Jade City by Fonda Lee // Book Review

Jade City by Fonda Lee // Book Review

This was the Fantasy Book Club pick of July and wow, what a book it was. This intricate and complex story grasped me from the first page. It’s filled with action and intrigue while this crime family in a big city try to fight for their ability to stay in control. As the world crumbles around them, so does their family. It’s a lot to go into, but I’ll try my best.

Here’s more about Jade City

The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.

The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

My Thoughts

The story follows the Kaul family: Lan is the pillar, the leader of the family. Hilo is the “Horn”, which basically felt like the “muscle” or military leader of the family. Shae is the youngest sister who decided to take off her jade. And Anden is an adopted son who’s currently at the academy learning how to use jade. The family was so complex and each character except for Hilo felt so realized and filled with conflict. I loved Shae the most. She was so capable and yet pushed away her family for personal reasons. She could definitely be the pillar, but that gets explained a bit more as the story goes on. I also loved Anden. His complicated upbringing that led to him being a part of the Kaul family was heartbreaking (and watch out, there’s some self-harm and suicide here) and then his internal conflict of wearing jade made so much sense especially when he finally gets the chance to use his powers.

I also loved Lan, but his role in the book seemed so secondary in comparison to the others. Hilo did have a bigger section of the book, but his story wasn’t my favorite and honestly, I didn’t like him very much.

The action in this book was incredible. The scenes were so well described that it was like watching a movie in my head. I will say, it’s pretty gorey with a lot of violence, so heads up if you’re not a fan of those kinds of things. If you’re a fan of action movies, gritty fight scenes, and even those East Asian movies with martial arts, then you’ll be a fan of the action here. It wasn’t just the action, but the descriptions of the scene being destroyed or the owners of the restaurant hiding in the back were really worth the read.

Jade is a super important resource in this book. It’s used for everything from monastery prayers to healing, but the way jade is used for the Kaul family is economically and physically. The powers imbued by jade are only wielded by a certain group of people. Anyone else that uses it can become extremely addicted leading to hysteria and death, so there’s a level of elitism when it comes to wearing and using jade. I really loved how jade played a role in the story. It was a resource, but it also had a complicated past that really plays out in the book. I felt like jade was a character on its own with how important it was to the family and to the business.

The lore behind this world was amazing. It was so realized and I loved the way it plays into both the history of the Kaul family and the current state that their in. There was some antiquated rules these families continued to abide by and it was interesting to see both the older generation and the newer generation go head-to-head around it. Although, it felt like tradition and history were extremely important, the story does lead you to believe that the younger generations are trying their best to change that.

I do wish there were parts that were better explained. It was a little confusing to figure out what all the different roles within the family were and how the traditions were ingrained into the world. I think I finally figured it out on my own, but some time to discuss the family line or the history would have been beneficial to me. I also wasn’t a fan of the gender roles and family bloodlines, but it made sense for the story. I just hope that book two goes into this a bit more and maybe defies it because it feels too antiquated to be in a modern fantasy book.

I really loved that this book was a slow burn. I know many folks won’t like the pacing of the story, but for me, it felt complex and needed the space to dive into all the parts. There’s enough in the book to keep you interested, but there were some parts I wished moved a little faster. That’s my own personal preference, so it didn’t take away from the book.

Overall, this was action packed and full of intrigue and suspense. I enjoyed it immensely and cannot wait to read the second book.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan // Book Review

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan // Book Review

Yep, this book was ALL THE THINGS I was expecting it to be and then some. I can’t believe it’s over. While this book is compared to Mulan, I think it’s far from it. If anything, this read more like The Poppy Wars by RF Kuang.

Here’s more about She Who Became the Sun

Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

My Thoughts

If you’re a fan of literary fiction, historical fiction, military fantasy, stories with gender identity, queer relationships, or even stories that will flip you on your head, then I invite you to read this book. This is THE book and it was massive and lush and powerful and so damn surprising. I’m going to have some spoilers in here (nothing too wild, but hinting at some bigger events in the story), so proceed with caution.

Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve read a book of this magnitude and I need to shout it from the rooftops. This is one of the best books I’ve read all year. This is definitely a character-driven story more than it is plot-driven, but the characters were so utterly realized and felt so real and flawed that I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a bit of a slow burn as well, so be prepared to sit down and take your sweet time getting into this story. It’s also not for the feint of heart. There’s no lovely romance between two characters. There’s no designations between “good” and “evil” characters. This is about ambition, drive, and the ability to overcome any obstacle in your way to a greater purpose.

