Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki // Book Review

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki // Book Review

What does a violin teacher from Hell, a trans runaway, and an alien donut shop owner have in common? Well, I was skeptical too, but then I read Light from Uncommon Stars and now I feel like anything is possible. Thanks to Tor Books for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Light from Uncommon Stars

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

My thoughts

This book is incredible. Full stop.

Beautifully written and smartly displayed. It gave me TJ Klune and Becky Chambers vibes. It gave me donuts and so much delicious Asian food. It made me think of my violin-playing youth. And it was a massive love letter to the Asian communities of LA. I honestly was so astounded by the beauty, the embrace, and the creativity this book provided. It’s definitely one of my favorite books of the year.

I don’t even know where to begin with how to explain my feelings. Let’s start with the characters. There are several different characters that this book follows, but the main ones are Lan, an interstellar alien trying to escape from a deadly plague that’s ravishing star systems around the universe. She’s escaped to Earth where her family work to rebuild their ship and as a cover they run an old donut shop. Shizuka was a violin virtuoso back in the day, but not anymore. In fact, she’s spent the last 49 years cultivating young violin students, bringing them great fame and fortune, only to lose them all to tragic ends. Why? Because she works for the devil and collecting the souls of virtuoso is what she does. Katrina is a young trans youth who’s recently run away from home. Without a place to stay, money to get food, or anyone to turn to, she’s made her way doing sexual favors. That is, until one day, when Katrina plays her violin in the park and Shizuka just happens to hear.

The story surrounds these three individuals and their lives become more and more intertwined learning about each other, themselves, and what they’re all capable of doing when given a little bit of love. The beauty of this story is surrounding their relationships and how they each grow so drastically in the pages within. Honestly, it’s so incredible reading this book and watching how these people become the people they’re supposed to be.

Of course, the story wasn’t without its truths. There was a lot of heartbreaking depictions of Katrina as she struggles with being loved by someone unconditionally, with coming-to-terms with what’s happened to her in the past, and how she finds herself through her music and the support of Shizuka and Lan. But there were also some uplifting moments where Katrina and Shizuka’s relationship really made you believe in the good of people; even if they’re actually conditioning their souls for the devil.

It was interesting to see Shizuka grow as well because she’s been literally grooming children for death and eternal damnation. To see her change little by little with Katrina just makes you think there’s possibility for bad people to be good again. And Lan, she changes immensely as well. Coming from a pragmatic people who don’t understand why people would want a variety of donut flavors or why they waste their time with video games, you see how important these things are to humans and how this level of entertainment can be the exact thing the universe needs to keep moving forward.

Then, there was the violin play. Honestly, the violin was its own character in this book. As someone who has played violin for 10 years of her adolescent life, actually played Schradieck and tried her hand at Paganini, these violin references were SPOT ON. Even down to the kinds of bridges used and the kinds of sound the instrument can make if you use the right strings. It’s literally so accurate that I thought Ryka Aoki was a long-time player like me. It was surprising when I realized that Ryka Aoki doesn’t actually play the violin. She really fooled me because she had everything from the makers of violins to the differences a bow can make read like she was as experienced at the violin as Shizuka was.

The descriptions of the violin reminded me so much of The Red Violin; one of my all-time favorite movies. It was this idea that the violin held someone’s soul and the music it played was seductive, embracing, and completely spell-binding. There was something free and beautiful about the violin that everyone coveted it and throughout the movie, you see how it makes its way around the world and touches everyone that plays it. You can watch the trailer here. So much of that feeling was deeply held to the violin parts in this book. I was honestly so moved by the way Ryka Aoki wrote the violin and the way it touched both Shizuka and Katrina’s lives.

The ending is where you see everything come together. Honestly, I was so surprised. I had a feeling the ending would go a certain way; an ultimate sacrifice, but then it was completely thwarted and put a huge smile on my face. It was an incredible ending to finish off such an incredible experience.

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun // Book Review

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun // Book Review

Ok, so when I heard that this book featured a Bachelor-style TV show where the main contestant falls in love with his handler/producer of the show. With that in mind, I was expecting something like that TV show Unreal, but I got way more than that!

Thanks to Atria Books for the gifted book.

