Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura // Book Review

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura // Book Review

What if one day you walked through your bedroom mirror and find yourself in a castle that grants wishes? That’s what happens to Kokoro in this incredible story. Thanks to Erewhon Books for the gifted copy.

Here’s more about Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Bullied to the point of dropping out of school, Kokoro’s days blur together as she hides in her bedroom, unable to face her family or friends. As she spirals into despair, her mirror begins to shine; with a touch, Kokoro is pulled from her lonely life into a resplendent, bizarre fairytale castle guarded by a strange girl in a wolf mask. Six other students have been brought to the castle, and soon this marvelous refuge becomes their playground. 

The castle has a hidden room that can grant a single wish, but there are rules to be followed, and breaking them will have dire consequences. As Kokoro and her new acquaintances spend more time in their new sanctuary, they begin to unlock the castle’s secrets and, tentatively, each other’s. 

With the thoughtful whimsy of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, the exquisite textures of A Tale for the Time Being, and the youthful resonance of Your Name, Mizuki Tsujimura paints an intricate portrait of a cycle of loneliness that can only be broken by friendship, empathy, and sacrifice. Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a mesmerizing, heart-warming novel about the unexpected rewards of embracing human connection.

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My thoughts

I picked up this book while I was on vacation hoping to find something that would fit my mood. I was expecting a contemporary story translated from the original Japanese, but what I found was something much deeper than that. The story follows Kokoro, a young girl who has recently decided not to go back to school. She’s been bullied by one of the other students and worried that the student will keep her promise to kill her, Kokoro decides the best thing to do is stay away from her junior high school and just stay home. Her mother is quietly furious with her, her father thinks she’s wasting her potential, but Kokoro doesn’t want to deal with the trouble and more worried by her threats than anything else.

One day, the mirror in her bedroom begins to glow. Surprised by what is happening, Kokoro steps through the mirror to find herself in a massive and abandoned castle. She’s greeted by a little girl wearing a wolf mask who tells her alongside six other kids around her age that they’re about to embark on a hunt for a Wishing key. If you find the key, you can make one wish and it will come true. However, there’s rules around the hunt; the castle is only open from 9AM to 5PM Japan time, you cannot bring other people into the castle, you cannot let anyone see you pass through the mirror, and you have only until March 30th (which is roughly 10 months) to find the key and make your wish or the castle will disappear forever.

As the students settle into hanging out in the castle instead of going to school, they each learn a little bit about each other. One is obsessed with video games, while another falls in love with each of the girls. Another is a musical prodigy while the other comes to the castle from Hawaii. Throughout the story, you learn more and more about each kid figuring out the pieces of their life that they’re not willing to share fully at the beginning. At first, I thought this was a bit annoying. My perceptions of the book was that it would be a massive scavenger hunt, cut throat as each kid fights each other to find the key, but the story is very different than what I imagined. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as they do whatever they want within the confines of the castle. When I finally understood what actually is happening in the story, I became completely enamored and enjoyed every moment of it.

The story dives deeply into the themes of childhood and teenage mental health. While Kokoro may be escaping the bullies at her school, each of the students refuse to go to school for one reason or another. As their secrets are revealed in the story, it turns out that their issues are just as big as Kokoro’s. This really fascinated me to see someone discussing mental health especially when it comes to young people who for any other intents and purposes are good students who work hard. Some face their parents, some face some real bullies, and others face horrors that no young person should ever experience. I loved this dissection creating teenage characters that aren’t vapid and silly who only focus on relationships and superficial things. It’s about young people who are lonely coming together to share in their loneliness.

It truly moved me to see these characters grow throughout the story. But the other aspect I truly loved was the castle itself. While the themes of mental health played vital role, there was still the story of the castle, the wolf girl, and the wishing key. While I will admit it’ll take some time for the kids to finally start the hunt for the key and much of this novel is inspecting their lives and mental well being, it did surprise me at the end when everything finally came together. It combined my favorite kinds of science fiction and fantasy stories; falling through doors that open up into new worlds,. finding friends in the most unlikely places and people, and hoping for a brighter future with room to really make a difference in someone’s life.

I absolutely adored this story and it really opened my eyes to the kinds of stories I’m in the mood for. I definitely recommend this to anyone who is feeling lonely this holiday season and it will have something that both the literary fiction/magical realism crowd as well as the speculative crowd would enjoy.

Strike the Zither by Joan He // Book Review

Strike the Zither by Joan He // Book Review

Just so you know, I’m going to be listening to zither music while I write this review.

Here’s more about Strike the Zither

The year is 414 of the Xin Dynasty, and chaos abounds. A puppet empress is on the throne. The realm has fractured into three factions and three warlordesses hoping to claim the continent for themselves.