There’s two sides of this story because there’s two different groups of people fighting each other for supreme reign of the kingdom. There’s the Red Turbans and the Mongols. There’s also two main characters; Zhu and Ouyang. Zhu represents the Red Turbans (who first starts off as a monk) and Ouyang is a Mongol. I was a little confused when I started reading because Zhu had such a strong opening, but Ouyang doesn’t come into the picture until a bit later. When Ouyang started having his own perspective in the novel, I was thrown a bit. But once I started realizing that there’s two main characters, then things started to make sense.

Your first main character, Zhu Chongba is a red turban, but she didn’t become a red turban as quickly as you could imagine. No, she first started as a terrified young girl who’s father and brother just died. I absolutely loved reading where Zhu came from. From being a starving peasant to becoming a monk and then finally the commander of one of the red turban factions, Zhu has been fighting all her life to survive; to become something more than the nothing fate she was handed at birth. Zhu was probably one of the most complex characters I’ve read. She was born with no name, no fate, and no reasons to live other than to serve her father and brother. She originally took her brother’s name in order to survive, but the fact that he was fated to be great, she internalized that and ruthlessly fought her way to the very top. What started off as a means to survive drove her to become the leader of her own empire.

And her fight was brutal. Filled with backstabbing and betrayal, Zhu did everything in her power to get what she wanted. She’s constantly fighting herself as well trying to push out the nothing fate she was dealt and living the great fate her brother was handed. It was really interesting to see Zhu’s psychology while she did the things she did.

The other character worth noting is Ouyang. OMG Ouyang and I hope no one sleeps on him because he’s truly such an interesting character. He’s first seen at Zhu’s monastery as the Mongols destroyed and disbanded all the monks living there. Ouyang is described to be an effeminate man who could easily pass as a woman. Ouyang was enslaved to Esen (the Prince of Henan’s) family, but over time he earned his way to becoming his general fighting alongside the Mongols despite his people actually coming from their opponents. Ouyang is also a eunuch not by choice. No, his family was slaughtered and was told by the Mongol Emperor that there would never be another Ouyang produced ever again. His past is brutal and it fueled him for years as he plotted his revenge.

But the most interesting part of his story is that he’s also absolutely in love with Esen (his captor, his best friend, and his commander). The man who has enslaved him and helped slaughter his family is also the love of his life and I can’t even imagine the turmoil that must have gone through Ouyang’s head and heart as he enacted his revenge. OMG, the emotions running through me as he struggled with his own emotions.

There is a relationship between Zhu and Ouyang that does play out. Being on opposite sides of this great fight, there was going to be some derision, but at the same time I felt like they saw a little bit of themselves in each other. It was interesting to see.

There is a slight fantasy element to the story. It was surprising how subtle it was because I imagined people using magic or there being some magical creatures. But the fantasy components were interesting and the way they designated people as “Heaven’s Mandate.” It’s like any monarchy that believes they’re appointed by a higher being and the fantasy elements in this book were that appointment. I thought it was interesting, especially the way it plays out towards the end of the book.

It surprised me utterly to find out that this was based on real people and the real Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. I don’t know much about this point in Chinese history, but digging around the Internet after reading the book, I thought it was fantastic that Shelley Parker-Chan utilized these characters to create a story all their own. It was truly masterful.

I will say that the pacing was a bit slow for me. I wanted there to be a few more battles or conflicts between bouts of strategizing and plotting, but being a character-driven story, the focus was more on the people rather than the events.

Overall, this was quite a story filled with history and culture and some of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a while. I’m really excited for book two and I will probably end up reading this one again in the future.

Thanks Tor Books for the gifted read. My opinions haven’t been influenced by the author or the publisher.

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon // Book Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon // Book Review

I’m such a huge fan of Nicola Yoon. I’ve read and own every book she’s written because she’s just fantastic in her way of writing diverse romance stories. I knew this was going to be a stunner just like her others, but I didn’t think it would be my favorite from her so far. Let’s get into it.

Here’s more about Instructions for Dancing

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?

My Thoughts

This was an absolute delight and I truly loved reading this one.