Here’s more about The Charm Offensive

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

My thoughts

If you’re a fan of shows like The Bachelor, then get ready for this one. Seriously, I’m pretty sure Alison Cochrun watches the show because the mentions were spot on. “Can I steal you away for a sec?” is probably one of the most iconic lines of Bachelor ever and it was in here! Not only that, but the timeline of the show, the iconic parts that make up the show, the behind-the-scenes scripting of the characters (even how they made someone into a villain), and the best part is that this was the running theme throughout the book. Sometimes you read these romance books and they just drop off on the main plot of the book to focus on the romance. I’m so glad that you basically see until the final episode what happens on the show.

And the show itself was surprising! Of course, it couldn’t have been surprising without its incredible characters.

Charlie’s character really surprised me. When the author said he was the star of the show, I was expecting someone with a huge ego, knows that they’re good looking, and a straight-up dick. However, I was pleansantly surprised that this character had as much depth as Dev, was truly struggling through something in their life, and it caused a lot of concern in his relationship with Dev throughout the book.

And on top of that, Dev himself was just as mess as well. Honestly, this felt like two seriously real people who were dealing with some seriously real issues, but not ironically on a dating TV show. I loved Dev and how understanding he is of Charlie right off the bat. Instead of just shrugging him off and pretending he’s just another arrogant bachelor, he really opens up and gets to know him which was really nice. I was expecting it to be a little bit of an enemies-to-lovers, but I’ll take friends-to-lovers with a side of fake (aka practice) dating!

Not only were Dev and Charlie super well developed, but you also get to know the other characters. Between Dev’s friends and coworkers and the other contestants on the show, there was some seriously well understood characters. I can only imagine the subsequent books that will come after this one.

The biggest surprise was the real conversations about mental health and neuro-diversity. Each person was heard out, listened to, and embraced as the person that they are. It was so good to see these topics handled with such care and understanding representing those folks out there who understand that life. There were also big discussions on sexual and gender identity, which were interesting especially for the characters as they start to open up even more about their lives.

Overall, this was such a great story filled with romance and funny bits. I hope Alison Cochrun decides to write more romance novels in this world especially for the other characters since they felt so realized as well.

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton // Book Review

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton // Book Review

Have you ever read anything more hopeful and gorey at the same time? Well, then this unique little novel will definitely intrigue you because it’s pretty much The Secret Life of Pets meets The Walking Dead as the animals the humans leave behind after a zombie apocalypse try to gather their strength and survive. There are many animals that do die and the reason why the humans became zombies was because of an unknown virus spread through their phones, so just keep that in mind if you’re sensitive to animal death and the recent COVID pandemic.

Here’s More about Hollow Kingdom

One pet crow fights to save humanity from an apocalypse in this uniquely hilarious debut from a genre-bending literary author.

S.T., a domesticated crow, is a bird of simple pleasures: hanging out with his owner Big Jim, trading insults with Seattle’s wild crows (those idiots), and enjoying the finest food humankind has to offer: Cheetos ®.

Then Big Jim’s eyeball falls out of his head, and S.T. starts to feel like something isn’t quite right. His most tried-and-true remedies–from beak-delivered beer to the slobbering affection of Big Jim’s loyal but dim-witted dog, Dennis–fail to cure Big Jim’s debilitating malady. S.T. is left with no choice but to abandon his old life and venture out into a wild and frightening new world with his trusty steed Dennis, where he discovers that the neighbors are devouring each other and the local wildlife is abuzz with rumors of dangerous new predators roaming Seattle. Humanity’s extinction has seemingly arrived, and the only one determined to save it is a foul-mouthed crow whose knowledge of the world around him comes from his TV-watching education.

Hollow Kingdom is a humorous, big-hearted, and boundlessly beautiful romp through the apocalypse and the world that comes after, where even a cowardly crow can become a hero.

My Thoughts

I wholeheartedly loved this one. It was unique, different, and one of thsoe books with some goregous prose to take you away from the rest of the world. The story follows main character, ST (short for Shit Turd). I kid you not, I’m so surprised that I could connect with a crow as a main character. Of course, I can’t fly and I can’t connect to the animal network like they do in the book, but the emotional and mental issues he goes through as he processes what’s happening to him, his murder, and the world around him were so close to human that you couldn’t help but to relate.