But Zephyr knows it’s no contest.

Orphaned at a young age, Zephyr took control of her fate by becoming the best strategist of the land and serving under Xin Ren, a warlordess whose loyalty to the empress is double-edged—while Ren’s honor draws Zephyr to her cause, it also jeopardizes their survival in a war where one must betray or be betrayed. When Zephyr is forced to infiltrate an enemy camp to keep Ren’s followers from being slaughtered, she encounters the enigmatic Crow, an opposing strategist who is finally her match. But there are more enemies than one—and not all of them are human.

An epic YA fantasy about found family, rivals, and identity, from New York Times and Indie bestselling author Joan He, inspired by Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Classics of Chinese Literature.

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My thoughts

I’ve been really getting into both C-dramas and books inspired by C-dramas. It first started off with Daughter of the Moon Goddess and Iron Widow, but now I’m anticipating some new ones in the new year. And what better way to celebrate this new genre of YA fantasy fiction than with another C-drama inspired story.

Strike the Zither follows Peacock or better known as Zephyr. She’s a strategist for Ren’s army who is currently fighting two other armies for dominance on the land. She’s a bit full of herself and a bit pompous, but you know how much I love an unlikeable female character. She thinks she knows everything, can think way ahead of anyone else and believes she has the best solution for any situation. And with that, she decides to infiltrate the enemy’s army by defecting and joining Miasma’s ranks. However, things don’t go so well for Zephyr and bigger secrets are revealed in the process. As a fan of military fantasies in general, I knew that I would really like Strike the Zither especially as its modeled off the famous Three Kingdoms story. But as someone who doesn’t know much about the tale, I found it to be intriguing, impassioned, and filled with so many of the things I love about military fantasies, except in YA form.

As a fan of C-dramas, this was seriously a play out of the book. I absolutely adored the different tropes Joan He uses to make this story her own. The big reveals just kept getting bigger and while I wasn’t a fan of how quickly the beginning half moved, I understand that it was to start the second half which truly deepened the world, the characters, and the story for me.

The surprises throughout this story were totally unforeseen and totally fun! I absolutely loved that this had that C-drama vibe with its big reveals, romantic entanglements, and battle scenes. I absolutely loved getting into this new book from Joan He and it’s a departure from her usual writing style (but for the better). Unlike her books in the past, this one felt more linearly structured with a clear idea of where the story is going. I absolutely adored The Ones We’re Meant to Find just because of its complexity and puzzle for two sisters to find each other, but I love Strike the Zither to allow He to explore a level of her writing that I personally haven’t explored (yet, Descendant of the Crane is still on my list).

And similarly to TOWMTF, this one has some sisterly love throughout. While they may not be related by blood, the bonds of war truly create a sisterhood that rivals a real one. I really loved the relationship Zephyr had not only with her battle sisters, Lotus and Cloud, but also with her ministress, Ren. It’s obvious by the way they treat and respect each other creating bonds between them that work beyond themselves.

I think the only issue I had is with the romantic elements. It was a little too instant for me and really wanted to see if it would play out similarly in C-dramas, but there are still books in this series to be written so I’m hoping these will develop more in the future.

Overall, this was so good and if you’re a fan of complex military fantasy with tons of subterfuge then this is for you. It isn’t perfect, but it’s truly the beginning of something perfect. I’ll definitely be continuing on with the series in the future.

Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn // Book Review

Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn // Book Review

When I first read Legendborn, I knew that Tracy Deonn was onto something really special. The story of how a young Bree finds out the truth of her ancestry has captured so many readers. People hesitant to read the book absolutely love it by the end. People who don’t normally read fantasy are compelled to read some more. It’s a book that continuously moves across the different things the characters come across and Tracy Deonn takes the Arthurian legend and turning it on its head. And you pretty much get more of that throughout Bloodmarked.

Here’s more about Bloodmarked

The shadows have risen, and the line is law.

All Bree wanted was to uncover the truth behind her mother’s death. So she infiltrated the Legendborn Order, a secret society descended from King Arthur’s knights—only to discover her own ancestral power. Now, Bree has become someone new:

A Medium. A Bloodcrafter. A Scion.

But the ancient war between demons and the Order is rising to a deadly peak. And Nick, the Legendborn boy Bree fell in love with, has been kidnapped.

Bree wants to fight, but the Regents who rule the Order won’t let her. To them, she is an unknown girl with unheard-of power, and as the living anchor for the spell that preserves the Legendborn cycle, she must be protected.