Evie was one of my favorite characters by Nicola Yoon. I loved that she has this clairvoyant gift for a while that lets her see the outcome of any relationship. It was a funny coincidence especially when Evie was so convinced love didn’t exist. I even worried about some of the relationships she saw into because I had already fallen in love with the other characters in the story. Evie was complex, going through some difficult feelings, and dealing with it on her own. Her mother wouldn’t talk about it. Her sister refused to recognize it. It’s so hard to be that person with no outlets to discuss your emotions in seeing something serious like your own father cheating on your mother.

I’m not surprised by her reaction. In fact, I would feel the exact same way and what I thought was interesting is that this book tackles a big lesson we all eventually learn; that our parents aren’t superheroes. It’s a rough lesson, for sure, and Evie handled it to the best of her ability.

Evie and X’s relationship was also adorable. I loved that X is new to LA and Evie shows him around to all her favorite spots (except the celebrity tours). It felt natural to me and when Evie says that X fell into her group as if he was always there, I totally believed it. I also loved how they motivated each other. Evie was hesitant to go to her father’s wedding. X didn’t want to finish high school. And they both encouraged each other to do things that they already marked in their heads they didn’t want to do. That’s the kind of relationships I love seeing; more than the romance it’s about encouraging each other to climb a pretty steep hill and being open to accept that encouragement.

I will say the ending was surprising. I knew with Evie’s powers there would be some heartbreak in her future, but the heartbreak was even more unbearable than I imagined. Ooph.

Overall, this was such a slump buster. I’m so glad I picked it up when I did and the book will have you laughing and crying at the same time.

Thanks Get Underlined for a gifted copy of the book. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers // Book Review

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers // Book Review

Becky Chambers, you have done me dirty again with an incredible story, beautiful scenery, and the age old question of why we’re all here in the first place. How do I even distill what I’ve read into a book review?

Here’s more about A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

My Thoughts

Thanks, Becky Chambers, for triggering my anxiety. It takes an incredible author to write a 150-page novella and bring me down to the level. But I’ll get to that particular part in a minute. Let’s first clear our heads and discuss the other components of the book.

This book reminded me a lot of her other novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate. They’re not the same in any way, shape, or form, but the concepts of humanity, and of hope are so strong with both of these stories. It’s so undeniable that Becky Chambers is rooting 100% for humanity and our possibilities.

The writing here is so interesting. It moves quickly through the beginning while you’re getting to know Dex and the particular way they came about becoming a tea monk. Although it moved quickly, it didn’t skimp on actually explaining and not in an info-dump kind of way. Once you meet Mosscap, the robot, then it starts to slow down and the story of their adventures begins.

It feels like the tone changes from being fun to serious every few minutes. One minute you’re laughing that a robot can’t do math and then the next you’re wondering what it means to truly be happy. It’s a weird dichotomy, but at the same time it feels so accurate to how we all perceive the world. One minute we’re trying to figure out who we are and the next we’re laughing at some cat doing something stupid on the internet. It does such a good job at painting this picture, especially the relationship between Mosscap and Dex.

And these two characters were really ones you want to follow until the end of time. Mosscap is this sentient robot who likes watching trees mature and understanding how bugs work. Dex is this unhappy tea monk who gave up their former life to only feel empty in their new life. I see a lot of myself in both of these characters. I see myself as the precocious robot who’s always learning something new and different, but I also see a lot of Dex and trying to answer that tough life question that no one has an answer to.

I also really loved the descriptions of this world. It feels like ours except humanity has taken the steps to move away from the dangers our world is facing. They returned to the earth rather than continuing to modernize and materialize. And the earth returned to the lush environment it once was and in so many ways it felt idyllic and special. The further Dex moves away from the urban settings into the wilderness, the more they have the space to understand what they want and what is important to them. Perhaps it’s because they don’t have the distraction of modernity in their face that it allows them the space to think. The fact that the robots retreated into the woods and spend their lifetimes examining how the world works and how life lives is just an added reminder that there’s a cycle to all of this; to all of us.

Which brings me to the big question that comes up in this book. This book raises some of the biggest existential questions that I’ve avoided because every time I think about them, it gives me anxiety. What is the point of it all? What do you do when you have everything and somehow, it’s not enough?

I feel like many people will answer this differently and Becky Chambers provides no answers in her book. It’s the question philosophers have been trying to answer their entire lives and they all died before they found it. This is the part of the book that will make you think and it isn’t there to make you anxious or nervous or trigger my anxiety (despite me making some jokes). It’s there for you to examine your world, how you perceive it, what matters ultimately, and how are you fulfilling that.