The writing is exquisite. You can honestly tell that Kira Jane Buxton is a huge fan of Seattle and this almost reads like a love letter to the city if it were also in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. I’ve never been to Seattle and this book made me really want to go. The depictions of nature, the beauty of the animals as they gather together to survive, and even some of the landmarks were really vivid throughout the story. However, Kira Jane Buxton is also one of those authors who uses her powers for evil and I will tell you now, there are some seriously gross parts in this book. The zombies were gross, the bodies were gross, the decay, the death, all of it was just really nasty. It didn’t bother me much because I’m used to this kind of thing, but I can imagine someone faint of heart having problems stomaching the descriptions in some places. I will warn you now, it gets graphic.

There were also some interesting characters like ST’s dog, Dennis, who’s a bloodhound with so much loyalty for the bird. Then there’s the different animals that get their own chapter. You read this book through the perspective of the animals and each of them has their own views from different parts of the world. I absolutely loved this perspective and reading it through their eyes really made me so happy.

the ending was super surprising as well. Of course I won’t go into detail about it, but it definitely changes course right at the end and for the better.

Overall, this was a good one and if you’re a fan of horror, then I suggest this one to you. I’s fast-paced and easy to read if you can stomach the gruesome descriptions. I loved ST’s mission to save all the domesticated animals who were stuck without help and how that makes ST grow into a much more evolved crow. I kind of wish I waited to read this in October, but maybe I’ll save the second book for then.

The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova // Book Review

The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina by Zoraida Cordova // Book Review

I picked this one recently because it was compared to Alice Hoffman (the author of Practical Magic) and I needed a little bit of magic in my life. But what I received was something way more and way better than the magical books I’ve been reading. Thanks to Atria Books for the gifted book.

Here’s More about The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina

Perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, and Sarah Addison Allen, this is a gorgeously written novel about a family searching for the truth hidden in their past and the power they’ve inherited, from the author of the acclaimed and “giddily exciting” (The New York Times Book Review) Brooklyn Brujas series.

The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.

Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.

Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.

My Thoughts

This story was definitely a stunner and I had so much fun reading it and getting to know The Montoyas. I’m so blown away by the writing, the story, and the characters. I’ve read Zoraida Cordova before, but this felt like nothing I’ve read from her in the past. Well, mostly that’s also because I was reading her YA fantasy fiction and not her adult novels.

And this delivered! The writing is gorgeous, the pacing is beautiful (up until the end where it got rushed), the mystery was mysterious (albeit a bit predictable), and all together such a great read. It was not necessarily a fantasy book, but I wouldn’t call it magical realism either. There was magic, for sure, but it definitely felt more like a fantasy. I would go as far as say science fiction, even! But this genre blending book definitely gave me all the feels.

I loved Marimar, Rey, and Rhiannon as they journey from their grandmother’s small home in Four Rivers to Ecuador and find out more about what happened to her. From the flowers growing out of their bodies to the ultimate power they release at the end, it truly blew my mind to read their whole story. Reading about Marimar and Rey, especially, and the lives they lived through their family traumas and dramas made the story so much more relatable to me. I felt so much for both of these characters and the middle ground they found themselves stuck in. And as they were searching for their grandmother’s past, they were learning so much about themselves in the process. It was really beautiful.

The family dynamics between them all plus all of Orquidea’s other children and grandchildren reminded me so much of my own family. While I came from a patriarchy rather than a matriarchy, the close-knit bond I have with my aunts and uncles and cousins is a stronger relationship than I’ve had with any friend in my life. And I loved that Marimar and Rey were cousins, but were best friends as well. It really brought home the family bits that really pulled at my heartstrings.

Written in a dual timeline, you read both Orquidea’s origin story and the story of her grandchildren as they try to uncover their grandmother’s mysterious past. But you get first-hand experience on the life Orquidea lived and while it felt like such an adventure, there were some pitfalls she found herself in. It was sad and a little cringey (I could feel my toes curl when the villain finally showed itself), I still rooted for her to find her path, find love, and find a life where she’s wanted and cared for.

The mystery component was a little bit disappointing, but I still loved it. This is where it felt more like a magical story. There was an ominous quality to the mysterious stranger who stalked Marimar, Rey, Rhiannon and her parents, and it was really interesting to see how that turned out.

