The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi // Book Review

This is definitely the most creative high fantasy book I’ve read in a really long time. I’m so glad to have friends who put together this readalong this month because I found myself a new favorite author. Thanks to Del Rey for the gifted copy of the book.

Here’s more about The Final Strife

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.
Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.
Clear is the blood of the slaves, of the crushed, of the invisible.


Sylah dreams of days growing up in the resistance, being told she would spark a revolution that would free the empire from the red-blooded ruling classes’ tyranny. That spark was extinguished the day she watched her family murdered before her eyes.

Anoor has been told she’s nothing, no one, a disappointment, by the only person who matters: her mother, the most powerful ruler in the empire. But dust always rises in a storm.

Hassa moves through the world unseen by upper classes, so she knows what it means to be invisible. But invisibility has its uses: It can hide the most dangerous of secrets, secrets that can reignite a revolution.

As the empire begins a set of trials of combat and skill designed to find its new leaders, the stage is set for blood to flow, power to shift, and cities to burn.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

I’m so glad that I took the time to read this one because it truly became a favorite of mine for this year. Wow, I didn’t know what to expect going into it, but it has so many elements that I truly love: a competition-style battle between competitors you get to know, a enemies-to-lovers relationship between the two main characters, a world that needs some big changes and the level of social commentary the author is able to incorporate into this world. I loved all of it!

The story follows Sylah, Anoor, and Hassan. Sylah and Anoor’s stories are more intertwined with each other and while Hassan’s story becomes integral to Sylah and Anoor, it’s definitely more the Sylah and Anoor show and I’m here for it. The biggest part of this story is the plot, the world building, and the character development. I thought it was strange that there wasn’t a major villain aspect to the story, but it pays off as you read through the events that takes place.

The world building in this one is exquisite and feeds deeply into the political structure of this world. They live in a place where people are discriminate by their blood. Embers have red blood, can use blood magic, and they have rule over the world. Dusters have blue blood and are considered beneath Embers. They’re your common folk, but still considered beneath the ruling party of this world and mostly take positions as merchants and servants. They are branded at a young age to differentiate them from the Embers. The Ghostings are even lower than Dusters. They have transparent blood and natives of the land the Embers rule over. However, because of their uprising against the Embers, they’ve been punished to be the lowest class, who have their hands and tongues cut off at a young age as punishment of the crimes their ancestors committed.

The Dusters of this world are tired of being second-class citizens and nearly 20 years ago replaced the children of high-ranking families with Duster children. The Ember children were raised as Dusters to hopefully take over the world in the future with the idea that Embers aren’t the only party existing in this world. Of course, Sylah and Anoor are caught up into this whole endeavor and their parts on both sides is what really drives this story. I loved the perspective that these two characters bring. Because they’re raised in two entirely different ways, they already have their ideas set, but it’s not until they meet each other that these ideas change and evolve to a better world. I loved how that all came together.

I honestly need to commend El-Arifi with her ability to create this world. It is so intricate and the discrimination and political ruling are so intertwined. It was incredible and I thought having Anoor being a Duster living in the Ember world and Sylah being an Ember who only knows the Duster life was truly brilliant. You see how these two characters exist in their world hidden by the people surrounding them, but also how it provides perspective of how they live their lives.

This is also a competition-style epic fantasy where Anoor is competing to become a disciple of the Wardens. In this world, anyone within the Ember community are allowed to compete for a position of power within their government. There is one disciple of knowledge and one disciple of strength who will eventually become Wardens themselves. And the competition that Anoor enters and her training towards this great goal is what takes up most of this story. Of course, the challenges are all ways that Anoor can expose herself as a Duster, but she believes that she can really enact change if she were to become a disciple, which is enough motivation for her to continue.

Anoor and Sylah are also the kinds of characters you want to keep up with throughout the book. Because they come from different backgrounds, they have different personalities and that clash between them before they finally submitted to their friendship and then some is truly worth the read. I loved getting to know both of them and seeing them fighting through the harder parts of their friendship as well as working together to help Anoor win the competition. Sylah was also interesting because she struggles with drug abuse throughout the story. It felt realistic where it’s something that constantly comes up, where she admits that it’s one of her priorities, and how she constantly fights the addiction in her own way.

I also loved how this book wraps up so well. You will be totally swept into this world, the drama of the events that take place, and find yourself with a pair of characters you can’t stop thinking about. While there is a little bit hanging on for you to explore in the second and third books, you’re still just finishing this book with the satisfying feeling that things will turn out for the better of these characters. I truly found hope at the end of this book.

Babel by R.F. Kuang // Book Review

Babel by R.F. Kuang // Book Review

As someone who isn’t on the same intelligence level of R.F. Kuang, who humbly reads her books and doesn’t see the multiple sides of the polyhedron that’s her story, I read the story and hours after putting down the book, I can’t help but to think about it. Spoilers ahead, so please proceed with caution!

Here’s more about Babel, or the Necessity of Violence

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


My thoughts

It’s going to be quite difficult for me to write this review without spoilers, but I’m going to try. I don’t want to spoil anything especially in this story because there’s so much nuance, complexity, and deep introspection once you’re done. It’s honestly the kind of book you want to read on your own and make your own opinion on because the subjects it brings up are meant for deeper thinking.

