person, I felt a lot closer to her as a character and was more engaged in her life, which I assume was the intent of the author. Mary was a slightly more unpredictable and enigmatic figure because I couldn't get inside her head to the same extent as Fran, and I actually liked this balance between the two POVs. It also helped to keep them very distinct from one another, though their characters and personalities are already very different from one another and provided a striking contrast between one another.

I loved following Fran. I had heard of Mary Pickford before, but Frances Marion was a new name for me and now I can't believe I'd never heard of her. Her accomplishments and attitude toward her career are truly inspirational, and although I don't have much prior knowledge about her to fully compare, it seems that Benjamin did a wonderful job portraying her. I've since found myself researching and looking into Fran's life ever since I put down this book, which is the sign of good writing to me when the author makes me want to learn more about something. Fran is a determined go-getter, someone who is not afraid to put herself out there and take advantage of every single opportunity given to her. She's also an empathetic person who seems to genuinely care about those around her. I was impressed by what a strong, unique, and believable voice Benjamin was able to imbue in Fran, bringing her to life and letting me feel strong connections with her. Mary's portrayal is just as vivid as Fran's, though the connection with her character is not as strong due to the manner in which her story is told. Still, her development from a young, eager, talented actress to the woman she grows up to be was handled wonderfully. Both women have important stories and lessons to tel, and I appreciated being able to go along for the ride.

I loved how Benjamin incorporated so many quiet--yet meaningfully loud--notes on the sexism that these women faced in the movie business. I think that even though we are living in a time where women are making their voices heard more in regards to harassment and sexism, it's still easy to ignore the issues that occurred in the past. Benjamin made these struggles real and shone a great light on them. I was especially excited to read about Fran's involvement in World War I and her documentation of the women's roles during that time--I had no idea that existed and I'm so glad Benjamin gave it the time and notice it served in this book.

Although I truly enjoyed this book and the lives of these two women, there were a few minor issues that I had with it that I'd like to note. First, I found the writing style seemed slightly rushed at times. Benjamin has a lot of content to work with so I can understand it's probably hard to fit it all in, but I sometimes felt things seemed to move too quickly and had somewhat bumpy writing or dialogue along the way. The Girls in the Pictures has a lot of rather large time jumps when the POVs switch as well (continuously moving in the future, however, no back-and-forth time jumps), so sometimes I felt as though I missed out on too much or things changed too quickly. This isn't something that took away much from my enjoyment overall, as I still found the story itself engaging and I wanted to know what would happen, but it is also what made me hold back from fully loving this as much as I could have. Similarly, as much as I love that Benjamin obviously performed a lot of research, there were a few moments throughout where I almost felt as though I were reading a nonfiction book that was talking about certain developments in the movie business when discussing companies and public figures. Again, this isn't a huge issue and I did like learning about the history, but it does slow down the pace a bit.

That being said, I absolutely plan to continue checking out more of Melanie Benjamin's books (including her upcoming release Mistress of the Ritz), and I encourage any historical fiction fans to check her out as well. Overall, I've given The Girls in the Picture four stars!

*I was contacted and provided a copy of The Girls in the Picture in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review: To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

To Best the Boys
To Best the Boys by Mary Weber
Thomas Nelson
Publication: March 19th, 2019
Hardcover. 352 pages.

About To Best the Boys:

"Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope. 

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition. 

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze."

To Best the Boys was an unexpected delight that I had such a fun time reading! Going into this book, I knew the premise sounded like something I would love--girls proving themselves against boys, mazes and labyrinths, riddles, etc., all things that I love, but I had no idea if it would be executed as well as I hoped and I'm so glad to be able to say that it was.

As the premise explains, To Best the Boys centers around a mysterious, potentially deadly maze-like competition in which the winner receives a scholarship to attend a highly acclaimed (all male) university. Despite the fact that the main event of this book is the maze competition, there are still many other components--such as class struggles, women's right, and more--that make up the bulk of the story. I loved the creativity and development of the maze and how Weber made everything work together into one cohesive plot.

