How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by KM Jackson // Book Review

How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by KM Jackson // Book Review

Sometimes you just need to believe that you have a chance with your celebrity crush to actually set the tone for the rest of your life. I picked this one up since I’m a huge fan of Keanu Reeves, but what I got was so much more than just a little crush. Thanks to Read Forever for gifting me a copy of this book. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Here’s more about How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days

Bethany Lu Carlisle is devastated when the tabloids report actor Keanu Reeves is about to tie the knot. What?! How could the world’s perfect boyfriend and forever bachelor, Keanu not realize that making a move like this could potentially be devastating to the equilibrium of…well…everything! Not to mention, he’s never come face to face with the person who could potentially be his true soulmate—her.
 
Desperate to convince Keanu to call off the wedding, Lu and her ride-or-die BFF Truman Erikson take a wild road trip to search for the elusive Keanu so that Lu can fulfill her dream of meeting her forever crush and confess her undying love. From New York to Los Angeles, Lu and True get into all sorts of sticky situations. Will Lu be able to find Keanu and convince him she’s the one for him? Or maybe she’ll discover true love has been by her side all along…

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My thoughts

While the title of this one is a mouthful, the story itself was super fun and lighthearted. It’s about Bethany Lu, a 40-something artist who’s feeling a bit of burnout. However, when she reads a tweet about Keanu Reeves getting married in 90 days, she decides to use that time to find him, stop him from making the biggest mistake in his life, and maybe convince him to marry her. Of course, she’s also using this time to figure out what she wants to do with a major gallery and art promotion deal she’s been handed as well.

The story also follows True, one of her closest best friends and instigator of her adventure to find Keanu. He’s a professor of Economics and a little bit more pragmatic than free-spirited Bethany, but their long-time friendship that started with Bethany’s brother turned into a partnership that can’t be broken.

That is, until Keanu comes into the picture.

The story was so much fun and while I wasn’t a full believer that someone would stop everything they’re doing to chase down a celebrity they didn’t even know, I was fully on board with the ride. The dual narrative gives you an idea of what both Bethany and True are feeling especially when it comes to their shared past and her passed brother, Cole.

And there is a lot of Keanu Reeves and his movie references in this book. Not only is Bethany a die-hard fan with extensive knowledge of his filmography, but they’re thwarted by him at every attempt to find him throughout the country. Yes, this story goes on the road to find Keanu. The chapter headers are also references to some of Keanu Reeves’s movies as well.

I thought it was a lot of fun to see Bethany and True come across celebrities while looking for Keanu. I don’t want to spoil who shows up in the book, but it did put a smile on my face to see them there. There was so much fun and entertaining components to this book (as well as some steamy scenes) that will definitely keep you reading.

I also loved that it goes a little bit deeper discussing what happened to Bethany’s brother and True’s part in what happened. I especially loved Bethany’s growth as she figures out the next steps in her life. It’s always refreshing to read a story about a person older than 25 trying to figure out their life. It makes me feel like I have some time to figure out mine still.

Overall, this definitely checked of all the boxes I needed to start the month of right. I wanted something fun and entertaining, about my favorite actor, and still have a bit of something to bite onto to. I enjoyed this one a lot.

Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw // Book Review

Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw // Book Review

This tiny novella packs a punch with ghostly brides, haunted houses, and human sacrifice. The perfect Halloween read (or any time of the year if you’re like me).

Here’s more about Nothing but Blackened Teeth

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends.

But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

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My thoughts

Ok this is a legit horror story perfect for Halloween weekend. Of course, I’m posting this review after Halloween, but if you’re looking for something for next Halloween, consider adding this one to your TBR. It’s a novella, so it’ll be a super quick, but super spooky read.

The story follows a group of tourists in town for a wedding and they rent out an old haunted house as a wedding gift for the happy couple. Creepy tastes, but we’re not here to judge the characters. The story follows Cat, one of the members of the group as she’s haunted by the ghost who lives in the house. She sees her from the corner of her eye or within the reflection of the mirror. But once you learn more about the ghost and why she haunts the house, then it starts to get really freaky.