When the Regents reveal they will do whatever it takes to hide the war, Bree and her friends must go on the run to rescue Nick themselves. But enemies are everywhere, Bree’s powers are unpredictable and dangerous, and she can’t escape her growing attraction to Selwyn, the mage sworn to protect Nick until death.

If Bree has any hope of saving herself and the people she loves, she must learn to control her powers from the ancestors who wielded them first—without losing herself in the process.

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My thoughts

If you haven’t read Legendborn, turn away now! This book starts right where the last one leaves off, so you’ll need to know the events of the last book in order to understand what’s going on in this one. I’m glad to have reread book 1 because book 2 just barrels right into the world and what’s happening.

If there’s one word to describe this book, I think it’s cinematic. I felt like I was watching an action film starring Bree and Sel and the others in the group and every move they made was to escape the villains (of which there are many). It starts off with the memorial for all of Bree’s fallen friends from the final battle in the first book. That leads right into the rite ceremony where Bree will accept her place as the Crown Scion and take up the sword that her family has bled to inherit. Of course, that’s when some big truths are revealed. After that, it is a whirlwind of events that will leave you with your jaw on the floor, a hand balled up in a fist, an inability to pick a proper romantic partner for Bree, and surprise you until the very last page of the book. If you’re planning to read Bloodmarked, then you’re in for a ride.

Much of this book tackles the topic of inheritance and the way Bree inherits her powers. I don’t want to say because that’s giving too much away, but for those who’ve read book 1 there’s a lot of Vera, the rootcraft, and the implications of Bree and her power meaning to not only the Order, but to her ancestors who have been punished time and time again for the misdeeds of one white man. It’s definitely one of the biggest parts of the story and a lot of Bree’s motivation to keep her autonomy especially over her own body. I loved how this is threaded through the book and as the story progresses, it becomes more clearly obvious that Bree needs to find control and power within herself.

Of course, the romance between Bree, Sel, and Nick come to a fever pitch! While Bree and the others are still on the hunt for Nick and his father, Sel takes center stage and the emotions are palatable. Yes, I need more Sel and I need it now! Not only are there those leading moments for us to devour, there’s also the bigger question that we are all dying to find an answer: who will Bree choose? I definitely have a team I’m siding with, but I can’t wait to see how that plays out in the next book.

What I also really loved from this book is the new villains that Bree has to face. There’s a lot of new faces and characters to note including Valec, a broker who trades special abilities for souls. There’s the other members of the Regent that all gather together for Bree’s rites ceremony. There’s Arthur who I was hoping would be a plucky sidekick inside Bree’s brain, but he turns out to be a much different character than I imagined and definitely worth finding out! And then there’s Morgaine, Merlins, and the villain that we are all fighting for. I honestly was on the edge of my seat by the end of this book with how much has happened, how many questions I was left unanswered, and all the possibilities of where this story can go.

And that’s what really opens up the world in this book. What I really loved is how much Tracy Deonn opens up this world. It’s more than just Legendborn and Rootcrafters and I loved that. The journey Bree and her friends take to find refuge and help to defeat her enemies widens the worldbuilding in away I didn’t imagine. It’s so interesting to find different beings who practice different kinds of magic and the new characters introduced in this book really bring a dynamic to the story that I didn’t anticipate. I can’t wait to see how Tracy Deonn incorporates these components into the next book. In many ways, there were bits and pieces that the story introduces but doesn’t dive into more, but you can tell immediately that they’ll be important in future stories and bring a level of excitement for the next stories in the world.

This will definitely a book I revisit in the future. Probably before book 3 comes out, but definitely a story that’s truly captured me and makes me pine to return some day soon.

A Restless Truth by Freya Marske // Book Review

A Restless Truth by Freya Marske // Book Review

The second book in The Last Binding trilogy and the action, adventure, and romance start to deepen! Thanks to Tor Dot Com for the gifted copy of this book.

Here’s more about A Restless Truth

The most interesting things in Maud Blyth’s life have happened to her brother Robin, but she’s ready to join any cause, especially if it involves magical secrets that may threaten the whole of the British Isles. Bound for New York on the R.M.S. Lyric, she’s ready for an adventure.

What she actually finds is a dead body, a disrespectful parrot, and a beautiful stranger in Violet Debenham, who is everything—a magician, an actress, a scandal—Maud has been trained to fear and has learned to desire. Surrounded by the open sea and a ship full of loathsome, aristocratic suspects, they must solve a murder and untangle a conspiracy that began generations before them.