Overall, I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of magic, mystery, a little bit of history, and sweeping family stories. I hope this becomes a movie because I can already see all of this playing so perfectly in my head.

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker // Book Review

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker // Book Review

This has got to be one of the best stories I’ve read in a really long time. It wasn’t perfect, but it still really blew me away with its storytelling, its world-building, the intrigue, the romance, and everything else it has to offer. I can’t wait to tell you about this one because despite it being a YA novel, it read very adult and quite extraordinary!

Here’s more about Forestborn

A young, orphaned shapeshifter in a world that fears magic must risk everything if she hopes to save her only friend in Elayne Audrey Becker’s Forestborn, first in a new fantasy series with a timeless feel.

TO BE BORN OF THE FOREST IS A GIFT AND A CURSE. Rora is a shifter, as magical as all those born in the wilderness–and as feared. She uses her abilities to spy for the king, traveling under different guises and listening for signs of trouble. When a magical illness surfaces across the kingdom, Rora uncovers a devastating truth: Finley, the young prince and her best friend, has caught it, too. His only hope is stardust, the rarest of magical elements, found deep in the wilderness where Rora grew up–and to which she swore never to return. But for her only friend, Rora will face her past and brave the dark, magical wood, journeying with her brother and the obstinate, older prince who insists on coming. Together, they must survive sentient forests and creatures unknown, battling an ever-changing landscape while escaping human pursuers who want them dead. With illness gripping the kingdom and war on the horizon, Finley’s is not the only life that hangs in the balance.

My thoughts

Rora is a shifter who’s in the employ of the king. When the king’s son (her best friend) becomes ill with a magical disease, she sets out with her brother and the king’s other son to find the cure. While on their journey, they’re also to investigate what’s happening with the kingdom in the North of theirs. Because in this world, magic isn’t liked very much and one of the kings is trying to eradicate its existence from the very map.

While Rora, her brother Helos, and the king’s other son Weslyn travel through the world to find a magical cure, they’re met with some interesting magical creatures, fight some soldiers from the other side, and really see what’s happening with the kingdom in the North. I truly fell in love with this story, its magic, and the characters. Rora was such a relatable character. While I can’t shapeshift and I’m not a spy for the king, I loved that you read every waking thought she has in her brain. It was interesting to see how she thinks and how she plans her moves because when she shifts into the different animals or when she’s changing her face to disguise it, it really helps play out the scenes in your head. I loved that aspect the most.

The woods and nature were definitely a huge component of the book as you read Rora and company journey to find the magical cure. I loved seeing them getting lost in the woods, finding massive lakes, searching through caves, and being transported by magic. It was such an immersive world with all types of magical creatures. I thought it was clever Elayne Audrey Becker made you fall in love with these woods before she shared the bigger political plot taking place.

And the plot itself is such a twist! I loved finding out more about this world and what’s happening in it. Of course, I won’t spoil it for you but it was definitely surprising and one of the bits that really blew me away. I want to read the next book just to find out more on what happens with the bigger plot.

I think the only issue I had was that there were some really inopportune moments to go into backstory. Because you’re reading the book through Rora’s perspective, you read a lot of what Rora’s thinking, especially in the middle of a conversation. I found myself reading this sad backstory about Rora and her brother only to be clueless why someone gave a one-line answer. It turned out the question was a page and a half ago right before Rora went into this story about her life. It wasn’t the worst flaw, but it did still bug me enough to note it in my review.

Overall, this was such an adventure the likes of LOTR. I’m so glad I read it right after The Return of the King because I think I really love long journeys and adventure stories the most. The woods were definitely my favorite part and I can’t wait to return to them in the second book.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire // Book Review

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire // Book Review

Have you ever looked for a door to another world? I still find myself trying to find a doorway in almost every apartment I live in. In fact, there’s a tiny door in my reading nook that I immediately opened when I moved in. Sadly, it’s just a door to the HVAC system. However, if you’ve ever been curious about those doors or always wanted to find one for yourself, then I think you might really enjoy this book.

TW: child death, blood, missing body parts, and acid dissolving.