The atmosphere alone will get you. With the decaying walls, dark vibes, even the scene when one of the characters put on the wedding dress of the dead person, so creepy. The darkness in the story, the anticipation of something hanging out in the corners, it really gave that shock value. I was bracing every single time Cat was seeing something she didn’t want to see. The action is quick-paced and the ending really surprised me.

I really liked this story, but there were many parts that I didn’t like. This story had so much potential. Honestly, I loved the spooky Japanese house and the aloof young people celebrating their marriage there. But the rest didn’t make sense and really didn’t add anything more to the story. I wasn’t really interested in the relationship Cat had with the rest of the people at the house. It almost didn’t make sense to include it unless it somehow would play a role in the story further down the line, but I didn’t get that either. I wish there was some relation because despite not making sense with the story, it does paint a view of who these people are and how they relate to each other. I wanted to dive into that, maybe have it come up as the hauntings got worse.

I felt like there was so much that needed to be explained or really explored to get the full horror scope. It was so quick-paced making little room for explanation. I’ll admit, it was spooky but it wasn’t enough for me to just be spooky. I really wanted there to be more.

Overall, this will definitely spook you and make you think you see things from the corner of your eye. Thanks to Netgalley for the gifted copy.

Vicious by VE Schwab // Book Review

Vicious by VE Schwab // Book Review

I read Vicious with a friend and wow, I think I fell in love with VE Schwab all over again. I knew she loved a good villain, but writing a story about two villains fighting each other with superhuman powers was exactly what I needed.

Here’s more about Vicious

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates–brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find–aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge–but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.

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My thoughts

Wow.

Wowowowowow.

Wow. Wow. Ok, now that I’m done freaking out about Vicious, let’s talk about it. Honestly, I felt like I was reading a graphic novel the entire time. It’s kind of funny that there’s a set of graphic novels about to come out based within the world, but outside the story. I can easily see this translated to that medium and I would 100% pick it up if it does. The story goes back and forth between perspectives and time. You see how Eli and Victor become the people they are, you see the ultimate battle between the two and how they went from being friends to being enemies. It’s literally like watching the origin story between Magneto and Charles Xavier happening in front of your eyes.

Also, the way people get their superpowers is so dark and twisted. Near death experiences plus being revived and having your final thoughts be somehow connected to the powers you get? It’s spectacular and haunting. There was such a dark shroud throughout the story and I was here for every moment of it.

The story follows Victor and Eli, two incredibly intelligent students who were best friends. Now, they’re enemies and this book goes into how these two besties went after each other with a vengeance. In school, Eli wanted to test the theory of becoming ExtraOrdinary; think mutants from X-Men. He found out that it’s a combination of acknowledging your death during a near-death experience, coming back, and having powers to combat the final thought you had. For example, if you were thinking that you don’t want to die right at the same time you do, you can come back with the ExtraOrdinary power to heal super fast. That’s exactly what Eli does.

Victor also goes through the same process, but instead of having the power to heal super fast, he has the power to take and give pain. From removing all pain where you are numb to everything to giving you all the pain that it nearly kills you. However, things go wrong for Victor when he’s accused of killing his best friend’s girlfriend spending the next ten years in prison for his crimes.

During this time, other ExtraOrdinary people are being systematically killed by someone. It’s not when Victor escapes from prison that he finds out who that is and intends not only to stop the killings, but also enact his revenge. Ugh, if this doesn’t read like you’re reading a DC comic or something even darker than Batman, I don’t know what. This story is so in line with what VE Schwab is usually writing and if you’re a huge fan of the Darker Shade of Magic series, then I highly recommend this one too.

There were so many little nuance things happening as well like Sydney and her sister Serena, the guy that broke out of prison with Victor and how he considers himself a bad luck jinx. Everyone also get their own narrative in the story, which made it so much more fun to get inside these character’s heads and discover more about this wild world.

Overall, definitely loved this one. I’ve already bought book 2 and plan on reading it soon. It’s definitely a series that I’m excited for and I’m so happy VE Schwab is returning to it and writing more in this world. I cannot wait!