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My thoughts

I went into this one without reading the first book over. It’s a rare occasion when you get to dive into a sequel or another book in the series without having to worry if you need some important fact or remember some detail that the book previously covered. Luckily, I didn’t feel the need to reread the first one without reading the second. Similarly to reading a romance novel series, there are some tidbits that call back to the first book and there’s mention of the couple from the first book as well (yes, Robin and Edwin make a short appearance in this one!), but you can pretty much use context clues to figure out what’s going on and what you may have missed from book 1.

The book follows Robin’s sister, Maud, as she takes a cross-Atlantic ship from America to England. While aboard the ship, an elderly woman is murdered and some precious items are stolen. Because Maud knew the person who was murdered, she felt inclined to figure out who might have killed her and taken her stuff. She recruits Violet, a performer on board the ship as well as a magician, alongside her philandering companion, Mr. Hamilton, to help solve the mystery and retrieve the stolen items.

This is the part of the book I absolutely loved. I didn’t think that Freya Marske would go the route of a mystery aboard a ship, but it worked. The ship was also a perfect setting. It leaves you with a small radius to cover as well as trapping the killer on board with the rest of the people. It also helped that this boat reminded me so much of Titanic with its opulence, its class system, and why people like Violet were on board. As you continue to read along, you find out more about what happened to the items and why Mrs. Navenby (the elderly woman) was murdered in the first place.

The magic in this story was way more obvious than in the first one. Maybe it’s because Edwin is a weak magician and Violet has more magic in her finger than Edwin has in his entire body, but I loved seeing her casting her cradles, glowing with magic, and seeing how everyone else is affected by the magic as well. There’s seances and speaking with the dead and it was so much fun seeing how much magic is incorporated into the book. Also, it really dives into the world-building in this one as well. I loved learning about the lore behind the stolen objects and why they were so important. I loved seeing where the story is taking us and figuring out how that might turn out in this trilogy.

This book also dives deeply into Violet and Maud’s relationship. If you’ve read A Marvellous Light, then you know that these books are not only historical fantasies, but also heavy romances. Instead of the continuation of Robin and Edwin’s relationship, we see the budding romance between Violet and Maud. Their relationship felt like fire the moment they met. I mean, it was awkward how they met each other, but it felt like an exploration of sex for Maud and the first real relationship for Violet. Both characters grew immensely in this regard opening themselves up to new experiences and trying to be a better lover and partner for each other. It was really great to see their romance bloom throughout the story.

However, it felt disjointed. As much as I loved both the mystery and the romance aspects of this story, I felt like I was reading two separate books. The romance would kind of suddenly come on in between pieces of evidence they were able to find and it did it in a weird clunky way that didn’t flow smoothly from one piece to the next. I really thought the book could do with an editor to work out these little kinks and make both parts of this book a whole story rather than two pieces compartmentalized from each other.

But overall, I really loved the continuation of this world. I can’t wait to read the next book and I can already see where Freya Marske plans to take this story in the final book.

Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan // Book Review

Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan // Book Review

Well, this incredible series is over and I’m sad because it was exactly what I wanted. It’s soapier, it’s got more action, lots of adventures, and will make you feel all the things. Thanks to Harper Voyager for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Heart of the Sun Warrior

After her perilous quest to free her mother, Xingyin thrives once more in the tranquility of her home. But her fragile peace is threatened by the discovery of a strange magic on the moon and the unsettling changes in the Celestial Kingdom as the emperor tightens his grip on power. While Xingyin is determined to keep clear of the rising danger, the discovery of a shocking truth spurs her into a treacherous confrontation.

Forced to flee her home once more, Xingyin and her companions venture to unexplored lands of the Immortal Realm, encountering legendary creatures and shrewd monarchs, beloved friends and bitter adversaries. With alliances shifting quicker than the tides, Xingyin has to overcome past grudges and enmities to forge a new path forward, seeking aid where she never imagined she would. As an unspeakable terror sweeps across the realm, Xingyin must uncover the truth of her heart and claw her way through devastation–to rise against this evil before it destroys everything she holds dear, and the worlds she has grown to love… even if doing so demands the greatest price of all.

The stunning sequel to Daughter of the Moon Goddess delves deeper into beloved Chinese mythology, concluding the epic story of Xingyin–the daughter of Chang’e and the mortal archer, Houyi–as she battles a grave new threat to the realm, in this powerful tale of love, sacrifice, and hope.

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My thoughts

I have a book hangover. It’s that feeling you get after finishing a really great book series, but it’s also the feeling you get after watching an incredible drama. If you’re a fan of Chinese fantasy dramas filled with flying martial arts, magical powers, and the romance, then this is the book for you. And similarly to when I watch those TV shows, I I have that hangover once its over. I want to listen to the soundtrack online and watch YouTube videos of the actors singing the songs and doing bloopers. I need the supplemental material of watching a show that I’ve become obsessed with to let that high of a great story carry on way past the last episode.

