I don’t read a lot of literary fiction. I tend to stick to the genres I really enjoy, but there are plenty of times that I branch out into what’s really popular. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I picked up Four Winds. I’ve seen Kristen Hannah’s work out there for quite a while, but I’d never read her stuff before.
Set in Texas during the dust bowl and great depression, this is a story of resilience, trauma, and finding your voice.
At first, I wasn’t sure that I was going to like this one. I felt like I was so different from the main character. On the outside, she seemed like a meek woman who only ever sough other people’s approval. On the inside, she was a warrior.
One of the main reasons I don’t read a lot of literary fiction is because they’re either plot driven or so far from the characters that I don’t like it. I enjoy character driven stories. I want to feel the things the character does: their wants, their needs, what they’re going through. I absolutely felt that here in Four Winds. The story switches between the perspectives of Elsa, a young woman raised to believe she wasn’t worth anything, and her daughter, Loreda, who was raised to dream and to dare. Both are women who have been through very difficult things. They have strong voices that make you want to keep turning the page.
Four Winds really is a wonderful book. It’s a tale of two women, two sides of the same coin, and how they persevere through the hardest times. But, they persevere. I even got a little teary-eyed at the end.
I’m still looking for the book that’s going to make me sob. If you’ve got recommendations, toss ’em my way!
For transparency purposes, I received a free audiobook copy of Mystic Bonds.
That being said, I wanted to like this book. It had everything that I normally like. Dystopian, magical powers, love triangles. Sadly, it didn’t quite deliver. The premise was great, but the further I got into it, it felt like a cheap knock off of Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds. This book was supposed to be in the New Adult genre, but it felt very YA.
Also, I’m not much of an audiobook person. I find it hard to focus on the story at times, but I really gave this one a good try. I don’t think the issue is the audiobook, I think it’s the writing. Honestly, if you’ve read The Darkest Minds, this one truly feels like a knock off, and I hate feeling that way because this is an indie author.
Firstly, this story is almost all tell. I don’t ever get to the point where I feel the characters’ emotions or get fully wrapped into the story. There are very few descriptions of places, so I quite often felt like they were in a black box.
Secondly, this definitely falls into the YA trope of reluctant chosen one. While I don’t hate the trope, I definitely expected to see a new twist on it, but I didn’t get it. The main character has all of these powers, but we know very little of them. They seem to be randomly given to the character. One power is mind control, another is shooting fire. I just didn’t understand how the magic system worked at all.
Because of my low rating, I won’t be posting this review on goodreads out of respect for the author, but if you’re looking for a dystopian story with magical elements: read The Darkest Minds. Alex Bracken is one of my favorite authors.
So, I loved Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur. It is a sapphic retelling of Pride & Prejudice full of some of the most fun tropes in romance. Enemies to Lovers? Check! Fake dating? Check! Cheekily named characters that are straight from classic literature? Check!
I love Bellefleur’s writing style and how each and every single one of her characters has a unique voice. After I finished Written in the Stars, I learned that she was publishing Hang the Moon, a sort of sequel. It involves the same characters, but it’s actually Darcy’s brother’s love story.
Firstly, I’d love to point out that Bellefleur’s LGBT+ representation is always spot on! Annie is a bisexual woman, and one thing we tend to see in stories where a bisexual (pansexual, etc.) character is in a hetero-passing relationship, so essentially their sexuality is erased. That is not the case in Hang the Moon! Annie is an openly queer woman who just so happens to like a CIS-het white male character.
Secondly, Bellefleur has such a fresh voice and take on typical romance tropes. She basically took the plot of The Taming of the Shrew but made it romantic. Where 10 Things I Hate About You was all about making bets and stuff in order to woo the closed off seemingly-bitter in love character, Hang the Moon frames Brendan’s attempts to convince Annie that love is worth it by actually showing her love and affection. Brendan is a hopeless romantic, and it is so refreshing to see a male character in a romance novel who believes in love and grand gestures and all of that.
By the time I got to the steamy bits, I was madly in love with both of these characters. Yet again, Bellefleur has knocked it out of the park. If you’re looking for a wonderful contemporary romance, this is definitely a must read!
The third novel in this series, Count Your Lucky Stars releases in February of 2022, and stars yet another member of this friend group–Margot! I can’t wait to read it!
One of my favorite things in the entire world is witches. I was raised watching Charmed and being obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials. I think that The Covenant is one of the most underrated films of all time. One of the series I’m working on is centered on witches in New Orleans. So, to no one’s surprise, when These Witches Don’t Burn crossed my social feed, I just had to get my hands on it.
The witches were what got my attention, but the LGBT+ elements were what made me know I had to read it. There are so few LGBT+ YA novels out there that don’t center on coming out. I know that coming out is really important to capture, especially for young adults that don’t quite know where they stand on the LGBT spectrum. However, it’s refreshing when that isn’t the main story.