The characters were really varied throughout the book and I genuinely enjoyed getting to know most of them. Rhen, the protagonist, was particularly promising and endeared me to her almost immediately. I especially liked that she seemed to really know what were and weren't her strengths, as she would readily admit that she wasn't good at things that weren't math or science-related. That type of honesty is refreshing to read, especially when it's a character who is constantly trying to prove themselves. I also loved Rhen best friend, Seleni, largely because of what an honest and loyal friend she was to Rhen throughout every moment. The two friends never gave up on one other and I admired it so much. There were some male characters that drove me crazy in this book with their arrogant attitudes, but I'm pretty sure that they were supposed to so the job was done well. Also, for those wondering: there is some romance in this story, but it is never the main focus and is actually done pretty well in my opinion.

Within the labyrinth competition itself were plenty of puzzles that the characters had to solve, so if you're a reader that likes puzzles you'll love solving them along with the characters. I'll admit that I was slightly disappointed because I thought that the main game portion would be longer and a bit different than it was, but I did still really enjoy it. The only other somewhat disappointing part of this book for me was that one main component related to the game that I think was supposed to be a huge mystery, but it was actually something that I predicted extremely early on and that felt slightly cliche'd.

One of my hands down favorite things was the inclusion and acceptance exemplified between Rhen and her friend Seleni. I loved that Rhen and Seleni were so unfailingly loyal to one another and that although Rhen was portrayed positively as a scientist who doesn't want anything to do with traditional female roles, Seleni was also portrayed positively as a woman who wanted more than anything to take on the role of wife to her future potential husband and have a 'traditional' woman's role--and both were perfectly acceptable and positive! It's so important to me that any and all life choice made by women are accepted because so often books simply show women who reject 'traditional' female roles as being positive, when in reality there are plenty of women who are okay with those and want those roles. I really just wanted to point that out in this review because it's something that really stood out to me and made me happy to see. Celebrating different perspectives and goals is incredibly important. 

To Best the Boys covers a lot of different themes from gender roles to mental issues to class issues and so much more, all wrapped up in an exciting story that kept me engaged the entire time.Overall, I had a really enjoyable time reading this book and look forward to seeing what other works Mary Weber has written!

*I received an ARC of To Best the Boys courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley. This has no effect on my rating.*

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Monday, March 18, 2019

Middle Grade Mini-Review: Winterhouse by Ben Guterson

Winterhouse (Winterhouse, #1)Winterhouse by Ben Guterson
Henry Holt and Co., 2018
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About Winterhouse:
"An enchanting urban fantasy middle-grade debut―the first book in a trilogy―set in a magical hotel full of secrets. 

Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to care for, and even Winterhouse itself? Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets."

It seemed like it was time to do another mini grade review, so here we are!

LIKES: I had a blast reading Winterhouse. The story takes place in a friendly hotel that ends up being full of clever quirks and surprises and that encompasses everything I love in a middle grade mystery adventure. This book also loves puzzles and riddles, which are all set up in a way that allows the reader to engage and attempt to solve them along with the main characters. The setting is wintry and perfectly cozy, complete with a beautiful, expansive library open to all guests. There are daily activities at the hotel for guests to partake in and all meals are served at set times so that everyone at the hotel can come together and get to know one another.

I found Elizabeth Somers to be a very charismatic and relatable protagonist, one that I feel people of all ages can relate to in different ways. She's very independent, which stands out for someone as young as she is, and I would say that a lot of it is due to the adversity that she has faced so far in life. I also loved the small call outs to some of her favorite books, such as Anne of Green Gables and The Mysterious Benedict Society--I thought that was a really fun and clever way to include other great middle grade books.

There is a wide supporting cast of characters, from the friendly hotel owner, Norbridge Falls, to Elizabeth's new friend, Freddy, and to the mysterious and slightly creepy Marcus and Selena. All of these characters work together to create an atmosphere full of surprises and intrigue. I particularly loved some of the side characters that remained minor, but that still played an important role and provided some strong personality and excitement, such as the two men that work on the same enormous puzzle every time they come, slowly but surely hoping to complete it one day.

DISLIKES: The 'villain' characters were really well drawn, though I would have loved to have a little more in the way of backstory or development to better understand them. I also had a few issues regarding Elizabeth and Freddy's friendship, namely due to how Elizabeth treated him at times, but I think this was meant to show that even Elizabeth has faults and can get caught up in different things. I also found it a little predictable at times, but I don't entirely fault the author for that because I'm quite a bit older than the intended audience, so I am sure that they would not find it as predictable.

Overall, I've given Winterhouse four stars! If you're looking for a cozy yet exciting middle grade with a cast of unique and quirky characters, then definitely check this book out. 

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

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