It’s going to be tough reviewing this one because if you haven’t read the first book then you’re going to miss a ton of context. If you’ve read the first book, then you know that the pace of the second one is exactly the same. Events unfolded one right after the other like dominoes set up to fall and just when you’ve recovered from one big surprise, another one happens right after. I felt bad for the people around me as I read this book in public. I was gasping and laughing and nearly throwing this book across the room because of what’s going on.

There was so much drama. Similarly to the Chinese dramas, this doesn’t skimp on it and while you’re being slung between Liwei and Wenzhi, you’re also reading about Xingyin trying to save her friends, her family, and the Celestial Empire from someone willing to destroy everything in an act of revenge. I won’t tell you the details of that (since that would be considered a spoiler), but the stakes are extremely high for this world and Xingyin and her friends are ready to fight for their world.

One feature I absolutely love about Chinese dramas is that it’s never fully clear who is the villain and who is the hero. You’d imagine that Wenzhi from the Demon Realm would be the villain because, well, he’s from the Demon Realm. But the story is much more complicated than that and I absolutely loved the winding path it takes to find the true face of evil.

But let’s talk about the romance because I know that was a big part of the first book and it’s definitely a huge part of the second book. The love triangle isn’t the central focus of the story, but Liwei and Wenzhi and the fight for Xingyin’s heart finally comes to a head in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I think I might have gasped very loudly as that finally unfolds and at the same time it was so satisfying and it had the perfect level of drama to make you think it’s come down to the worst only to be uplifted at the end.

Another component I loved is the level of hopefulness I got from this entire story. While there were some moments where the story feels like The level of endurance and strength Xingyin is able to muster facing whatever it is she comes across is admirable. It’s definitely the kind of heroic female protagonist that you want to see!

While for the most part I absolutely loved this book, there was a lot of repetitive language especially coming from Xingyin. I understand wanting to emphasize the devastating moments that contributed to the person Xingyin becomes by the end, but I think saying it more than twice makes it a bit repetitive and forced. They were said so many times to the point where it got annoying. “Ok, we get it. Let’s move on.” But as issues with the books go, that’s the only one and something that I could have easily ignored.

Overall, this entire duology has just been a whirlwind of adventure and romance and surprises around every corner. I’ll be over here reading more books in this style as well as starting another C-drama to keep me entertained in the meantime.

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young // Book Review

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young // Book Review

My first book by Adrienne Young and I regret not picking her up sooner. This is her adult fantasy filled with magic, mystery, and a bit of romance. Thanks to Delacorte Press for the gifted read.

Here’s more about Spells for Forgetting

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings. But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery. But the town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

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My thoughts

If you’re looking for a mystery that gives you spooky vibes without it being too gory, then this one is for you. It’s a perfect read for this time of year especially since it takes place in a small town, at the end of harvest, and includes a very important apple orchard. Oh, it also has a little bit of magic which is probably the icing on top of this interesting cake.

This is my first time reading Adrienne Young and I can already tell this won’t be my last. The writing and prose of this story really brought its own dimension to the storytelling. It brought atmosphere and a level of sadness that you can feel from all the characters. You would be sad too if for the past 15 years of your life the people of the town thought you stood on the side of a possible criminal.

The story is a time-jumping, multiple narrative story that takes place on a small island called Saoirse off the coast of Washington. It’s famous for its apple orchard and witchy background, so much of their business is during the fall where people come to pick apples and even get a dose of magical lore while they’re there. However, as ideal as this town sounds like, it also has its own dark past. Many years ago when Emery, August, and Dutch were all friends together, they lost one of their own in a tragic accident. The giant twist? August is accused of their murder. However, this isn’t the only twist in the story. Adrienne Young definitely weaves a complex tale that goes beyond just the mysterious death and dives further into the dark underbelly of this idyllic island.

The story centers Emery and August. While there’s many different narratives throughout the story, you’re mostly with Emery and August as they meander around their adolescent feelings and eventually end up together. It’s a really good second-chance romance, but it’s also not the focus of the story. Aside from the romance, Emery is trying to find out more about her friend that died, August is trying to figure out how to sell the property his mother owned on the island, and each step they make towards the inevitable conclusion leads them down a darker path that neither of them suspected.

Emery is one of the main characters you follow throughout the story and I think is the best perspective. I really loved how she plays the center between August and the drama within town. I feel like she was the perfect character to lead you through the complex story line and show you what happens to the rest of the town. August was also a favorite of mine and I loved that he and Emery had this second-chance romance throughout the story. It felt like they were destined to be together throughout the story. It helps when the author is jumping through the timeline to share how they became lovers in the first place.