Babel is two stories melded into one. The first is the young academic with the opportunity to learn at Oxford, this prestigious school that’s hundreds of years old and taught the brightest people in the world. You follow Robin Swift from his beginnings in China through his entire time at Oxford and the events that take place there. There’s so much romanticized in the world of Babel that really gives you the academia vibe. I honestly imagined myself in the gown running across campus in order to make it to class. The rainy days spent in the library poring over books and theories. I was sitting with Ramy, Letty, and Victoire as they ate day-old scones with tea and discussing the finer points of translation. And most of this book is about translation, which was my favorite part. Kuang does not skimp on the study of language, its translation, and even the magical elements that translation brings. She’s even able to capture the political and economic needs for translation. I loved this so much. I always find etymology and language to be such an fascinating subject and seeing it shared here in such a big way just gave me a level of excitement for the academic pursuit. It’s extremely well researched with various languages I know Kuang can’t speak herself, but shows how deeply ingrained language is and means to culture and people.

This book was more an alternate history than a fantasy, but the story was still brilliantly developed. Kuang is an excellent world-builder and through her descriptions you’re able to fall deeply into this world and imagine yourself in it. I loved that Kuang builds this idyllic version of student life and makes her readers fall so madly in love with the concept, but you also get a really big dose of reality because this is R.F. Kuang and she doesn’t take things lightly.

The second story is where the rage comes in. Robin Swift may have this wonderful opportunity to study and learn at Oxford, but it wasn’t without its difficulties. He was stolen from China right after his mother dies. He’s forced to change his name to something more English-friendly erasing his connection with his homeland. He’s victim to child abuse from his guardian and scrutinized as some sort of science experiment from the other white students. He’s also one of four students that weren’t both white and male going to Oxford. The world Robin becomes a part of turns him and his friends into the “other.” It was the fuel to the fire that leads to their rebellion. It was the dark underbelly of academia where regardless of the prestige, the opportunity, and the first-rate education they’re receiving, it will never make them a part of this world and it will never fully accept or respect them as the scholars they are.

And that’s a sentiment I can understand and have been forced to feel. It’s already difficult to understand where you belong. I’ve felt straddled between being Asian and being American my entire life. While most of the time I’ve let my anger go, it’s always the little jabs that come your way from strangers, from friends, from work colleagues that brings back those feelings. It’s a frustrating feeling and when things become more dire for the young translation students at Babel, that’s when the violence comes in. I think the most important component to keep in mind when reading this book is the subtitle: Babel, or the necessity of violence. Because violence is a huge part of this story. From the abuse Robin goes through as a child to the final stand at the tower of Babel, violence threads its way through these characters like a cancer to the point where the youthful naivete of scholarly pursuits becomes a battlefield of resistance and a desire for acceptance.

It’s such an interesting topic to explore and while I think the final moments of this story took that narrative to the most extreme level, you really get an idea of the anger that fuels their rebellion. You understand why they took it so far and why sometimes you need to go to the extremes in order to make a statement.

I think the brilliance of this book is that Kuang presents you both sides of the same coin; the story of a young academic seeking knowledge at a prestigious school and the story of a young academic who finally sees the level of racism, classism, and exploitation the school takes from him. However, I wish I saw more of Robin’s personal struggle throughout the story. I felt like there was a small amount in the beginning, but then at one point it’s a full 180 and he’s leading a rebellion he didn’t want to be a part of in the first place. I don’t blame him for the violence or even the extreme measures that he takes, but I wish we dived deeper into that dichotomy instead of falling head first in the pursuit for justice.

Overall, this immersive story will keep you reading. You might be compelled by the translation discussions, or you might be compelled by the rebellion of these students, but there is a little bit of everything for everyone and if you’re not thinking about the bigger themes of the story after putting the book down, then you might have missed the entire point. I had some issues with the character development and some of the plot either moved too quickly or stagnated at a snail’s pace, but it was truly a masterful book that isn’t subtle and will make you hurt and wonder at the same time. I commend R.F. Kuang for this incredible endeavor. This truly is a feather in her writing cap and brings to light some truly interesting themes in an understandable way.

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye, and Sandhya Menon // Book Review

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye, and Sandhya Menon // Book Review

Three characters, three stories, one book. If you’re a fan of contemporary YA romance series and wish you can get three stories in one book, then this is the one for you. Thanks to Wednesday Books for the gifted read.

Here’s more about Three Kisses, One Midnight

The town of Moon Ridge was founded 400 years ago and everyone born and raised there knows the legend of the young woman who perished at the stroke of twelve that very same night, losing the life she was set to embark on with her dearest love. Every century since, one day a year, the Lady of Moon Ridge descends from the stars to walk among the townsfolk, conjuring an aura upon those willing to follow their hearts’ desires.

“To summon joy and love in another’s soul
For a connection that makes two people whole
For laughter and a smile that one can never miss
Sealed before midnight with a truehearted kiss.”