Here’s more about Every Heart a Doorway

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost

My Thoughts

I had only read one other book from the Wayward Children series and it was a bit later. It was a cute story, but I didn’t like it all that much. However, after reading this story (the first in the series), I kind of want to go back and reread it with the context in mind about this entire series.

I could gush about this book for forever. It was funny and dark and sweet and filled with magical ideas and gruesome endings. It was everything I really love about a good fantasy story; a little magic, a little dark, and extremely beautiful. I’m also surprised with how little book there is and how much story was told. I love it when a short book packs a punch!

While the book follows one character, Nancy, you also get an idea of the other characters that live in the Home for Wayward Children. I loved each student on their own because of their different personalities, experiences, and sadness. Because there’s definitely a lot of sadness in this book, especially since the kids have all been abandoned by their parents to try and re-acclimate to life after their travels. The one thing that each of these students have in common is that and their want to return to the worlds they visited.

Also, it was interesting to see how Seanan McGuire incorporates gender identity and sexual identity conversations into the story. I remember the other book I read also included it, but I didn’t realize it was a running theme in the books. It was really awesome to see the inclusion in this one as well!

The worlds themselves were also intriguing. Some were filled with dark and scary things and others were filled with silly and beautiful things, but the beautiful part is that each world is there for each of the kids. If the kid was living a strict life of rules and boredom, they may be sent to a world filled with no rules and you never get bored. I loved that the worlds were so specific to the kid and filled the massive holes they had in their hearts.

You also end up rooting for a lot of them hoping that they do get their happy ending and return to the worlds that they came from. But things start to get real when students start to die. The mystery component of the story was probably the least favorite part, but didn’t take away from the rest of the book. I was so intrigued by the students, their stories, and wanted to see if they were able to get back to the worlds they came from. Honestly, I had such sadness for the ones who wouldn’t make it back.

Definitely not a book for the faint-hearted, especially since there’s a few children dying and there’s some processes taking place that were a little out of a horror movie. They don’t bother me, so I wasn’t grossed out by it, but I can also see how these things can upset you if you’re not into it.

Overall, fantastic story that really reignited my imagination and made me dream big of a world beyond the walls. I’ll definitely be checking out more from this series.

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko // Book Review

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko // Book Review

I read this book on the suggestion of my friend at @deedireads. It’s been on my radar for quite some time, but we all know what that reader life is like. But I’m so glad that I actually took the time to read it because it is well worth the read! I’m honestly mad at myself for not reading this sooner. I definitely won’t hold off on reading Redemptor, which is out this week!

Here’s more about Raybearer

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11.

If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

My Thoughts

Wow, this book right off the bat is incredible. This is a beautiful and complex YA fantasy story filled with intrigue, mystery, political suspense, likeable characters, and so much more. I’m honestly surprised this is a YA book and a debut.

I love a book with great world building and this one delivers so much of it. I felt like Jordan Ifueko put in a lot of effort into this part because if the lore and world-building didn’t make sense, then the story wouldn’t make sense either. It’s always great to read YA fantasy books that have much more depth to it. The lore itself is also incredible. I was telling my husband how the systems of government worked with the 12 ruling parties, the sacrificial children to the Underworld, the political struggle to keep everyone happy, but everyone isn’t. And then on top of that, a massive overtaking of people’s culture and traditions all in the name of unifying the country. There’s so much that this book deals with and does it so expertly that I’m really shook by how this is just a debut!

I also really appreciated that the book had inclusive characters that came from all parts of the world. It made the story feel bigger than just a tiny speck of a world. Everyone’s character carried something important and you’ll want to make sure that every character gets to be happy at the end; even the prince! I honestly was worried that Dayo would be this egotistical little brat, but he turned out to be just a kind and loving human being that I would most definitely follow.

Tarisai was probably my favorite character (alongside her buddies Kirah and Sanjeet). She had that extra something, which was wild when I read the other characters felt like she had a little extra something going on. While she wasn’t the most fearless person, she did approach things in a pragmatic and detailed way rather than just diving right into danger. She has this background in being isolated and alone for most of her life dreaming of the day she would see the rest of the world and that’s just a feeling I deeply understand. Writing the story in her perspective allows you to really understand what kinds of thoughts she has and they are numerous. From trying to figure out the puzzle that is the political structure to finding out the truth behind the throne, it’s incredible to see it through Tarisai’s eyes.