These Witches Don’t Burn is a refreshing story about Hannah, a young witch fresh out of a breakup with her first girlfriend, on the cusp of adulthood. Mix in mysterious elements like Blood Witches and Witch Hunters, magical powers, new love, and exploring a world in which you have to hide your magic, I was sold.
Because I read so much, the twist didn’t really surprise me, but I was pleasantly surprised by who the true villain was.
I won’t give a lot of plot away, but just know that this story has a lot of heart. It is the first in a series, and I really enjoyed reading it. I haven’t been reading a lot of YA lately, so this was a refreshing read. If you’re looking for something with positive LGBT+ representation and a lot of magic, definitely be sure to check this one out!
I didn’t get to read nearly as much in April as I did in the prior three months, but there’s a good reason! During the month of April, we went on our writer’s retreat and have knocked out almost the entire zero draft of the sequel to Guns & Smoke!
Queen of Nothing by Holly Black
I’ve heard a lot of praise for Holly Black’s Cruel Prince series. For a lot of people, it is the slow burn enemies to lovers story, and I completely see that.
I enjoyed the first two books, but I wasn’t sucked into them wanting to know exactly what was going to happen next. I finally figured out why whenever I started reading Queen of Nothing: Jude had emotions.
In Cruel Prince and Wicked King, Jude was kind of an unlikeable character. She was so intense all of the time, and the only time we saw her break down was when she was around Cardan. Because Cardan made her feel things.
I loved Queen of Nothing. My only complaint is that it was Young Adult. I really wanted to see this story but in the Adult genre, because there’s just something about the tension, the anger, the hatred, the attraction… Yeah. Give me a slow burn, but make me want it so bad by the end of it. Because of the YA constraints, I was slightly disappointed, but it was great as a YA novel.
All in all, if you’re looking for a good story with a really well done world, interesting protagonists (and villians), definitely check out this series! I haven’t read anything from Holly except for this, but I would definitely return to read more.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Seabird by Shawna Barnett
I received an ARC of Seabird through TikTok. This was pitched as the prequel to a sapphic pirate romance story, so I was immediately in!
Given that it’s a prequel novella, I knew that it wouldnt be a super long story but I found myself wanting more! The main character left me with a lot of questions about what’s to come in Windfall later this year.
Seabird was definitely a sweet discovery story for a young woman who is trying to figure out who she is in a world that she doesn’t fit in. There were a lot of details in the story about the main character that hinted at what I believe the bigger series will be about. Liana experienced an unexpected whirlwind romance over a summer when she was free and young. Though the climax of the story and the ending happened very suddenly, I feel as though there is a lot more to the story. I will definitely be checking out Windfall. I need all of the sapphic stories. F/F romance and pirates? Heck. Yes!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Flames of Chaos by Amelia Hutchins
I heard that Flames of Chaos was the next good read in the Dark Fantasy genre. Folks said it was better than Den of Vipers (as far as all of the consent stuff) and a really well done story.
I DNF’d at 33%.
First. There were tons of rapey consent issues. Secondly, it was all showing and no telling. I want to read about magic and mayhem and the steamy stuff. And yet… “I whispered a spell.” What’s the spell?
The first time she sees the love interest, she itches. You’re not supposed to itch when you meet the love interest. Just my thoughts.
Anyway, I’m tired of reading problematic books. And I’m going to continue writing consent in all of my own. Consent is important. Consent is sexy.
Rating: 0.5 out of 5.
I spent a good part of the month beta reading a manuscript for a friend on TikTok, which is why my number was low this month. But! She really appreciated my feedback and that made not getting to read as much worth it. 🙂
Information in a Nutshell: Business Tips and Taxes for Writers by Carol Topp
As I am going to be self publishing a book this year, I wanted to try and get ahead so that next year, I don’t have any issues when it comes to the dreaded tax word. While I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction, as a business owner in a sense, it’s important to be prepared for important things like taxes.
I ended up skipping chunks of the book that didn’t really apply to my situation. It gave me a little more information than what I knew before, which is a great thing, as far as what forms to file and the types of things that can be considered tax deductions.
For the size of the book, I found it to be slightly overpriced, but I understand that it takes money to make books. This one will be going on my resource shelf. Before I read this, I already started compiling receipts and other important things so that I could file properly next year.