Overall, an exciting new story from Becky Chambers. I’m enamored by its characters, their objective to ask if humans need anything, and the deeper conversations about what it means to be conscious. I cannot wait for book two and the rest of their journeys together.

Thanks to Tordotcom for the gifted copy of this book. My opinions haven’t been influenced by the author or the publisher.

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim // Book Review

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim // Book Review

Get ready because I’m about to gush over this beautiful YA fantasy book. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew that it was loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Wild Swans. I think Elizabeth Lim might have hit the mark with this one for me and it absolutely blew me away.

Here’s more about Six Crimson Cranes

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Raikama has dark magic of her own, and she banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes, and warning Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne—a conspiracy more twisted and deceitful, more cunning and complex, than even Raikama’s betrayal. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to contain—no matter what it costs her.

My Thoughts

Ok, this was a wildly beautiful and breathtaking novel. I was so impressed by this book and it was my first from Elizabeth Lim. I can definitely see myself reading more of her books in the future.

I loved how much excitement and adventure this book has. There was bit of suspsense, romance, fighting, and magic. It had a little bit of everything and it was so well done. I really appreciate a book I can fully immerse myself in and just feel like I’m along for the adventure.

Shiori was definitely the female character I was looking for; someone who doesn’t have the skills to survive in the world initially, but with intuition, drive, and finding their own strength they realize so much more about themselves than they imagined. I absolutely loved Shiori and her resilience to let things like her curse or the extreme poverty she found herself in to keep her from doing what she needed to do; survive and find a way to free her brothers.

And the cast of characters in this book were exceptional. I loved Seryu, the dragon, who was a bit arrogant and yet had a soft side to him. I loved Kiki, the paper bird that Shiori brings to life. I felt like a part of why Shiori survived is because she couldn’t bear to lose her paper friend. Takkan, the prince and her betrothed was definitely my kind of guy; the kind that is strong like a warrior, but soft with the ability to sing songs, recite poetry, and paint. And I loved Shiori’s six brothers.

But I think the one person who I wished made more of an appearance throughout the story was Raikama, her stepmother. It was a total surprise to see what happens at the end, but I wish there was more of her presence throughout the story. She felt more like a reason to be pursuing the ultimate goals, but her involvement felt more passive.

The relationship between Takkan and Shiori was relationship goals as far as I’m concerned. I loved that they were so caring for each other and it didn’t feel forced or insta-love. It was more innocent and kind, which honestly is my favorite kinds of romances. I cannot wait to see what happens to them in the next book.

The worldbuilding here was fairly good, but there were parts where I was confused by where they were or what was happening. These happened more towards the end and I had a few issues with the pace of the ending as well. It might just be me, but there definitely felt like a rush towards the end to wrap everything up, so much of it was lost. However, I felt like I was able to really see this world vividly and the map at the beginning of the book lends a huge hand to understanding how the characters moved across the world.

Although there felt like a rush to get to the end, I was seriously surprised by how things turned out. I won’t say here because of spoilers, but so much was revealed in such little time that I ended up finishing the book with more questions than I had answers.

But I felt like the book left with enough to end the first story and make room for the next. I’m so excited to read the end of this story (which will probably happen in a year) and see what happens to Shiori, her brothers, and the world they live in.

Thanks to Get Underlined and Knopf for a gifted copy of the book. My opinions have not been influenced by the author or the publisher.

If You, Then Me by Yvonne Woon // Book Review

If You, Then Me by Yvonne Woon // Book Review

Every once in a while I come across a fun and interesting YA contemporary that pulls me in. This was one of them and I’m so glad to have read and enjoyed it.

Here’s more about If You, Then Me

What would you ask your future self? First question: What does it feel like to kiss someone?

Xia is stuck in a lonely, boring loop. Her only escapes are Wiser, an artificial intelligence app she designed to answer questions like her future self, and a mysterious online crush she knows only as ObjectPermanence.

And then one day Xia enrolls at the Foundry, an app incubator for tech prodigies in Silicon Valley.

Suddenly, anything is possible. Flirting with Mast, a classmate also working on AI, leads to a date. Speaking up generates a vindictive nemesis intent on publicly humiliating her. And running into Mitzy Erst, Foundry alumna and Xia’s idol, could give Xia all the answers.

And then Xia receives a shocking message from ObjectPermanence: He is at the Foundry, too. Xia is torn between Mast and ObjectPermanence—just as Mitzy pushes her towards a shiny new future. Xia doesn’t have to ask Wiser to know: The right choice could transform her into the future self of her dreams, but the wrong one could destroy her.