This year at Moon Ridge High, a group of friends known as The Coven will weave art, science, and magic during a masquerade ball unlike any other. Onny, True, and Ash believe everything is in alignment to bring them the affection, acceptance, and healing that can only come from romance—with a little help from Onny’s grandmother’s love potion.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. And as midnight approaches, The Coven learn that it will take more than a spell to recognize those who offer their love and to embrace all the magic that follows.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

I honestly went into this book thinking that it was going to be an anthology of short stories. However, it’s a little bit more unique than that and really creates a unique experience. Three incredible YA authors write three separate stories all set at the same place, same time, and follow one of the main characters through their evening. I loved the concept. I loved the idea of writing a short story in a trilogy collection that’s set throughout the same night.

The first story is based off Onny. She’s the magical one of the group who’s made a love potion for the three of them to use sometime before midnight of the town’s Halloween ball. Onny was my favorite as she prepares her potion for the boy she has a crush on only to have her nemesis drink it instead. And as they try to make more of the potion, of course their feelings for each other changes as well.

The second story is based off Ash, who is a talented artist that’s terribly shy. He lives next door to a wondrous girl who plays basketball and runs with a much more popular crowd and while he may know every detail about her, she doesn’t really know he exists. That is, until her brothers break the fence between their two homes and Ash is recruited to help rebuild the fence with her. Of course, things start to change between the two of them from there.

The final story follows True, a straightforward no-nonsense girl who’s nursing a broken heart. Of course, she wouldn’t let on that she’s a bit heartbroken, but when she finds herself at the ball talking to a boy she’s never met before, things change for True and open her up to a possibility of love.

The three stories separately all had some favorite moments. I loved that each had its different trope and has a little bit for everyone. Of course, it’s a super fast read, but still such a darling set of stories. I most definitely loved Onny’s story the best, but each had me gasping and sighing at some of the romantic moments for each of them.

Of course, the book has all the fall vibes. The book is set around Halloween with a Halloween-themed ball to attend. The people in town dressed in elaborate costumes all sipping party drinks and dancing together is just the perfect mood for the story. Of course, there’s a little bit of witchy magic, which also ties into the Halloween theme without being spooky. I absolutely loved that this book is made for this season and if you’re looking to cozy up with a comforting YA romance, then this one is for you.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton // Book Review

I’ve finally read the book that inspired the movie! And wow, it is worth the hype.

Here’s more about Jurassic Park

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong. . . .

In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton taps all his mesmerizing talent and scientific brilliance to create his most electrifying technothriller.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

Throughout my reading of Jurassic Park, I tried to imagine myself back in 1990 when this book first came out. If I were me, but in 1990 and I picked up this book to review on my blog (or not blog, since blogs didn’t exist in 1990…I don’t think), what would I have thought?

While I may be a reader reading the book well after watching the movie(s), I set aside what I already knew about the story and focused on the book. And what I came away with is that both the movie and book complement each other. Where the book fails, the movie makes up for and where the movie lacks, the book makes up for. If anything, Jurassic Park should be judged on both its iterations rather than the two parts. You get a better sense of the entire story, the world, the emotional depth, and the characters when you consider both together working to create a much more complete story.

I could only imagine what people thought about this book when they picked it up. I mean, the idea of dinosaurs roaming the Earth millions of years after they went extinct is exciting. There’s so much you can unpack with that alone and I feel like Crichton tries to in the space of 450 pages.

There’s a real horror aspect to the story. Bodies being ripped apart, people hiding in fear of the various dinosaurs hunting them down. I felt so much suspense in the scenes with the velocirators because of their intelligence and the idea of fighting an animal that knows how to open doors just puts you on the edge of your seat. It may not be the same level as some of the other great horror authors out there, I think Crichton does a really good job creating a sense of reality in this book that you forget that this is all fiction.

While it’s definitely science fiction, it’s obvious Michael Crichton wanted this to be as close to real science as possible. With graphs, charts, data pulls, and even code spread out the novel to portray the level of human preparation put into the book, Crichton really makes me believe that genetic manipulation and recreating extinct animals can be real. I know it doesn’t all go to plan in the book, but the way the information is presented, it made you feel like maybe there’s a dinosaur Disney World somewhere out there. I read a lot of science fiction and even in stories like Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, you still know that this is just fiction. Michael Crichton is next level. There’s a level of dedication put into the book to make it as life-like as possible.

The biggest element of this is the discussion of genetic engineering and bringing something like dinosaurs into human existence. The book is described as a cautionary tale of genetic engineering gone wrong. While there’s many scenes with introspection and reflection on scientific ideologies, I think Michael Crichton instills his personal beliefs within Ian Malcolm. While injured for most of the book, Malcolm’s still able to wax poetic about the reality of science adding that sometimes because we can doesn’t mean we should. The impassioned speeches Malcolm makes while in a morphine-induced stupor (including his belief in The Malcolm Effect) were still extremely insightful as if someone may have been thinking about these concepts for a very long time. Even the commentary from the experts throughout the story (Henry Wu, John Arnold, Muldoon, and even Gennaro) all felt like perhaps having dinosaurs exist on Earth again wasn’t a good idea. It was also their opinions that brought about a lot of my frustration with one of the characters.