While some parts were predictable, I did find enjoyment in how deeply woven the story gets. I can probably figure out part of the story, but if there’s some extra bits that I missed, then I’m a bit over the moon about it.

However, it did take some time for things to finally reveal themselves and the magic in the world felt a little secondary to everything else that was happening. If anything, there was a much bigger mystery component to the story than there was magical. I wished there was more magic and when you finally see the magic in the world, you’re totally blown away. It really tied perfectly into part of the story. But I felt like there was a much bigger plot happening around Emery and August and that was really the main focus of the story.

Overall, this was a great read with a slow burn that the literary crowd would love to read during the spooky season. It’s mysterious, it’s poetic, and it has a brilliant little twist to enjoy at the end. Highly recommend if you need something a little lighter and enjoy an interesting mystery.

Only a Monster by Vanessa Len // Book Review

Only a Monster by Vanessa Len // Book Review

A fantasy book that uses science fiction elements? Count me in.

Here’s more about Only a Monster

It should have been the perfect summer. Sent to stay with her late mother’s eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her nerdy job at the historic Holland House, and when her super cute co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place.

But she soon learns the truth. Her family aren’t just eccentric: they’re monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers. And Nick isn’t just a cute boy: he’s a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to bring them down.

As she battles Nick, Joan is forced to work with the beautiful and ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family that hates her own. She’ll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .

. . . she is not the hero.

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My thoughts

I’m a huge fan of science fiction books that dive into physics theories; quantum physics, dark matter, string theory, etc. I like the idea of these theoretical topics and how they are incorporated into science fiction stories. We’ve seen countless stories of time travel in our lives, but what I haven’t seen in my reading life up to this point is a purely fantasy story use time travel in a way that really defies anything I’ve read before.

Only a Monster starts off with Joan spending her summer vacation with her family in London. She’s been volunteering at a historic home that’s been turned into a small museum with her biggest crush, Nick. When Nick finally asks her out on a date, Joan is ecstatic and on the day of the date, she’s more than ready to meet her crush and have that awkward teenager relationship. For all intents and purposes, I thought this was going to be just another YA contemporary romance where it will be a cute, sweet toothache and nothing more. That is…until she touches an old man on the neck and ends up in the same place 12 hours later.

And then realization dawned on me that this book was going to be entirely different than what I expected. Joan comes from a family of monsters. No, not like the gruesome kind that frighten young children. They look like your average human. Their monstrous ability is that they can travel through time and they do it by stealing time off the lives of humans. You want to go back a day? You need to steal a day off the end of someone’s life.

Crazy, isn’t it?

This book was one of those books where I may not have read the synopsis well enough to really understand what I was getting into. I followed the hype I saw on bookstagram and honestly, I was rewarded. This was the most creative story I’ve read in a long time. Of course it has your typical YA tropes; a love triangle, a grumpy/sunshine duo, a forbidden love aspect, and a whiny teenager who keeps fumbling through all her bad ideas, but it was also written by debut author Vanessa Len, who is now one of my favorite authors.

Joan is a half-human, half-monster born who has been pretty shielded by her monstrous family for her entire life. Her first time traveling through time came to a shock for her and her ignorance about the world, its politics, the people, and the families made it much easier for the reader to follow along and learn from her. While I did wish for the occasional info dump (I know, it’s weird), I did appreciate being kept in the dark and only learning more about the world as I went along. That being said, I do want a better understanding of what’s going on in this world. The book ends at a pretty satisfying ending, but there’s still a few loose ends that I can’t wait to read more about in the next book.

This is one of those books where the twist within itself creating a bigger twist than the twist before. Honestly, I was surprised by how often my jaw was on the ground with each reveal. I think that’s what drove me to read most of this book because one chapter would end with a cliffhanger and then I would need to read the next chapter to see what happens.

The world itself was incredible. I’ve never read a fantasy book that includes time travel the way that Vanessa Len described it. I literally clutched my neck worried that some monster would come and casually steal life from me. It had this interesting moral aspect to it, do you continue to time travel knowing that you’re shortening life or do you not worry about it? I felt like this was something Joan grappled with throughout the book. She’s compelled to travel because of who she is, but she doesn’t feel like it’s right to steal life from humans. There’s some monster families who see it as their privilege, but being brought up in the human world it does become something Joan must face throughout the book.

While most of the book is plot-driven, there was a lot of care given to Joan and the way she handled the grief of losing her family. While I won’t get into specifics to avoid spoiling things, it made sense for her to recall that moment often throughout the story. It really conveys how loss and how grief takes over in the most inopportune moments.