My Thoughts

Having a programming husband, I know way more than I need to about coding and the tech world. However, this book presented me with a completely different aspect; the business side. It was interesting to see how tech looks at these young folks and their apps. There was a bit of snobbery with some of the ideas the kids had while other kids were trying to save the world with their apps. I also thought it was interesting to see who got bought and who got funding. I don’t know much about those parts, but it was fun to read about.

Xia was the definition of naive young person. The story followed her more than had a plot that moved forward. Her actions leading her character development felt spot on and her blown up ego at the end made so much sense to me. Although, it did surprise me when the book finally got to the final showcase and everyone was already prepared.

I also really liked her removal from both the tech world (growing up outside of Boston) and from the kinds of privilege and luxury the other kids. She got herself into a lot of messes. At one point, I kind of felt bad for her. A lot of the situations she found herself in were very adult for someone just sixteen to be in. I don’t think it was wild that she went off to California on her own (as someone who’s traveled across the world at 15, I know that that level of responsibility is possible for someone that age), but the situations she found herself in were so much more than even I want to find myself in. Because as an adult, you can read her situations and can determine right off the bat that something feels scammy or someone’s out to get you behind your back, but as a kid, you don’t know better. This is all new to you and with that newness comes a level of naivety that you don’t develop until you’ve experienced it.

The situations Xia found herself were rough and with each new experience, it felt like it got worse and worse for her. At one point, I just wanted to give her a big old hug and pull her away from everything. I wanted to save her from what she was going through, but at the same time I understand how important it is to experience these things first hand. That’s how you grow and learn.

The characters were great. I thought it was an interesting mix including folks who were super rich and privileged and other folks who didn’t have all the luxuries in the world. There was a lot of backstabbing, envy and jealousy, and petty arguments as well given that they’re teenagers who were living in boarding school together. It made for some interesting dynamics that played so well throughout the story. I loved Amina, Xia’s best friend. She was so confident in knowing who she was, which was just a nerdy tech girl feeling a bit lost in the whole game of things. She provided such good advice and insight that Xia desperately needed (and desperately avoided).

The only issue I had was that there were a few storylines that were dropped towards the end. I wanted to know what happened to Mitzy and I wondered what the kids were doing after they finished their year at the foundry. Also, it felt like Mast dropped off right in the middle of the story and aside from a few glances his way, he didn’t have a big part in the story. It made the ending feel a bit weird. It’s not a big deal, but something I noticed while I was finishing up the book.

I also loved the whole You’ve Got Mail vibe going with Xia and her mysterious online friend, ObjectPermanence. I tried to guess who it was (and came out wrong), but pleasantly surprised to find out who it was in the end.

Overall, this was a fun story that followed a young person through some heavy trials and tribulations. I really loved getting to know Xia throughout.

I received a copy of this book from the author. My opinion hasn’t been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Song of the Forever Rains by EJ Mellow // Book Review

Song of the Forever Rains by EJ Mellow // Book Review

I was super excited to read this one because EJ Mellow is a friend of mine. I’d never read any of her work before, but after hearing she wrote a dark romantic fantasy, I knew I had to get my hands on it and check it out. What we got is a wonderful new story for a new series from her and I can’t wait for the next book!

Here’s More About Song of the Forever Rains

The Thief Kingdom is a place hidden within the world of Aadlior. Many whisper of its existence, but few have found this place, where magic and pleasure abound. There, the mysterious Thief King reigns supreme with the help of the Mousai, a trio of revered and feared sorceresses.

Larkyra Bassette may be the youngest of the Mousai, but when she sings her voice has the power to slay monsters. When it’s discovered the Duke of Lachlan is siphoning a poisonous drug from the Thief Kingdom and using it to abuse his tenants, Larkyra is offered her first solo mission to stop the duke. Eager to prove herself, Larkyra accepts by posing as the duke’s potential bride. But her plans grow complicated when she finds herself drawn to Lord Darius Mekenna, Lachlan’s rightful heir. Soon she suspects Darius has his own motivations for ridding Lachlan of the corrupt duke. Larkyra and Darius must learn to trust each other if there is to be any hope of saving the people of Lachlan—and themselves.

Welcome to the world of Aadilor, where lords and ladies can be murderers and thieves, and the most alluring notes are often the deadliest. Dare to listen?