My least favorite character was John Hammond. I’m not the type of person to hate a billionaire just because he’s rich. No, it goes deeper than that. You would think the moment that he loses his grandchildren in the midst of a massively unstable dinosaur park with no communication and no protection against the deadly creatures would make him think differently to his decision for creating said park, but it doesn’t. He still believes it’s a good endeavor and once they figure out the “kinks,” then this will be a fun zoo for young people to enjoy with their multi-million dollar families. It bugged me how little he understood of the severity of the situation. And maybe there are billionaire men out there in the world who believe that; pushing at the advancement of scientific discovery for the sake of human enjoyment and pleasure, but it lacks of level of humanity as well. Perhaps the biggest villain in the entire book is Hammond who had the gumption to try and make money off this scientific endeavor.

Overall, this was such an incredible book that I can only imagine stunned the millions of readers who picked it up without having heard of the Jurassic Park movie. While I thought the first half of the book was a little slow, it was also necessary. There’s a lot of exposition in this book and a lot of explanation of the more scientific and mathematically components, but without those explanations, I don’t think Michael Crichton would have been able to get the believability he was able to get otherwise. Having read the book and watched the movie, I now have this much bigger view of what Michael Crichton was trying to get at and I applaud him for this level of creativity and the level of realism he puts into the world.

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir // Book Review

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir // Book Review

I don’t ever know what to expect when staring a new Tamsyn Muir book. I go in empty-headed. I don’t think about Gideon. I don’t think about Harrow. I just focus all my energy into learning about Nona and hopefully at some point, Tamsyn Muir will give the cue that it’s okay to feel things and understand what’s going on. If you’re looking for the ultimate book that requires you to just trust the author to get there, then this next installment is for you.

Here’s more about Nona the Ninth

Her city is under siege.

The zombies are coming back.

And all Nona wants is a birthday party.

In many ways, Nona is like other people. She lives with her family, has a job at her local school, and loves walks on the beach and meeting new dogs. But Nona’s not like other people. Six months ago she woke up in a stranger’s body, and she’s afraid she might have to give it back.

The whole city is falling to pieces. A monstrous blue sphere hangs on the horizon, ready to tear the planet apart. Blood of Eden forces have surrounded the last Cohort facility and wait for the Emperor Undying to come calling. Their leaders want Nona to be the weapon that will save them from the Nine Houses. Nona would prefer to live an ordinary life with the people she loves, with Pyrrha and Camilla and Palamedes, but she also knows that nothing lasts forever.

And each night, Nona dreams of a woman with a skull-painted face…

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


My thoughts

Like her previous books, Nona the Ninth was just a weird extension of the Locked Tomb universe Tamsyn Muir has somehow crafted. When I heard that she was going to extend the trilogy into four books, I was so surprised. I mean, give me more Gideon and Harrow, but I didn’t know what could possibly be said that couldn’t be said in the final book. I am so glad to be wrong and truthfully, Nona the Ninth made me look at the entire Locked Tomb series in a different light.

For the most part, I’ve been operating under the belief that this was a fantasy series, but after Harrow, I know it’s more like a science fiction series. Nona helped me understand that there’s much more going on than just a bunch of dirty-talking necromancers in space.

I felt like this one adds a bit more context to the bigger story that I was hoping to see, especially with the final book coming out some time soon. Nona the Ninth follows, Nona. She’s not Lyctor. She’s not a necromancer. She’s just a 19-year-old girl that somehow was born six months ago. She’s a teacher’s aide at the local school. Her best friends names are Hot Sauce, Born in the Morning, and Kevin. She loves the teacher’s dog, Noodle. For all intents and purposes, she’s just your average girl living on a planet where necromancers are shunned and human beings try to exist without the body-possessing weirdos that plague this universe.

That’s what I really loved about this book; this feels like an extension of what happened in Harrow the Ninth. Instead of being confusing, you’re starting to see the pieces of the bigger puzzle coming together and more is revealed behind the ulimate end-game: the opening of the Locked Tomb. But there’s also a playfulness to this story. Unlike the last two books, this felt more…familial as Nona lives with Camilla and Palamedes who take care of her, teach her things, and don’t mention anything to her that contributes to the bigger picture (of course). She’s more excited about her birthday party than the strange dreams she has.

Starting this book with an open mind about what could possibly happened really benefited me. While I really wish I reread the first two books, I knew that it might also hinder my perception and make me want to see a familiar face or two throughout the text. It wasn’t as difficult to follow. It still has that air of mystery behind it, but somehow easier to follow than the other books. It almost felt a bit slow because you’re expecting some big dog fights or a mystery that needs to be solved, but it does eventually pick up and when it does, you’re launched straight out of this stratosphere.

Tamsyn Muir’s writings are like listening to a symphony play something with several movements. Each book stands on its own as a movement, but the bigger picture is always better revealed by the end. There’s true highs and sad lows. There’s the Adagio and the Allegro and all of it sounds different, but makes absolute sense in its whole.