Overall, this was a fantastic debut and it’s made me a fan of Vanessa Len’s work for years to come. I can’t wait to read book 2 and see what happens to Joan and the others in this adventure.

A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson // Book Review

Vampires? Need I say more? Thanks to Orbit Books for the gifted read.

Here’s more about A Dowry of Blood

This is my last love letter to you, though some would call it a confession. . .

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things.

Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets. With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

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My thoughts

This book is very different from the vampire stories I’ve read before. It’s a Dracula retelling, but from the point of view of his first wife, Constanta. The story is written in letters to Dracula that Constanta writes about their life together. It’s also in the second POV since the letters are specifically addressed and it feels more natural to use “you” in a letter than their real name.

This story felt as if I opened up the scraggly spine of some lost letters to someone’s lover. Each chapter was a letter from Constanta to her lover, Dracula, who took her for his wife when she was dying many years ago. The letters span across the hundreds of years together filled with jealousy, blood, murder, sexual encounters with random strangers, and the two other partners in their poly-amorous relationship. It didn’t feel much like a story where there’s a central plot and conflict to follow, but as if I was reading the sorted diaries of a young wife who was in an abusive relationship with her husband.

This particular part lended well to the story. You were on the edge of your seat wondering how Constanta would get away. The reader wonders if she’ll finally see his abuse and realizes the worth she has before she makes her vengeful decision. I was captured by the letters wanting to learn more about their lives together and finding out if they figure out how to survive.

While there was only a few moments of on-page domestic violence, most of the abuse was through Dracula’s controlling nature. He kept everything close to the chest. He never let Constanta make friends with humans or leave the house without him. He would go on jealous rampages if she had any interest in anyone outside of himself. The atmospheric feel of this book was completely around this controlling nature Dracula portrayed throughout the book with very little explanation about it.

However, in many ways this story didn’t work for me as well. First off, the reader doesn’t get to know Dracula. What you read is the experiences Constanta and the others had while with him, but you rarely hear about his past before Constanta. You rarely hear about his experiments and scientific research. It was as if Dracula was on the periphery of your vision the entire time, but never a part of the main focus.

I had a hard time really connecting with the story. I think partly because it’s written in the epistolary style with a second POV. While I felt for the situation Constanta, Magdalena, and Alexi find themselves, I could never really fall deep into the story enough to care. It was as if I was reading the story second-hand from someone else. It felt flat with my interest waning as I continued to read. The ending was also a bit lackluster for me and again, I think this is because of the writing style. It moved so quickly and because it’s all from what Constanta experiences, there’s very little dimension and development. It just moves right into the ending without any explanation and I think what I wanted was a bit more story behind the characters.

Overall, this was a quick read and fantastic display of atmosphere. If you’re a fan of epistolary stories with vengeance plot lines, then I highly recommend this one to you. It just didn’t work for me.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel // Book Review

This is the first book since Station Eleven that I’ve read from Emily St. John Mandel. I heard that there was moon people and time travel, so I thought I would give it a shot. I’m so thankful I did.

Here’s more about Sea of Tranquility

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

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My thoughts

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first started reading Sea of Tranquility. The description was kind of vague, but the reviews were inspiring, so I went into reading with an open mind. And I was wholeheartedly thanked for it.

This book blew me away in so many different ways. It’s definitely got its twists and turns and surprises that will go off like a light bulb in your head, but then you’re left with this deep cut of emotions as you navigate trying to live your life after reading this book. Trust me, all I can think about while I write this review is this book.

The story starts off with three different timelines. The first story is from the 20th century where a young man is journeying from England to Canada. The second story is from 2020 about a young woman searching for an old friend she hasn’t seen in years. The last story takes place in the 22nd century about an author who is recently on a book tour across Earth for her most famous novel. What connects all three people? Well, they were all at some point transported to a mysterious forest where they can hear a violin playing and an airship taking off.

That’s the point that really hooked me. I was a little confused by where the story was going with the lengthy description of the first character traveling across the ocean to Canada, but the moment he’s transported to that airship terminal and hears that violin is where it sucked me in entirely. It felt like Mandel purposefully designed the moment for her reader; to make you believe that at any given moment you can find yourself snapped into some random space in time and completely changed by the experience.

It’s currently what rookie investigator Gaspery Roberts is investigating; an anomaly in the timeline where three people from three time periods experience the same glitch in time. Gaspery is a new recruit at the Time Institute sometime in the year 2400. He volunteers to go back in time to investigate the three incidents and find connection between the people it affected.