Obviously, the best place to go with tax questions and concerns is a CPA, and I fully intend on doing that next year. I can do my taxes for my day job, but this is something that I’m definitely not versed enough to do. Soooooo when Guns & Smoke comes out later this year, could you all buy a dozen copies so that I actually have income to report for 2021? 😀
Taxes are such a confusing thing, mainly because I feel like we should have had an “Adult Life Skills” class in high school. You know, taxes, basic information about loans (student loans are predatory AF), how to make a budget, how to save. These are all skills that I’ve had to pick up over the years. Instead of focusing on the Pythagorean theorem, maybe spend a little extra time teaching our students things they’ll actually need? Okay, rant over. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Rebel Rose by Emma Theriault
I’ve seen this book all over my social media pages lately, so I’ve wanted to read it, but it wasn’t totally a priority for me. I tend to read books in tandem with their e-books because it can be difficult to carry the hard copy around with me to work, the doctor’s etc.
Anyways. I won a copy of this book off of twitter, and once the ebook came available through the library, I ran for it!
First off, I would like to say that Beauty and the Beast is my second favorite Disney fairytale. I’ve always loved Belle. Her reprise is the single best song in any Disney movie.
I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere… I want it more than I can tell!
Like come on, how could any bookish person not want that?!
Anyways. I had no idea what the book was about before I started reading it. I’ll admit, I thought it was a retelling or a reimagining similar to A Curse So Dark and Lonely. Howeverrrrr… it was not. It was a direct continuation of Beauty and the Beast from the original Disney story, with bits that I feel were put in as a result of the Disney live action version (Gaston and returning from the war!). I really wanted to like it.
What we find is that the end of Beauty and the Beast is not all happily ever after.
Bella and Lio (the Beast. I thought he was Adam, but…?) are going to Paris to visit a cousin and indoctrinate themselves in with the French court. But the story starts around the time that King Louis and Marie Antionette are facing severe backlash from the commoners (which eventually leads to a lot of French royals losing their heads…hey revolution!).
I wanted to like this. I wanted to like it a lot. It is definitely a cute story about Belle and the Beast and what happens later. It’s very realistic because as French nobles, they would be faced with a lot of the historical issues facing France at the time.
For my tastes, to put it simply, there was too much of French politics and not enough romance! I need a book that has a good romantic storyline, one that makes me want to keep reading all of the way through and…this…just…wasn’t? It’s not a bad story. I think it has potential to be a very good series, but since the main character and her prince are already hooked up, where’s the romance? That’s just my opinion, honestly. If you don’t like romance and want to see what happened after the Happily Ever After, this just might be the story for you. For me, it wasn’t. I rated it three stars because I felt as though the story was really well written. I found myself getting caught up in the prose in ways I usually don’t in books. The author did a really wonderful job of writing the story. Three stars for me, but it might be something you like!
Rating: 3 out of 5.
The Anatomy of Prose by Sacha Black
Yay! Another craft book! I joined the Rebel Authors group on Facebook a while back. Sacha Black is one of the main admins, and a close friend recommended reading a couple of her craft books. So, here we are!
One thing I have struggled with is finding the right craft books. I’ve read some that I’ve hated (Anatomy of Story UGH), I really enjoy the ones that feel like the author is speaking right down into my soul. From the onset of the book, I appreciated that Black doesn’t shy away from swear words, and she is able to put her tips and advice in a coherent form that doesn’t feel stunted or like she’s talking down to you. From the first chapter, I knew that I would like this book.
While I won’t go into all of the details, because there is so much that she talks about, one of the early points she made is to become a better writer, you have to read. Not just read, but read with purpose. I’ve never thought about that before. She suggested that if you find something you really like in another story, mark it, save it, and analyze it later so you can decided why you like it, and how you can use that in your own writing. I read a lot. Most of the time, I just read for enjoyment, but after reading The Anatomy of Prose, I fully intend on reading with purpose.
Sacha has a line of craft books targeted at authors. I also purchased a copy of her villians book, and I can’t wait to get started on that one.
One thing I regret is that I didn’t plan properly when I started reading this so I could annotate and mark the book up when I found something that I liked. Not that I’m complaining, I will definitely be reading this again soon so that I can mark up the parts that really spoke to me. I hate actually writing in books, but I feel like this is one case where I can make an exception.
I’ve also been a member of Sacha’s Rebel Authors Facebook group. She does so much for the writing community, including a podcast. I can’t wait to start it! I have to finish catching up on five years of My Favorite Murder before I can take on another podcast, but I really cannot wait to get into the Rebel Authors podcast.
One thing you have to do is a writer is keep learning, keep pushing, keep writing. I love when I find a good craft book that doesn’t feel stuffy or that you’re being talked down to. I also love people that have a potty mouth like me, so I feel like Sacha and I would be great friends if given the chance. If you’re looking for a good book that gives you tips and tricks on how to be a better writer at the sentence level, definitely check this out! Don’t let the size of the book intimidate you. It is a very fast read (I read it basically over the course of a weekend), and Sacha has so many good things that every writer could learn from this book!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
I’ve been friends with Tammy for several years. When I saw that she was publishing a book of poetry, I knew I would have to buy it. I don’t usually read poetry, but I love supporting my friends. I purchased my copy last year right before the world went to hell. It sat on my dresser for months. I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up.