And like all of Tamsyn Muir’s books, this is another one you need to explore on your own. It’s different, but actually fits perfectly into the context of the rest of the series. And the ending will definitely make you hope for Alecto the Ninth to finally arrive. I already plan on rereading this entire series once Alecto is out and I can only hope that everything will make sense by the end.

Dead Flip by Sara Farizan // Book Review

Dead Flip by Sara Farizan // Book Review

This had all the vibes of Stranger Things and Ready Player One. If you’re a fan of video games, monsters looking to suck your life out, and teenagers really learning a little bit about themselves in the process, then this one is for you.

Here’s more about Dead Flip

Growing up, Cori, Maz, and Sam were inseparable best friends, sharing their love for Halloween, arcade games, and one another. Now it’s 1992, Sam has been missing for five years, and Cori and Maz aren’t speaking anymore. How could they be, when Cori is sure Sam is dead and Maz thinks he may have been kidnapped by a supernatural pinball machine?
 
These days, all Maz wants to do is party, buy CDs at Sam Goody, and run away from his past. Meanwhile, Cori is a homecoming queen, hiding her abiding love of horror movies and her queer self under the bubblegum veneer of a high school queen bee. But when Sam returns—still twelve years old while his best friends are now seventeen—Maz and Cori are thrown back together to solve the mystery of what really happened to Sam the night he went missing. Beneath the surface of that mystery lurk secrets the friends never told one another, then and now. And Sam’s is the darkest of all . . .
 
Award-winning author of If You Could Be Mine and Here to Stay Sara Farizan delivers edge-of-your-seat terror as well as her trademark referential humor, witty narration, and insightful characters.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


My thoughts

The fast pace of Dead Flip threw me off a little. Granted, this is my first YA book in a really long time, so it surprised me how quickly things were moving right at the beginning, but one thing was obvious: Sam, Cori, and Maz used to be best friends. They used to hang out with each other and for all intents and purposes, they were kind of misfits who found friendship through a mutual love of pinball. But something happens, as things do when you’re a teenager, and their threesome split. When Sam disappears one day, the group also splits. Cori and Maz are left to pick up the pieces of their life without one of their best friends. Cori becomes popular and nominated for the prom queen. Maz’s family starts to do better than before raising his status among the folks at school. They make their ways in separate directions until Sam suddenly returns; except that he’s still the same Sam that left, young and a little bit different.

The rest of the book is a whirlwind journey of how Sam came back and what it all means. I don’t want to spoil it, but Sam’s whereabouts really shook me. I love stories like this and it reminds me a little bit of Stranger Things in that Sam has been in some inter-dimension that exists within the real unieverse. As you keep reading, the truth behind where Sam has been is revealed. This also felt like thriller/horror lite. If you’re not invested in reading something too spooky, but has enough to give you the vibes, then this might be a book to add to your Halloween reading lists. I know I will because it was a lot of fun, actually has a super hopeful ending, and the supernatural elements were not surprising, but still entertaining.

Sam’s return also brings Maz and Cori back together and while the two of them have been in separate circles and learning how to cope, it seems almost like Sam brings them together. I really enjoyed the friendship between Maz, Cori, and Sam. Without Sam, it felt like they were parts to a whole that no longer fit into each other. But it’s obvious that Sam is the glue of their relationship and with his return, something reverts back for both Maz and Cori; to a simpler time when all they had were each other and that sparks the changes they face throughout the rest of the book.

Overall, this was a fun and fast-paced story that would make for a perfect spooky season read! If you’re looking to get the feel of Halloween without it being too gorey, then I suggest picking this one up!

10 books I want to read this fall

10 books I want to read this fall

Happy fall, everyone! I’ve always felt like fall was too short. It would encompass October and November and that’s it, but thinking about it, I feel like it deserves just as much love as the other seasons receive. So when I heard that people are counting September towards the fall, I realized that that’s the secret. Instead of treating September as this weird in-between two seasons and really not belonging to summer or fall, I’ve decided that it should be a part of fall. Perhaps the weather hasn’t fully cooled down yet and perhaps I’m drinking hot pumpkin spice lattes in the middle of a heatwave, but I also love this season and I want to celebrate it right.

And what better way to celebrate than to read some great books. This year, I want to read 10 books that really bring the cool vibes. It’s spooky season, so of course many of the books on my list are perfect for that, but I also consider fall to be the season for comforting fantasy books and romances that get you wrapped up in blankets and cups of hot apple cider (my favorite fall drink). So over the next three months of fall, here’s what I’ll be reading:

Dead Flip by Sara Farizan

Fall means spooky season and what better way to celebrate the occasion with some spooky books! This is a new YA thriller that makes you think Stranger Things meets Ready Player One.

Growing up, Cori, Maz, and Sam were inseparable best friends, sharing their love for Halloween, arcade games, and one another. Now it’s 1992, Sam has been missing for five years, and Cori and Maz aren’t speaking anymore. How could they be, when Cori is sure Sam is dead and Maz thinks he may have been kidnapped by a supernatural pinball machine?
 