This is the point in the story where I thought we might get another Blake Crouch science fiction thriller. It had all the factors of his style of writing and wondered how far Emily St. John Mandel may go, but because this is Emily St. John Mandel and not Blake Crouch, the story took a different turn creating a paradoxical Quantum Leap-style story. Gaspery’s journey across time made me hopeful about my future and the world around us.

And at the titular moment where you thought everything would be solved and the mystery would make sense, Mandel pivots again and surprised me with an ending that was both satisfying and enduring. One of the major themes is humanity and our unpredictable nature. How something that make the most sense takes a turn for us in the moment. How we’re all faced with many different paths and our choices may lead us down to a place of destruction or reincarnation. Gaspery’s journey is very much like the ones we experience in our daily lives. We my not be traveling through time to solve anomalies in the timeline, but we are making the choices that affect not only our own lives, but the lives of people around us. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and truly shares the silver lining in all of this.

It did surprise me that the book mentions, not one, but several pandemics. I think this might be my first pandemic story since 2020 and to be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating. Of course, they were there in the background providing the setting of these events, but it wasn’t the main focus which I truly appreciated.

Overall, this book moved me and surprised me and made me feel things I’ve been hoping to feel after reading such an incredible book. It’s on par with authors like Haruki Murakami and Blake Crouch, but entirely unique like Mandel herself. I truly recommend this book to everyone.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree // Book review

How did I not know about cozy fantasy books? Thanks to Tor Books for the gifted read.

Here’s more about Legends and Lattes

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention.

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth.

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My thoughts

Wow, I wish I knew about cozy fantasy books sooner because I would be all over that genre. This is all the cozy you want from a book with fantasy elements to it, so if you’re either a fan of fantasy books or of cozy books, you’ll get a little bit of something here.

The emphasis on this book is more cozy than fantasy, so folks who are used to high fantasy elements, lots of backstory, and tons of world building may not get the kind of book that they want. I mean, those cozy mysteries are emphasis on cozy than mystery, so you can pretty much the same here. However, it definitely doesn’t lack in the fantasy elements. You have various different fantasy creatures and magical elements playing throughout the story. You get enough about the world to keep you going, but I will admit I wanted to know more about Viv and her background as a ruthless orc who killed for hire. But I didn’t mind learning about Viv’s lighter side especially as she journeyed to open her own cafe selling a drink no one has ever heard of in a town she just moved to.

The characters were really the driving force of the story. I loved Viv and her background. I loved hearing about Tandri and how she’d been discriminated because of who she is and how she found a safe space at the coffee shop. I absolutely loved the regulars and of course, I loved the cat. Every character really brought something to the world and made it feel so realistic. You had the regular who never orders anything, the person who sits in the corner contemplating a game of chess, the folks who walk in and out of the cafe everyday with the hopes of digging into a good cup of coffee and a warm pastry. It really brought a sense of comfort and I couldn’t help imagining myself at one of those cafe tables quietly reading my book and observing everyone going about their business.

I think what I loved the most about this story is Viv’s journey. You don’t know what kind of life she had, but you know it was hard and her decision to open her own cafe was self-care at its finest. I was just imagining her picking up her sword and fighting off villains, but I loved that she puts her sword up on the wall and focuses her time on making delicious cups of coffee.

The inclusion of coffee in a world where there’s no coffee was so clever. I loved watching Viv and Tandri try to sell something no one has ever tried or even heard of. The way that it’s included in the story breaks a bit of the fantasy of the world, but at the same time I found myself giving props to Travis Baldree for taking something so coveted in the real world and making it an anomaly in this fantasy world. It really made me happy to see everyone trying it out for the first time and the excitement it brings to the small town.

Of course, coffee can’t be served alone and when they introduce pastries to the shop, I was definitely in love. Similarly to the coffee, Baldree introduces these real-world elements to the story as if they’re new ideas and the excitement and reception they get from the characters really makes you believe that there may be some magic in a cinnamon roll. The descriptions of the food were incredible and really made me wish I had a chocolate croissant and warm latte next to me.

No story isn’t without its conflict and I really loved how this one plays out. It felt almost like a mafia story where the wise guys come to the cafe threatening to burn the place down if they didn’t pay for existing. I really loved how that intertwines with the business and made a lot of sense in the world. I also loved that there was a little bit of conflict with Viv’s past. You may not know everything that happened in her life prior to becoming a barista, but you know enough to know that the people coming to mess with her are from that dark past and Viv needs to do something about it.

Overall, this book left me with a giant smile on my face. I loved the characters and following along with them as they literally built a coffee shop in a world where coffee is the newest thing anyone could have tried. I think this might have opened up an entire genre of books for me to check out.