There was no skimping on magic either. Not only was there there a complex magic system, it was so interesting to see how it worked. All the characters had a Hallow (extrasensory power) that helps them in some way. Some characters have the ability to change faces, others to heal, others to find weaknesses in others. On top of that, there’s the magic of the Council of Eleven which keep the Emperor and the Crown Prince from dying of the eleven different ways to die. Then there’s the magic of the Underworld, magical histories being told, and even the history of how all the magic came to be in this world. It truly is so complex and intricate that if you’re the kind of person who loves big puzzles with lots of pieces, this is for you.

The plot itself was so good as well. From studying at the Children’s Palace when they were kids to becoming Dayo’s council and even when Tarisai fights with everything she has to avoid killing the Crown Prince. I loved the journey Tarisai and her friends go on to help each other, the bigger plot of the kingdom trying to unify the country in the worst way possible, and how Tarisai plans on helping the Redemptors from losing more children to the Underworld.

When the truth is finally revealed, it was nothing like I imagined, but all the bits of story finally fit together like an intricate puzzle. You step back and you see how all of this is coming together and it truly is such a beautiful tapestry. Honestly, I 100% urge you to pick up this book if you haven’t. If you’re a fan of YA fantasy novels, then this is definitely a book you’ll enjoy as much as I did.

The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon // Book Review

The Dating Playbook by Farrah Rochon // Book Review

Thanks Read Forever Books for the gifted copy of the book.

I’m fairly new to Farrah Rochon’s writing and only started reading her work with The Boyfriend Project last year. I remember devouring that book in a single day. It helped that my mental health wasn’t the best at the time and reading romances felt more comforting to me than looking at my phone. But what I got from her story is something more than a romance; it felt like these were real people in very difficult situations trying to move on from someone who played them all.

I was so excited about The Dating Playbook and yep, it totally exceeded my expectations. I think you’ll really love this one too.

Here’s more about The Dating Playbook

When a personal trainer agrees to fake date her client, all rules are out the window in this delightful romantic comedy from the USA Today bestselling author of The Boyfriend Project!

When it comes to personal training, Taylor Powell kicks serious butt. Unfortunately, her bills are piling up, rent is due, and the money situation is dire. Taylor needs more than the support of her new best friends, Samiah and London. She needs a miracle.

And Jamar Dixon might just be it. The oh-so-fine former footballer wants back into the NFL, and he wants Taylor to train him. There’s just one catch — no one can know what they’re doing. But when they’re accidentally outed as a couple, Taylor’s game plan is turned completely upside down. Is Jamar just playing to win . . . or is he playing for keeps?

My thoughts

While this book was definitely a romance, I found myself also considering this a book of personal growth. Not my personal growth, but growth for both Taylor and Jamar. Taylor is an up-and-coming personal trainer who’s made one too many mistakes with getting her company off the ground. Now, with $20,000 in debt, she’s worried about making rent, paying off her car, or even finding solid work without a college degree. Jamar is this former NFL player who’s been out since he hurt his knee six months into his professional career. While people still remember him from his college years, he still wants to get back in the game not only for himself, but also as a promise to his passed best friend.

Throughout the story, you see both Taylor and Jamar grow. Mostly importantly, you see them grow together. That’s probably the part I love the most about this story. I love seeing couple push each other in positive ways to become much better people not just for themselves, but for each other. It made me happy to see Taylor’s motivation to go back to school and see Jamar give himself grace for the things that happened in his past. I know that people are very capable of growing on their own, but with a romance story, it’s always nice to see a couple become who they’re supposed to be together.

It makes the story feel much more real to me. I was rooting for both of these characters the entire time and hoping the best for them. I also loved how complex the issues were. It wasn’t just the going back to school or helping out an old friend; there were layers to it and each layer had to be peeled back before either of them could get better. It just reminds me that everyone’s struggles are different; some people have it easy and some people face more difficult challenges. The strength that both of these characters had to find that was motivational!

It was also super funny. I found myself laughing out loud at Jamar’s stupid jokes and Taylor’s no-nonsense way of motivating Jamar. Their dynamic was truly one of my favorites and put a smile on my face every time I read a conversation between the two. I also loved seeing London and Samiah again as they helped Taylor through some difficult decisions. Honestly, their presence in this book was definitely more than in past books and I welcome it very much.