These days, all Maz wants to do is party, buy CDs at Sam Goody, and run away from his past. Meanwhile, Cori is a homecoming queen, hiding her abiding love of horror movies and her queer self under the bubblegum veneer of a high school queen bee. But when Sam returns—still twelve years old while his best friends are now seventeen—Maz and Cori are thrown back together to solve the mystery of what really happened to Sam the night he went missing. Beneath the surface of that mystery lurk secrets the friends never told one another, then and now. And Sam’s is the darkest of all . . .
 
Award-winning author of If You Could Be Mine and Here to Stay Sara Farizan delivers edge-of-your-seat terror as well as her trademark referential humor, witty narration, and insightful characters.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross

This is literally the only book on this list that I’ve already read. I read it back in February in the midst of our move across the country. So while I remember reading it and fondly enjoying it, I would like to give it a little bit more love on the blog. It’s also so cozy with its setting and its magical world. I can’t wait to read this again.

Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.

As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.

With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

It really surprised me when Bianca Marais, author of Hum if you Don’t Know the Words, wrote a magical story about octogenarian witches trying to save their homes. It’s fun, heartwarming, and a little bit magical!

Five octogenarian witches gather as an angry mob threatens to demolish Moonshyne Manor. All eyes turn to the witch in charge, Queenie, who confesses they’ve fallen far behind on their mortgage payments. Still, there’s hope, since the imminent return of Ruby–one of the sisterhood who’s been gone for thirty-three years–will surely be their salvation.

But the mob is only the start of their troubles. One man is hellbent on avenging his family for the theft of a legacy he claims was rightfully his. In an act of desperation, Queenie makes a bargain with an evil far more powerful than anything they’ve ever faced. Then things take a turn for the worse when Ruby’s homecoming reveals a seemingly insurmountable obstacle instead of the solution to all their problems.

The witches are determined to save their home and themselves, but their aging powers are no match for increasingly malicious threats. Thankfully, they get a bit of help from Persephone, a feisty TikToker eager to smash the patriarchy. As the deadline to save the manor approaches, fractures among the sisterhood are revealed, and long-held secrets are exposed, culminating in a fiery confrontation with their enemies.

Funny, tender and uplifting, the novel explores the formidable power that can be discovered in aging, found family and unlikely friendships. Marais’ clever prose offers as much laughter as insight, delving deeply into feminism, identity and power dynamics while stirring up intrigue and drama through secrets, lies and sex. Heartbreaking and heart-mending, it will make you grateful for the amazing women in your life.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

I picked this one up because it had bookstores and magic and a connection to the Salem Witch Trials and a little romance. I’m hoping for some serious Practical Magic vibes.

No one has civic pride quite like Emerson Wilde. As a local indie bookstore owner and youngest-ever Chamber of Commerce president, she’d do anything for her hometown of St. Cyprian, Missouri. After all, Midwest is best! She may be descended from a witch who was hanged in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, but there’s no sorcery in doing your best for the town you love.
Or is there?

As she preps Main Street for an annual festival, Emerson notices strange things happening around St. Cyprian. Strange things that culminate in a showdown with her lifelong arch-rival, Mayor Skip Simon. He seems to have sent impossible, paranormal creatures after her. Creatures that Emerson dispatches with ease, though she has no idea how she’s done it. Is Skip Simon…a witch? Is Emerson?

It turns out witches are real, and Emerson is one of them. She failed a coming-of-age test at age eighteen—the only test she’s ever failed!—and now, as an adult, her powers have come roaring back.

But she has little time to explore those powers, or her blossoming relationship with her childhood friend, cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North: an ancient evil has awakened in St. Cyprian, and it’s up to Emerson and her friends—maybe even Emerson herself—to save everything she loves.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

After finishing The Lord of the Rings last year, I wanted to make sure that I round out my LOTR reading with the one that started it all!

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.

Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


Redwall by Brian Jacques

I’ll be buddy reading this book with a friend, but I’ve actually never read this! I’ve heard a ton about this book over the years, so it’s finally time I did something about it!

As the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey bask in the glorious Summer of the Late Rose, all is quiet and peaceful. But things are not as they seem. Cluny the Scourge, the evil one-eyed rat warlord, is hell-bent on destroying the tranquility as he prepares to fight a bloody battle for the ownership of Redwall. This dazzling story in the Redwall series is packed with all the wit, wisdom, humor, and blood-curdling adventure of the other books in the collection, but has the added bonus of taking the reader right back to the heart and soul of Redwall Abbey and the characters who live there.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The falltime is the horror season, so I wanted to make sure I had a few horror books in my stack as well. What better way to celebrate the season with one of the masters of horror?

From New York Times best-selling author Stephen Graham Jones comes a novel that is equal parts psychological horror and cutting social commentary on identity politics and the American-Indian experience. Fans of Jordan Peele and Tommy Orange will love this story as it follows the lives of four American-Indian men and their families, all haunted by a disturbing, deadly event that took place in their youth. Years later, they find themselves tracked by an entity bent on revenge, totally helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

This is a book that I started, but never finished. However, something about it draws me back and I think it has something to do with the beauty of this magical world and the romance between the two main characters.

When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org


House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin A. Craig

After reading Small Favors from Erin A. Craig last year, I’ve been meaning to check out the rest of her books. I heard this is just as spooky as her last, so I’m excited to check out this one.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.