October 2021 Bookish Wrap Up

October 2021 Bookish Wrap Up

It’s the end of another month and I can’t believe it’s already gone.

I took some time off this month because I was going on vacation and needed to take a break from everything. Have you ever taken a break and noticed how much you needed it? Well, I needed it.

I read four books while I was on vacation, so I ended the month with nine books read. I’m still in the middle of The Dragon Reborn, but I’m going to read that slowly while I try to finish it up. It’s a doozy of a book, if you could imagine! Here’s what I was able to read:

  • Luminous by Mara Rutherford
  • A Spindle Splintered by Alix E Harrow
  • These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
  • Along the Saltwise Sea by A Deborah Baker
  • Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P Manasala
  • Nothing but Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
  • Vicious by VE Schwab
  • Crownchasers by Rebecca Coiniffer
  • The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

This month, I did a lot of review writing and not much content writing. You can tell that I was a little burnt out with how little I actually wrote about. I always find book review months to be less productive despite the fact I put a lot of effort int the reviews. I hope to get back into the writing habit next month with some fresh new posts for you all.

I hope you had a good reading month! What did you end up reading?

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong // Book Review

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong // Book Review

This was definitely a very loose interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, but I loved every single moment of it. It reminded me a lot of Jade City by Fonda Lee except set in 1920s Shanghai and the magical components were a tiny bit different. However, I loved it and I cannot wait for book two come out!

Here’s more about These Violent Delights

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

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My thoughts

I absolutely loved Juliette and Roma. While they were nothing like their characters in Romeo and Juliet, I loved how compassionate Roma was and how headstrong Juliette was. Their personalities clashed, but both being the heirs of their respective gangs, I can only imagine much of that is colored by the ruthless blood feud between their families.

Of course, the other characters surrounding Juliette and Roma had similar names to the characters in Romeo and Juliet, so you get an idea that maybe certain things will happen to certain people, but if you’re looking for a straightforward retelling you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s also not a fantasy story. In fact, I would put this as a genre-bending book with historical fiction (the rise of the communist party in China is a major component to this book) with a tiny bit of mystery, science fiction, and very little romance.

But I loved it. I loved that Chloe Gong was able to take this story and make it her own. In all honestly, this is one of the best retellings up there with Legendborn by Tracy Deonn where you’re not getting an iteration of the story, but something completely different and so well imagined that you’re just blown away when it does reference the other book. It was action packed filled with suspenseful moments, skillful surprises, and just really made me excited to keep reading.

I loved that the romance between Roma and Juliette wasn’t that obvious. It was actually after their romance that the story takes place, so all that was left is the bitter rivalry of their families that seems to affect Juliette more than it did Roma. Both of them have something to prove as well. In the wings, Juliette’s cousin, Tyler, is waiting for her to make a mistake so that he can take over the business. Meanwhile, Juliette is constantly trying to prove herself worthy enough to be called a Scarlet.

Roma doesn’t feel like he’s as dedicated to his gang, The White Flowers, as much as Juliette is. In fact, he gets queasy with murdering people and doesn’t sit well with violence. But his father doesn’t really respect him as heir either and relies mostly on another person to do the dirty work. But both Roma and Juliette definitely have the best in mind for their people and want to do their best to keep the peace and also solve what’s happening.

Because there’s a weird madness going around where people are literally ripping their own throats out and it looks to mostly affect both the gangs. This was the weird science fiction part, which really blew my mind at the end. I was so grossed out by the madness the entire time and Chloe Gong has the writing chops to make things just so vivid. It was definitely the central plot of the book, but I also absolutely loved learning more about Juliette and Roma. In many ways this is how the book reminded me of Jade City. There’s a big plot happening in the city they both run, but in the meantime there’s so much to divulge about the characters and their worlds.

I absolutely loved that Chloe Gong kept a lot of details close to the chest and as you read the book, it just unfolded and really showed you what she’s capable of. I will admit it does drag a little. There were parts where I thought it would be obvious to the characters who did it and having them come to realizations and truths much faster than they did in the book, but the slow burn is very much worth it. However, I would just trust Chloe Gong and her writing ability to explain everything, show you why she wrote the book she did, and just capture you in this weird little world.