And the football! I became a football fan because of my husband. He was very into college football at the time we started dating, so I started watching the games with him. Not only did I really enjoy watching the game, but I loved the strategy and way the game is played. I really love watching all sports because it always makes me think in different ways; how to move the ball a certain number of yards, how to pitch the ball in a certain angle to make sure it lands where you want it to. It’s all very technical, which I love and so when this book included a little bit of football, I definitely had my eyes on it. I will say, there isn’t a lot of football playing in this book, but since the book is set in Texas with a former pro player, there was definitely the appearance of a few fans of the game.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and maybe loved it more than The Boyfriend Project! I can’t wait to book three and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee // Book Review

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee // Book Review

I went into this book was very different expectations than what came out of it. Dark academia is my favorite kinds of stories and I thought A Lesson in Vengeance had it in spades. There was an interesting and inclusive cast of characters, a big question mark around one Felicity, and a story that really caught me off guard at the end.

CW: mental abuse, physical abuse, animal death

Here’s more about A Lesson in Vengeance

Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School.

Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.

Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called “method writer.” She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.

And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself.

My thoughts

I’m not a huge fan of thrillers. Most of the time, I either figure out the murderer by the end or the ending is so convoluted that I end up throwing the book across the room. This time, I was totally thrown off guard. I was expecting one thing and it went in a completely different way that I didn’t even imagine. There were definitely clues to it throughout the story, but it just doesn’t hit until the truth comes out.

The setting of the book was my favorite; an old home with tons of history. I loved how generations of girls went there and most of them study literature. There’s a few references to some great horror books written by women while you read along. I also loved the whole underground “skull and crossbones” style coven that’s mainly for girls who come from affluent families. While I’m not a huge fan of books where everyone is super well off, super rich, and super entitled, I thought it was interesting with a character like Felicity who’s dealing with the loss of her best friend/girlfriend, Alex.

The plot itself moved slowly digging more deeply into Felicity’s psychosis rather than having her chase clues across campus to find out some truth. I loved the usage of witchcraft and its presence in young people’s lives. The school with the underground coven, the witchcraft practiced by the founders of the school, the tradition that’s passed on from generation to generation of students, and the stories that get passed down as well. It was interesting to see how steeped Felicity was in that reality; how she truly believed there was dark forces at the school, how the author makes you believe it too.

Ellis was so determined to prove that magic didn’t exist while you’re constantly reminded through Felicity that it does. There were moments in the book where I was so worried for Felicity because there was something about Ellis that you couldn’t put your finger on. You couldn’t tell if Ellis truly liked Felicity or if this was all a ploy to have Felicity play into Ellis’s hands. Because you’re reading the book through Felicity’s perspective, that’s the only perspective you get. You want to know more about Ellis and you think that there’s something going on there that you didn’t see before, but you only know as much as Felicity does. That unreliable narrator really made it more intriguing to figure out what’s really going on.

I thought it was interesting that all these characters were way beyond their years. They’re all supposed to be seniors in a private school, but they lived and acted way older. It surprised me the most to find out that Ellis was a 17-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning author who smoked cigarettes and drank bourbon while using a typewriter to write her stories. But there was still a level of naivete within all of them. They were still young in so many ways despite it. I wish the other characters, (Leona, Kajal, and Clara) were a bit more fleshed out. You get glimpses into their worlds and who they are, but then the plot reverts back to Felicity and Ellis’s relationship. I would have loved if their involvement in the story was a bit deeper.

The only things I didn’t like about this story was that it didn’t end with a paranormal trope. I was hoping for some ghosts to come out and stir things up or magical witches coming down to bring their vengeance, but they’re used in a different way than I imagined. I won’t go into it because it will definitely spoil the story.

Overall, it’s a spooky one with some atmospheric vibes, a lot of unanswered questions that get the most unique answers at the end. It’ll keep you reading and then it will slap you in the face.

I received a copy of A Lesson in Vengeance from the publisher. My opinions haven’t been influenced by the author or the publisher.