Find it on Amazon| Find it on Bookshop.org


Stardust by Neil Gaiman

I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and I always associate his books with this time of year. Maybe it’s because of his expert way of blending darkness with fantasy and magic. But this year, I decided to try a Neil Gaiman I haven’t tried before. I hope to get all the cozy fantasy vibes out of it.

Young Tristran Thorn will do anything to win the cold heart of beautiful Victoria—even fetch her the star they watch fall from the night sky. But to do so, he must enter the unexplored lands on the other side of the ancient wall that gives their tiny village its name. Beyond that old stone wall, Tristran learns, lies Faerie—where nothing not even a fallen star, is what he imagined.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

Upgrade by Blake Crouch // Book Review

“We were a monstrous, thoughtful, selfish, sensitive, fearful, ambitious, loving, hateful, hopeful species. We contained within us the potential for great evil, but also for great good. And we were capable of so much more than this.”

This new novel from Blake Crouch was definitely different than the ones he’s written in the past. However, it felt like I was watching a movie and hope that someone does pick it up one day (probably will). Thanks Ballantine Books for the gifted copy.

Here’s more about Upgrade

“You are the next step in human evolution.”

At first, Logan Ramsay isn’t sure if anything’s different. He just feels a little . . . sharper. Better able to concentrate. Better at multitasking. Reading a bit faster, memorizing better, needing less sleep.

But before long, he can’t deny it: Something’s happening to his brain. To his body. He’s starting to see the world, and those around him—even those he loves most—in whole new ways.

The truth is, Logan’s genome has been hacked. And there’s a reason he’s been targeted for this upgrade. A reason that goes back decades to the darkest part of his past, and a horrific family legacy.

Worse still, what’s happening to him is just the first step in a much larger plan, one that will inflict the same changes on humanity at large—at a terrifying cost.

Because of his new abilities, Logan’s the one person in the world capable of stopping what’s been set in motion. But to have a chance at winning this war, he’ll have to become something other than himself. Maybe even something other than human.

And even as he’s fighting, he can’t help wondering: what if humanity’s only hope for a future really does lie in engineering our own evolution?

Intimate in scale yet epic in scope, Upgrade is an intricately plotted, lightning-fast tale that charts one man’s thrilling transformation, even as it asks us to ponder the limits of our humanity—and our boundless potential.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

Like I mentioned earlier, this was defintiely different than the Blake Crouch we’ve known in both Dark Matter and Recursion. Instead of focusing on theories within quantum physics, he’s decided to go the biology and genetics approach.

A lot of this book feels like it’s been influenced by the events of the past few years. From the pandemic, to climate change, to social justice issues, the story envisions an entire breakdown of humanity, it creates a futuristic America where humanity is on the brink of destruction. And in this world, science has caught up to science fiction as humans now have the capability to manipulate their genes. It’s kind of crazy to think that you can edit yourself and change your face, make you more intelligent, or even create new species of animals, and yet, we are still down the path to the end of our species.

In this world, Logan is an agent for the GPA, Gene Protection Agency, who works to stop unlawful use of gene manipulation. On a routine investigation and raid of a possibly illegal genetics lab, Logan is attacked. He contracts a random virus leaving him in quarantine for fourteen days.

Once Logan has recovered from the virus, he slowly starts to change. He remembers every memory from his life as if they just happened. He can recall every piece of writing he’s ever read right down to the very quotes. He can think more precisely, more logically, and can also suppress his own emotions. He’s an enhanced version of himself and he’s made this way by design. He realizes that his genes have been upgraded, but he doesn’t know why.

From this point, the book turns into an action movie. You have your main character who escapes the GPA in order to find out why he was infected and what will happen to him in the future. Honestly, every bit of this story felt like I was watching a summer blockbuster action movie starring Tom Cruise or something. There were cyphers and codes to go through. There were shootouts and melee fights. There were even some touching moments with Logan and his family. It was the perfect combination of science fiction with thrilling action movie and I devoured the crap out of it. I don’t think my eyes read that fast in my life.

I also loved Logan as the main character, grasping between his logical thinking brain and his emotions. I loved seeing him push and pull between the two and the imagery really reminded me of Mr. Spock from Star Trek; a man stuck between the intelligent choices and the emotional choices Something I love about Blake Crouch’s stories is how human he makes his characters. They always have someone they are fighting for and it’s the same in Upgrade as Logan can’t let go of his family. It truly made it so much more personable especially when it gets heavy with the science.

This was such an absolutely thrill to read and I can’t believe I devoured it so quickly. I loved the characters, the action, the adventure. I think the only thing I didn’t like was the epilogue, but that’s not really anything to criticize. Overall, it was such a fun read and definitely one you want to squeeze in before the summer is over!

The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri // Book Review

The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri // Book Review

The second book in The Burning Kingdoms trilogy and it definitely heated up the story! Thanks to Orbit Books for the gifted copy.

Here’s more about The Oleander Sword

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

This one turned out a lot different than I imagined it to be. It was brilliant, but also different than The Jasmine Throne. I slowly savored this book over weeks rather than rushing to finish it within a couple of days. And as I progressed, I found myself wanting to read more and more per day to see what happens. The story moves slowly adding more perspectives from different characters and revealing more dark secrets within this world that really added to the story. However, the ending was well worth the slow burn and truly left you in shock.