I cannot wait for book two. There’s enough at the end to make you reach for the second book for answers and I definitely want to know what happens.

Along the Saltwise Sea by A Deborah Baker // Book Review

Along the Saltwise Sea by A Deborah Baker // Book Review

It feels like I read the first book in this series like a week ago, but it was more like two weeks ago lol. I love it when I’m able to catch up on a new series that I’m into and I’m so glad to have read this one to add to my love of Seanan McGuire. Thanks to Tor dot com for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Along the Saltwise Sea

After climbing Over the Woodward Wall and making their way across the forest, Avery and Zib found themselves acquiring some extraordinary friends in their journey through the Up-and-Under.

After staying the night, uninvited, at a pirate queen’s cottage in the woods, the companions find themselves accountable to its owner, and reluctantly agree to work off their debt as her ship sets sail, bound for lands unknown. But the queen and her crew are not the only ones on board, and the monsters at sea aren’t all underwater.

The friends will need to navigate the stormy seas of obligation and honor on their continuing journey along the improbable road

Writing as A. Deborah Baker, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Seanan McGuire takes our heroes Avery and Zib (and their friends Niamh and the Crow Girl) on a high seas adventure, with pirates and queens and all the dangers of the deep as they continue their journey through the Up-and-Under on their quest for the road that will lead them home….

Welcome to a world of talking trees and sarcastic owls, of dangerous mermaids and captivating queens in this exceptional tale for readers who are young at heart in this companion book to McGuire’s critically-acclaimed Middlegame and the sequel to Over the Woodward Wall.

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My thoughts

If you’re wondering if you need to read book 1 before you read this one, have no fears. Seanan McGuire does a really excellent job of catching you up right at the beginning of the story. I think my favorite part of both of these books is the narrator. At one point, the narrator does break the fourth wall and speak to us and honestly, it was so good. It’s got this fairy tale like quality to it as if you can easily read this on audiobook and feel like a kid at reading time listening to a story unfold.

While I’m not 100% sure if this story is for kids, I did love following along while Avery, Zib, Niamh, and Crow Girl continued their journey to the Impossible City. This time, they fall down a well and land in a clever ocean that helps them find someone who can point them in the right direction.

I feel like a lot of this book was setup and explanation for what happened in the first book. Unlike the first one, this had very little action and really didn’t move the story much along. In fact, it very much read like the second book in a series; you know, the one that explains some things a bit more and sets you up for the next book. It did have some really interesting character development and I was intrigued by the pirates and the adventures, but it felt more like an explanation. I felt like book one was about Crow Girl and how she lost her name and turned into a murder of crows and this one is about the drowned girls and the Lady of Salt and Sorrows (the patron of Niamh’s world).

It’s not a fault of the book, I was expecting more of the action I saw in book one, but when I readjusted and realized this book was going to explain some things and actually build on the character development, that’s when I liked it more.

Because it’s more about the characters than the plot, I felt like it had way more quotable moments. I was finding myself dog-earing every few pages with the beautiful words about life, finding yourself, and being who you’re supposed to be. There’s a lot of growth happening for Avery and Zib. Not only are they learning about this weird world they found themselves in, but they’re also learning things about themselves. Like how Avery is learning to let go of everything being perfect and how Zib is learning that she’s not defined by the body she’s born into.

While this story doesn’t have a lot of action, there’s a lot in the book that’s worth exploring. The worlds may be different from ours, but the lessons feel the same and it’s always fun to see where the adventures takes Avery and Zib.

Overall, this is a good one especially if you’re a fan of fairy tales. The storytelling is excellent and while the plot doesn’t move much, it’s definitely got merit in learning more about the kids, the Up-and-Under, and what they’re both capable of.

The Journey into The Wheel of Time

The Journey into The Wheel of Time

Recently, I finished reading The Great Hunt, the second book in the Wheel of Time series and wow, I think this book solidified my love for the series. I loved that the first book was an introduction to the series with a little nod to Tolkien, but this book really gets into its own and the world that you’re about to explore.