My Thoughts

CW: family/domestic abuse, self harm, gore and blood, implied drug abuse

Ok, I want to first start off by saying that I really liked this book. It wasn’t perfect. There were a few nagging things that I keep thinking about, but overall, I thought it was good and a great start to a new fantasy series world.

I absolutely loved the characters and I feel like this book was focused more on these characters and their development than the other elements. You can tell a lot of thought went into developing these characters and making them feel realistic. Each of them were so complex with their own successes and failures. Watching Darius’s secrets unfold through the eyes of Larkya, you can tell that she’s way more than just a thief or a spy. She has a caring side, which made it way more interesting to follow her and see what she thinks. I also loved that Darius was a complicated mess as well. In fact, everyone was so flawed that it made the story feel more realistic. I love it when characters are more like real people than caricatures. I even liked the Duke’s reasoning for being the way he is (despite not really enjoying how that ending came together).

I was also really into the adventures Larkya went on from the very beginning where she’s going without her magic for a month to traveling to a small island and collecting herbs for an elixir. The adventures Larkya went on were some of my favorite parts and it does double duty to build the world for you. I really loved the world EJ’s created here especially this dichotomy between the real world and the thief’s world. The Thief Kingdom was definitely where my interest lied especially when Larkya was walking through it with Darius. All the little bits of information that’s shared about this world, the magic within it, and who rules this place definitely kept my attention the most.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending mostly because the entire book read like a slow burn right up until the end. And then the end happened, and I was just confused. Everything else seemed to get such care, but it felt like EJ Mellow took her time to write the beginning and then rushed the ending. I wasn’t happy with the way things turned out and how all the big reveals came about. It felt too easy and not at all along the lines of this epic tale of deception, lies, and distrust. I wanted there to be some big fight and some lessons learned the hard way, but it fell short of that.

It also ended with a fairly nice bow wrapped around it. Thinking this was gonig to be a fantasy series, I thought the ending would leave you with something for the next book. That’s fine that it didn’t and that the series is following a more romance series cadence (each book exploring another character’s perspective), so it did throw me a little that it wrapped up all at once.

The other thing I wasn’t a big fan of was the romance; or lack there of. While I’m new to the whole fantasy romance genre, I was expecting there to be a bit more tension, a bit more development of the romance between Darius and Larkyra. It seemed more like stolen glances than actual relationship building and then they were declaring their love for each other. I did like how the romance was written in like Larkyra slowly caring about him and vice versa. I also really liked how they fought their emotions for each other because they couldn’t fully trust each other with something like their heart. But again, I wanted it to be a bit more obvious and the attraction starting from the beginning and deeply interwoven into the story. I wouldn’t call this a fantasy romance, but a fantasy book with a romantic storyline in it.

Overall, this was a solid beginning to a new series. I already saw that the second book’s cover has been revealed and who the book will be about. I can’t wait to dive into that one as well.

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

Mini Reviews // The Crier’s War duology by Nina Varela

Mini Reviews // The Crier’s War duology by Nina Varela

I finished last month with Crier’s War for book club. It was so good that I abandoned the rest of my TBR to read Iron Heart right after it. And let me tell you, it was worth abandoning it. Plus, there wasn’t really much time left to read anything else so I took advantage of my mood and just coasted through a great little fantasy series.

Here’s more about the books

Crier’s War

Impossible love between two girls —one human, one Made. A love that could birth a revolution.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, Designed to be the playthings of royals, took over the estates of their owners and bent the human race to their will.

Now, Ayla, a human servant rising the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging the death of her family… by killing the Sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier, who was Made to be beautiful, to be flawless. And to take over the work of her father.

Crier had been preparing to do just that—to inherit her father’s rule over the land. But that was before she was betrothed to Scyre Kinok, who seems to have a thousand secrets. That was before she discovered her father isn’t as benevolent as she thought. That was before she met Ayla.

Set in a richly-imagined fantasy world, Nina Varela’s debut novel is a sweepingly romantic tale of love, loss and revenge, that challenges what it really means to be human.

Iron Heart

Critically acclaimed author Nina Varela delivers a stunning sequel to the richly imagined queer epic fantasy Crier’s War, which SLJ called “perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass.”

For too long, Automae have lorded over the kingdom of Rabu, oppressing its human citizens. But the human revolution has risen, and at its heart is Ayla. Once a handmaiden, now a fugitive, Ayla narrowly escaped the palace of Lady Crier, the girl she would’ve killed if she hadn’t fallen in love first. 