While preparing for the third book in the series, the second book is one battle after another. This slow-burning, military-focused sequel has its ups and downs, but ultimately prepares you for what’s to come in the third book. The story really focuses less on Priya and Malini as two separate characters and shows who they can be when they’re sided together. It was more about the oncoming war rather than their relationship, but I don’t think folks following their romance will be disappointed with this one. The tenderness between them was so sweet and while they both were powerful in their own rites, I loved seeing them vulnerable when they’re with each other.

While Priya and Malini are still the main characters of this story, I found myself waiting around for Bhumika and Rao’s perspectives. In this story, Bhumika really takes on a main character role as she continues to lead her part of the world while also taking care of her newborn baby. I loved the scene where she’s discussing politics while also wiping food off her baby’s chin. If that doesn’t scream modern motherhood, I don’t know what. The interesting part is that Bhumika’s character takes on a whole other life. Her integration into the story really made her a favorite character of mine.

We also get the benefit of a Chandra perspective as well. Yes, the evil emperor that we didn’t hear from in the first book has a perspective in the second and it is pretty much what you expected from a maniacal ruler who truly believes the success of his kingdom relies on the death of his sister. It was true to the person we read about in the first book and really added an interesting depth to the story.

I think my favorite part of this entire book is how Tasha Suri takes her time building up the climax of this story. It felt obvious where the story was going, but I truly loved that she didn’t leave anything behind, wrapped up some loose ends before hitting us with something so much bigger than all of us!

I will admit, the story moved a bit slowly for me. While there were some moments throughout the story that pulled you in and kept me interested, there were also some lags that moved quite slowly. However, by the last 100 pages of the book, there was so much action that you couldn’t put it down.

Overall, this was a strong second book in the trilogy that really gears you up for a much bigger battle in the final book.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna // Book Review

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna // Book Review

This was just a warm hug of a book. Honestly, I think anyone who loves The House in the Cerulean Sea or Practical Magic will fall head over heels for this gorgeous contemporary fantasy romance. Thanks to Berkley Pub for the gifted copy of this book.

Here’s more about The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family–and a new love–changes the course of her life.

As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don’t mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she’s used to being alone and she follows the rules…with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.

But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and…Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he’s concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.

As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn’t know she was looking for….

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

The book is set in a modern-day England with everything you expect to see in a contemporary story. The only caveat is that witches are real and they live in secret amongst us. The story starts with Mika Moon, a 31-year-old witch, who’s off to meet with the other witches she knows within that part of England. They only meet once every three months in a different location each time. Why? Because witches shouldn’t gather too often as it would cause a lot of magic to condense into one area. So most witches stay away from each other, hiding their talents and blending into society. However, Mika’s a little bit different. Instead of hiding, she displays her witchcraft as a social media witch. Her followers believe it’s a performance, but what they don’t know is that Mika is sharing her real nature with her followers.

When one of her followers messages her with an opportunity to teach three young witches about their magic, she’s completely skeptical. How did they know she was a real witch? How do they know that witches exist and are these three girls actually witches? Well, Mika decides it’s an opportunity she wants to check out and what she finds is a home hidden away by magic with three little witches, a groundskeeper and his husband, the caretaker, and Jamie, the father-figure to these girls.

As you read on, you get to know more about all the characters. I think this is my favorite part of the book because each of them were so different and believable. You can imagine the steady-minded Ken raking leaves in the garden with his eccentric husband knitting his crazy rainbow scarves. You can feel the protectiveness Jamie has for the girls and each of the girls were so different from each other. I mean, one of them even plotted Mika’s death for most of the book.

The found family was just brilliant. I loved the entire household; Ian and Ken who just feel like complete opposites of each other, but complement one another so beautifully. Then you have dear old Lucie who is there to warm you with a cup of tea. And then the girls, Rosetta, Terracotta, and Altamira are kind and precocious and sweet girls that you just want the best for, even Terracotta who comes off a bit brusque and mean.

The romance is probably not everyone’s cup of tea. I can see a lot of the romance readers wanting a bit more action in the romance department, but in my eyes, it was the sweetest romance between a grumpy and sunshine. Jamie and Mika were the perfect characters. Mika is this witch who has been alone for most of her life coming to terms with helping a family of witches get better at their magic. Jamie is this single guy who isn’t related to these witches by blood, but comes home to take care of them. I mean, is there anything more sexy than a man who drops everything to take care of three little girls that he didn’t conceive? We all need more Jamies in this world.

Their romance does take its time, but I never mind a slow burn especially when there’s so much else going on in the story. It was such a warm hug of a book; the kind of book that sticks to the corners of your mind days after you read it. It’s the kind of book you wish existed in real life so that you can encounter the beautiful magic and mystery behind the entire world. I embraced this book with my whole heart and I was truly satisfied with everything about it.

Highly recommend it to those folks who aren’t big into romance novels and those who want something less spooky for the Halloween season. Trust me, you’ll be as enamored as I am.