If you’re not aware, The Wheel of Time is an epic 14-book fantasy series that came out steadily throughout the 1990s. It’s written by Robert Jordan, but the last two books in the series were written by Brandon Sanderson because Robert Jordan passed away before he had a chance to finish the series.

In many ways, the series is ahead of its time. Using both Eastern and Western folklore and traditions, Robert Jordan weaved together a story that’s so epic but also speaks deeply to young people all around the world. While it’s written for adults, it reads very much like a YA series with the youthfulness of the main characters, the decisions they make, and the very adult situations they find themselves in. I can definitely understand how people read this series as a kid and fell in love with Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve.

Of course, after finishing this book, I had a chat with my Wheel of Time buddies and they told me that this isn’t even the meat of the story yet. “You need to get to book 5 before you start reading the real story.” My head was spinning after I heard that. This is such a good series, but I honestly thought the series could end after a third book. I wonder how Robert Jordan is able to prolong the series for as long as it is when after the second book I could see one more book to wrap everything up!

I keep waffling over whether or not I should dedicate the time and energy to read this massive series. On one hand, it would be one of the biggest series I’ve ever read, but on the other hand, I’m extremely intimidated with how long this series really is. Each book is around 600-700 pages long and while I’ve heard the books are super entertaining, I’ve also heard that they can get super boring and tedious at times. I have to admit that while I was reading The Great Hunt, I found myself getting increasingly annoyed with some of the longer passages and super tiny details.

To think that this series is even more book with more happening before the conclusion, it makes me nervous. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been devoted to a series this long. I think the last time was Harry Potter and that was seven books with increasingly bigger books as it reached its ending. However, that series felt much clearer than what this series may have in store.

So I do plan on reading some more of the series. I have books three (The Dragon Reborn) and four (The Shadow Rising) ready for October and November and just in time for the new Wheel of Time series on Amazon. I will definitely be prepared for almost everything the show throws at me and I cannot wait to see how they interpreted the books.

But after book four, I want to see if I’ll continue reading the series or if I’ll quit. My friends told me that I don’t have to read the entire series, but it would be nice. However, reading as much as I want is also fine and I don’t know many people who have finished the entire series.

Perhaps it’ll be more like a marathon sport than a sprint to finish them all. Perhaps it’ll take me years to read all the books because I keep stopping and starting the series every three or four books. But regardless of how I plan on accomplishing this giant feat, I’m really excited about reading what happens next. Of course, you need to rearrange your mental state to take in another book, but so far it’s been an epic journey I’ve been enjoying.

Have you read The Wheel of Time? Did you finish? Where did you end up?

Over the Woodward Wall by A Deborah Baker // Book Review

Over the Woodward Wall by A Deborah Baker // Book Review

If you’ve read Middlegame, then you probably already know about A Deborah Baker and Over the Woodward Wall. But if you’re not aware, it’s the pen name for Seanan McGuire for a book that’s mentioned within the pages of Middlegame. From the book’s reference, Over the Woodward Wall was a children’s series written by A Deborah Baker to explain the more complex phenomenon between Rodger and Dodger, their abilities, and what these children may look like and act. However, you don’t need to know any of this to read Over the Woodward Wall. It’s almost a bonus for those who already know the context of the story. Get ready to enter The Up-and-Under. Thanks to Tor dot com for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Over the Woodward Wall

Avery is an exceptional child. Everything he does is precise, from the way he washes his face in the morning, to the way he completes his homework – without complaint, without fuss, without prompt.

Zib is also an exceptional child, because all children are, in their own way. But where everything Avery does and is can be measured, nothing Zib does can possibly be predicted, except for the fact that she can always be relied upon to be unpredictable.

They live on the same street.
They live in different worlds.

On an unplanned detour from home to school one morning, Avery and Zib find themselves climbing over a stone wall into the Up and Under – an impossible land filled with mystery, adventure and the strangest creatures.

And they must find themselves and each other if they are to also find their way out and back to their own lives.