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig // Book Review

Small Favors by Erin A. Craig // Book Review

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

A haunting YA fantasy story about a young girl who’s way smarter than her peers, falls in love, saves her family, and watches her town descend into chaos. Oh, and she’s a bee keper too. I was super excited to read this one, especially when the box arrived with a bell, some forest floor (the box literally had twigs in it), and a handwritten note from the author. I’ve been meaning to read her first book, A House of Salt and Sorrows, but alas, the world is cruel in that way. I guess now I’ll read her first book since I loved her second book and anticipate more from her.

CW: violence, homicide, suicide, arson, blood, and alcoholism

Here’s more about Small Favors

Ellerie Downing is waiting for something to happen. Life in isolated Amity Falls, surrounded by an impenetrable forest, has a predictable sameness. Her days are filled with tending to her family’s beehives, chasing after her sisters, and dreaming of bigger things while her twin, Samuel, is free to roam as he wishes.

Early town settlers fought off monstrous creatures in the woods, and whispers that the creatures still exist keep the Downings and their neighbors from venturing too far. When some townsfolk go missing on a trip to fetch supplies, a heavy unease settles over the Falls.

Strange activities begin to plague the town, and as the seasons change, it’s clear that something is terribly wrong. The creatures are real, and they’re offering to fulfill the residents’ deepest desires, however grand, for just a small favor. These seemingly trifling demands, however, hide sinister intentions. Soon, Ellerie finds herself in a race against time to stop Amity Falls, her family, and the boy she loves from going up in flames.

My thoughts

This was the first book I read from Erin A Craig, and I have to say, color me impressed. The story was beautiful with a dark and haunting vibe all throughout. From the cover, I was imagining this story to be a bit more light-hearted, but the town’s descent into madness, definitely gave you a completely different vibe. It didn’t take long for the atmospheric writing to set in and I was creeped out by things at night. It’s not a scary book, per se, but it’s definitely got the atmosphere. I might have had some goosebumps .

I was a little skeptic at first. The story starts off pretty quaint, but when Ellerie mentioned that her life will be pretty boring and how she’s just going to get married off to someone, it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I was worried this would be a theme throughout the book or something she focuses way too much time on. However, I was changed as the book continues to move.

This read like you were reading the origins of a fairy tale. A young girl who’s pretty bored with her life meets a young fellow in the woods. He’s mysteriously, but provides a sense of reprieve from the humdrum of her life. And then things start happening. Ellerie sees a mysterious woman in white from the corner of her eye, her baby sister is speaking with an imaginary friend, the townspeople inexplicably starting to fight each other and then do unspeakable things to each other.

Ellerie was definitely my favorite character. While I tried to like her sisters and her brother, I just couldn’t. They weren’t as smart as Ellerie, but it was obvious they were sucked into the madness of the town. Of course, you see that with Ellerie as well, but I guess reading the book from her POV helped with understanding her thought process. I also liked Whitaker, the strange boy who comes out of the woods one day and somehow instantly falls in love with Ellerie. I know, not everyone’s a fan of insta-love, but it doesn’t bother me! I kind of guessed what was happening with him pretty early on, but I loved watching how Erin A Craig writes him into the story.

The madness was really the part that I enjoyed the most. You watch it slowly start to happen. First, it’s a finger pointed at one person from another. It’s completely irrational, but maybe you think it’s just some small town thing people do .But then you see more things happening up until the point where they’re killing each other and it becomes chaos. I love watching it grow from such a single entity and bloom into something bigger. Oh, I wonder if that makes me a part of the villains in the story.

I won’t get into the villains, though. It’s quite a surprise the way Erin A Craig presented them and truly, I don’t want to give this away because this was the part that felt most like a fairy tale to me. You know, when you’re making deals with someone you shouldn’t be making deals with? That’s exactly what I got from this book and it truly captured me in this world.

The story itself is slow burning all the way up to the end. It felt like such a good pace up until all the action started taking place. Then, it just kept moving so quickly that I was worried I’ll be left with a lot of questions without any answers. And this being a standalone novel, if the questions didn’t get answered then they’ll never get answered. But they did and thankfully I loved the ending.

Overall, fantastic! I’m super impressed with Erin A. Craig’s writing, especially since this is the first book I’ve read from her. I cannot wait to read more from her in the future (including her first book).