Now Ayla has pledged her allegiance to Queen Junn, who can help accomplish the human rebellion’s ultimate goal: destroy the Iron Heart. Without its power, the Automae will be weakened to the point of extinction. Ayla wants to succeed, but can’t shake the strong feelings she’s developed for Crier. And unbeknownst to her, Crier has also fled the palace, taking up among traveling rebels, determined to find and protect Ayla.

Even as their paths collide, nothing can prepare them for the dark secret underlying the Iron Heart.

My Thoughts

First off, I love a duology. Two books that can say everything it needs to say is enough for me. And when the story is so good that you want to pick up the book right after it, it’s so satisfying. I finished these books like I finished a really great meal. The wine was delicious. The flavors paired well together and I sighed that great big sigh.

Crier’s War blew me away. I wasn’t expecting anything in particular from the book, but when I started reading and seeing Ayla and Crier coming together and the tension between them both mentally and emotionally, it kept me reading. I loved the play of feelings here; there was the mental struggle to stay loyal to your cause, but then emotional struggle to not fall in love. Ayla’s feelings were so real and her push/pull from Crier really drove the story for me. That isn’t to say Crier didn’t do the same either. Her ignorance of growing up in a gilded cage and then meeting Ayla who questioned everything is literally what you want to see; someone strong enough to open your eyes to what’s around you and make you wonder why.

It’s stories like this one that really make me love reading; books that pursue passion and question yourself and make you wonder why you’ve been doing the same thing for so long. I also love that mental and emotional struggle to stay away from someone who you know is your enemy, but still finding common ground and accepting them as is as well.

Of course, there was also all the tropes you love about fantasy books. There’s political intrigue, female bad ass-ery, romance, and poor choices because hey, they’re young.

Iron Heart was the continuation of this story picking up right where Crier’s War left off. There wasn’t a strong cliffhanger at the end of Crier’s War, so you’re not left with clamoring to the next book because of it. However, there’s enough there to make you reach for book 2 right after book 1. The first part of the book was a little slow since it recaps the first book, but once it dives into it, then it starts to really pick up.

I did love seeing the role reversals between Crier and Ayla. Ayla gets to see what opulent living looks like while Crier tries her best not to starve. I also loved that each of them don’t miss the life they had before, accepting their circumstances, and moving forward than complaining that one has it rougher than the other.

The second book had a ton of twists and turns with surprising components that kept me reading. Certain people showed up at the wrong time and big secrets are revealed making it a much more interesting story. I’m so glad that they continued the same journey they were on in the first book and that all those pieces fit so well together as you approach the end. At some point, I was a bit confused by what the ultimate goal was for Ayla and Crier, but it did get an answer before the ending.

I will say I was a bit disappointed with how easy things were at the end of Iron Heart. There were a few instances where I had to stretch my disbelief a bit more than I usually would like, but I also remember this is a YA fantasy novel and sometimes those things get overlooked for much more important components.

Overall, this duology was such a stunner and I absolutely enjoyed every bit of it. After a string of pretty meh books, I’m glad to have read something I really liked. I’ll definitely be adding Crier’s War to my favorites of the year.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke // Book Review

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke // Book Review

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading Piranesi. All I knew is that it was based on the Theseus story of the labyrinth and the Minotaur. What I did end up reading was the wildest ride I’ve had in a while.

Here’s More About Piranesi

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

My Thoughts

Ok, this is one of those books where you can’t talk too much about it otherwise you’ll give it away. It’s not a thriller, but there’s a strong mystery component in the story that you unravel as you read.

For a 250-page novel, I was not expecting to take a week to read it. I was expecting this to be just an average story that I will get read quickly and add to my read pile within a day or two. However, that’s not what you’re going to get here. This book is meaty with some really intensely beautiful prose. This was my first book from Susanna Clarke and after reading it, I have to say that it won’t be my last. The author was able to pack so much story into so few pages that it can’t even be considered a novella. No, this is a full blown novel that will whisk you away to a world that’s just so difficult to fathom. It was such a multi-layered story that you need to pay attention to otherwise you might find yourself as lost as Piranesi in the labyrinth. She also doesn’t give you any clues directly; it’s all subtle or underlying, so make sure to read everything she provides.

I was trying to think of comparative stories that felt like this one. The major one was The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. It was the feeling of worlds within worlds; a place right beyond a closed door or a path you never take. It made the story much more enchanting thinking about that, but at the same time it’s a world I probably never want to find myself in. It sounds enchanting when you’re reading about it, but if I found a way to the labyrinth, I would probably be freaked out.