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My thoughts

I have to admit, I was so excited to read Over the Woodward Wall after finishing Middlegame. I love it when authors get creative with their stories and then write subsequent stories to bolster it. Honestly, it’s always a treat when an author continues to share more stories from a universe they’ve built. And like I mentioned, this book doesn’t require you to have read Middlegame before you’ve read it.

I’m always surprised by how much story can be told in such a short book. In the 200-page novella, Seanan McGuire really captures the world within the Up-and-Under introducing a myriad of characters that I hope to follow throughout the series and providing some interesting story line to help us root for the children and boo at the villains.

It reminded me a lot of Wayward Children series where the kids leap over a mysterious wall in the middle of their neighborhood and enter a world where owls talk to them, girls can be made up of a murder of crows, and the kings and queens have nefarious dealings throughout the lands they rule. It’s got Alice in Wonderland vibes, Wizard of Oz vibes, and all the vibes of any other story where children are transported to another world that’s a bit topsy-turvy.

The narration of the story felt like you were sitting at story time with a bunch of kids. It would probably be a really good audiobook to get into because the way its written really feels like you’re being told a story rather than actually experiencing it. The way it’s written makes you think this is a fairy tale with all the possibilities available to Zib and Avery. They start off so plainly and then as they travel through the Up-and-Under, they learn about themselves, each other, and what really matters to them. They start off as unassuming kids at the beginning, but what they learn while they’re forced to survive in a world without parents or authority is something most of us only learn when we become adults.

I will say that the ending is a little bit abrupt, but it’s also a longer series so I have no doubts that the next one will be better. Overall, this was such a magical journey that I really loved and appreciated. I’ll definitely be getting into book 2 once it’s out.

A Clash of Steel by CB Lee // Book Review

A Clash of Steel by CB Lee // Book Review

I’ll be honest, I really wanted to like this one. Swashbuckling pirates, destinies to chase, coming-of-age, and treasures to find. It was honestly the perfect setup for a super fun pirate book. However, it just didn’t hit the mark for me. Thanks to Fierce Reads for gifting me a copy of this book.

Here’s more about A Clash of Steel

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd businesswoman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her single memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports—that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

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My thoughts

In many ways, this book has all the things I’m looking for in a really good pirate story. It has adventures to mysterious lands, pirates with quirky personalities, a little bit of romance, and a whole lot of coming-to-age and understanding that your parents aren’t always the superheroes. It has everything and even buried treasure to be found with an encrypted map that only a handful of people could actually understand. It had the potential to be a phenomenal story, but I think I came away from this book really wanting more.

Much of the story felt like a historical YA story rather than a historical pirate story. The focus was more on Xiang, her life, her upbringing, the people around her, and her mysterious father. She wears a pendant she was told was a token from her father before he passed, but that’s pretty much all she knew about him. The beginning shares her sheltered life. She lives in a super small village with her caretakers and her mentor. The only exploration she knows is what she’s traveled through town and in the books she reads.

Then one day, she asks her mother to take her to Canton to see what the rest of the world looks like. While she’s there, she meets Anh who steals her pendant and reveals to her that the pendant actually had something hidden inside of it; a treasure map to one of the most famous pirate’s buried riches.

In a desperate attempt to make Xiang’s mother proud of her (and avoid the marriage proposals her mother keeps pushing on her), Xiang leaves with Anh and her family’s ship to set sail for a world of exploration, daring adventures, and finding out more about the treasure map she found.

From that point on, the story has so many twists and turns. The drama in Xiang’s life is so unreal and with each new surprise, I was drawn to finding out more. I wish I can talk about them here, but I might give too much away. But be prepared to find how much Xiang’s family has been keeping from her.

I also really loved the characters in this book. The entire crew on Captain Hoa’s ship were all interesting characters that I wish had more time to learn about them. I wanted to know so much about each of the characters and how they make up this beautiful found family. Xiang and Anh’s relationship also deepens as they get to know each other. Xiang learns to fight, the importance of working hard, and discovers a lot about her past that’s been kept hidden from her. Honestly, I was so surprised with all the reveals that kept rolling in.

The pacing in this story felt a little out of sorts. At first, it was slow-paced, which I liked. I felt like I was getting into a seriously big story with tons of adventure and action, but then the second half of the book seemed to rush focusing less on the treasure and more on the drama. I think if I had set my expectations a little differently when I started the book then I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Overall, it was a fun adventure story filled with a lot of learnings, surprises, and pirate-y action. While it wasn’t my favorite, I know many folks out there will really love this one.

Luminous by Mara Rutherford // Book Review

Luminous by Mara Rutherford // Book Review

What if you had the power of a star only to have it hidden away for a very long time? What if you finally understood how to use it only to know how precious it could be? And what if you knew if you used too much, you could do what stars do and burn out? Well, this story dives into a world where a young girl unleashes her star power only to understand both the pros and cons of the magic. Thanks to Inkyard Press for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Luminous

Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos–and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.

Find it on Amazon | Find it on Bookshop.org

My thoughts

This was a super fast read with tons of action and adventure, romance, and big decisions for young people to make that wraps it all up within less than 400 pages. It’s got powerful mages, creepy monsters, the balance between good and evil, and big conversations about being a young person. It was so fast that I read this within a few days without stopping much to come up for air. There was so much packed between the two covers that I was surprised this was a standalone story.

And honestly, as much as I want to read more standalone fantasy books, I kind of wish this was longer and maybe spread itself out into a duology. There is so much that this book shares that if it had the space to get into it, I think it would have been even better. But because it was a standalone, I felt like much of it was skipped over or truncated to fit into the running time. I’m honestly disappointed that this is only a standalone because a bigger series, even a duology, would have answered all the questions more fully, given it room to really breathe, and make you truly fall in love with all the different characters. The potential is there and it really drove me to keep reading, but it needed the space to be fully actualized and be so much more robust.

Much of this story feels like it’s about Lorial removing the veil of ignorance from herself to understand her magical power, how it works, and how she’s been hidden away from what should be a natural thing for her. While there were components outside of this to draw readers into the book like the Lusiri, the magical abyss Margana creates, the fact that some of the royal family was woven into life, the abuse of the mages under Darius’s rule, and the political intrigue Darius is involved with, it all stems back to Lorial and what she’s going through and feeling. All these points were such a draw to the book as a bigger whole, but it all wrapped up so suddenly. It almost felt like the rest of the story was just a maguffin for the real story; a young girl who’s been sheltered her entire life finding out the truth behind her magic, her family, and taking hold of what she can do.

And in many ways, it makes the story more of a coming-of-age story amidst a fantasy book. Honestly, this could have been a contemporary YA roamnce story with the way it read. It was more focused on Evran and Lorial and I don’t have any problems with that, but I wanted the other parts to have the same kind of attention this couple got. I also really loved the other characters introduced in the story and would have loved to have them contributed more to the story. However, I didn’t think that it harmed the story that they weren’t as bigger parts.

A lot of the relationship between Lorial, Darius, and Evran felt so much like Alina, Mal, and The Darkling from Shadow and Bone. I know that will be a huge draw for folks who loved the show and the books and I really loved the romantic parts to the book, but again, I really wanted more. I was also confused by Darius’s motives. Earlier when I was reading, I thought that maybe he’s being manipulative to try and get what he wanted. This was also before I learned that this is a standalone series, so then when I finally learned Darius’s motives and how villainous he is, I was even more confused. I kept thinking that this was all some bigger plot, but it didn’t turn out that way. I just finished reading that part with a big “huh.”

The other part that I wasn’t a huge fan of is Lorial’s “Mary Sue” abilities. It didn’t take too much away from the story from me, but it’s truly hard to believe that someone who’s only learning about her powers has more abilities than someone who’s been training for over 100 years. It kind of makes you stop and think how possible that can be and that always ends up being what I think about over reading the story.

Overall, this was a good one and I really loved how quick of a book it was. I loved the usage of magic and the adventures Lorial goes on. I even loved the romance between her and Evran and seeing Lorial gain so much pride and confidence while she journeys to find herself. But there were too many flaws for me to overlook despite how much I loved the world and wanted to get into it more. It definitely had the potential to be great, but it just missed the mark for me.