The others were movies; Castaway with Tom Hanks and Memento. Castaway because Piranesi was pretty much alone the entire time and found friendships with the statues and bones he found there. Memento because of Piranesi’s memory stuff. The idea of being stranded in an alternate universe where you’re stuck in a literal maze with tons of different hallways, the bones of the dead, and statutes staring down at you is kind of freaky. I wish that I had much more info about the place; where it comes from, why it’s there, and what’s the point of the entire thing.

I think the only issue I had was the ending. While the entirety of the book felt like a luxurious story that I can take my time enjoying, the ending kind of came so abruptly I don’t think I had time to process before it was over. I wish there were a few other parts that were fleshed out more, but I also think it would have gotten in the way of the mysterious components of the story.

Overall, such a great read that took me completely by surprise. I can definitely see folks not liking this one very much, but from here, it was just one of the best stories I’ve read all year.

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey // Book Review

Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey // Book Review

I picked this one up as a little break from the heavier fantasy novels I’ve been reading lately. I didn’t want to slump and luckily, this did just the trick!

Here’s more about Very Sincerely Yours

Teddy Phillips never thought she’d still be spending every day surrounded by toys at almost thirty years old. But working at a vintage toy store is pretty much all she has going on in her life after being unceremoniously dumped by her longtime boyfriend. The one joy that she’s kept is her not-so-guilty pleasure: Everett’s Place, a local children’s show hosted by Everett St. James, a man whom Teddy finds very soothing . . . and, okay, cute.

Teddy finds the courage to write to him, feeling slightly like one of the children who write to him on his show. He always gives sound advice and seems like he has everything figured out–and he pretty much does: Everett has a great support system, wonderful friends, and his dream job. But there’s still that persistent feeling in the back of his mind that something’s missing.

When a woman named Theodora starts writing to Everett, he is drawn to her honesty and vulnerability. They continue writing to each other, all the while living their lives without meeting. When their worlds collide, however, they must both let go of their fears and figure out what they truly want–and if the future they want includes each other.

My Thoughts

You can always rely on Kerry Winfrey’s writing to pull you from the edge of a slump. Seriously, her stories are always interesting, entertaining, and so laugh out loud funny that I found myself turning a little red in public with how loud I was.

Teddy reminded me a lot of myself when I was younger. Having been dumped by a guy who never appreciated me or how I helped him, I felt exactly where Teddy was. It was also that period in my life where I wanted to find something for myself and figure out my next step. While my “Teddy Time” list was a little bit different than the main character, I definitely resonated with her lost feelings and wanting to do things I wouldn’t normally do.

I also struggled with holding back a lot of who I am in public and with friends. I would always put other people first and put my feelings aside because they weren’t as important. Or so that’s what I thought. It was lovely to see Teddy go through the same kinds of struggles especially after a pretty heinous breakup that made me lose sight of what really matters.

Everett was such an interesting character that I could relate to as well. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I can relate to him always trying to figure out how to make things perfect. But I will note that this book felt more about Teddy finding herself and helping out Everett than it was Everett figuring out his next steps and helping Teddy out. In fact, I don’t think Everett did much to help out Teddy aside from giving her the space to be herself. She took the initiative to try new things, say no to him, and figure herself out.

I absolutely loved that the email theme kept running throughout the story. I was worried it would be one of those elements that would get the story going and then it would fall off by the end. So happy that it was even used in the epilogue and that really helped to keep that theme (and the title of the book) threaded throughout.

I also really liked how Teddy’s ex was an antagonist that kept on showing up like some indigestion after eating a giant burrito. It reminded me a bit of Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday and how she tried so hard to push him away, but kept being lured back. It made for an interesting component to the story.

I kind of wish Gretel played a much bigger role in the book. It seemed a bit strange that she was introduced in the beginning of the story, but nothing really came from it other than being a vehicle to connect Everett with Teddy. I wanted more especially when she’s a self-proclaimed “old woman” at the age of twelve. I also wish there was more conflict. Granted, I know the struggle to find oneself and overcoming the obstacles of perfection are tough, but I would have personally enjoyed it more if there were some higher stakes.

Overall, this was such a fun and entertaining book to read. It definitely took me out of my slump and perfect for those hot summer days when you don’t want to get too involved in a story.

I received a copy of Very Sincerely Yours from Berkley for free. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.