Finally, when I was looking for something that didn’t require tons of hours of reading, I decided to read it, and I am really glad that I did.
Tammy and I are roughly the same age. I found a lot of her poems managed to capture the experience of a mid-2000s millennial like myself. She wrote about love and coffee and loneliness. There were so many poems throughout that I related to. It was almost like I could have written those words. What I love most is that she didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. The regret when you reach your thirties and you still aren’t married with children–even if it’s not something you’re sure you want, society still puts that pressure on you. I finished reading this in two sittings, and let me tell you, I walked away from it feeling a little less alone. It’s easy to sometimes get inside of your own head, especially when you think about all of the things you’re not or don’t have. I feel like I got to know my friend a little better. Poetry is a very different medium to novel writing. Of course it doesn’t take as much to devour the words, but I really felt like her poems struck me. I found myself nodding along with them, agreeing with them. I really love that she didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. If you’re looking for something that’s a lighter read, but also has plenty of mid-2000s references, talks about love and loss, sprinkled with some feministic thoughts, please pick up a copy!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Whatever, Jerk by Nikki Paris
I recently started using my TikTok account as an author platform. What’s really cool is all of the authors I’ve been able to connect with. I won a copy of this book from Nikki by interacting with her account.
While I would like to start with a disclaimer, I also want to be sure that I’m being honest. Disclaimer: contemporary romance isn’t my favorite genre. I enjoy romance of just about any kind, but I am especially looking for diverse romances in the contemporary sphere (interracial, LGBTQ+, etc.). That being said, Whatever, Jerk was a cute, quirky standard contemporary romance. The main characters, Dani and Connor, both annoyed the hell out of me in the beginning. That happens when characters are stubborn and in denial about attraction.
It took me a little bit to get into the story because I didn’t really like the main characters. Once Connor’s nephew, Marshall, was introduced, however, the story picked up. Maybe it’s because I have nephews and so a little piece of me melted when I saw how Connor behaved with his nephew as opposed to nearly everyone else in his life.
As a writer myself, it’s really easy to be critical of another’s writing. I found the story lacked when it came to showing and not telling. Most of the time, I felt like I was in a black box and I didn’t know anything about the scene around the characters. While I love what the author has done to create a brand for herself, I also would like to see more descriptions and more showing in her other stuff. That being said, props for indie publishing! Writing is hard, publishing is hard, and to have the confidence to do it takes a LOT. Mad respect for anyone who is an indie published author. While diverse stories were one thing I wanted to add to my reading list this year, I also wanted to add more indies! If you’re looking for a casual easy contemporary romance, be sure to check this out! I believe it’s on Kindle Unlimited, too!
Rating: 3 out of 5.
13 Steps to Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains by Sacha Black
I completed a project back in November for National Novel Writing Month.
From the time I finished, I knew that the villian in the story was weak. When I purchased Sacha Black’s Anatomy of a Story, I also purchased a copy of this book. I needed to figure out my villian’s purpose so I could then finish actually writing the story.
Once again, I love Sacha’s fresh voice and that she doesn’t shy away from slang and swear words. Her examples of villians in popular culture made it simpler for me to understand villian arcs. She also has a great section on anti-heroes.
Through reading Sacha’s craft books, I feel like I have a better understanding of creating characters and creating prose that is not only entertaining to read, but reads really well. I’ve also finally gotten started on the Rebel Authors podcast. While I’m only a few episodes in, I can already tell that it’s going to provide a lot of great resources for authors. You should definitely check it out.
While reading this book, I was able to give my villian their own arc and motivation. Their motivations were shakey at best in the original manuscript, but now they have a backstory and the right motivation. In taking the time to craft my villian, I’ve been able to add an extra layer to the story to make it believable and interesting to readers.
One thing I’ve always struggled with it finding craft books that read well and make sense. A lot of the popular craft books out there make me feel like I’m being talked down to. Sacha’s books are the complete opposite.
I feel as though I should do a post specifically on craft books for writers. I’ve been able to learn so much over the last six months or so about writing craft, story structure, and character building. I may do something like this in the future if anyone is interested.
All in all, if you’re looking for a craft book to help you with villians, anti-heroes, and antagonists, definitely check out Sacha’s Better Writers series.
Also, if you have suggestions on craft books you love, please drop them in the comments! I am absolutely looking for any and every resource that could help me be a better writer!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
The Wicked King by Holly Black
So I liked the Cruel Prince, I didn’t quite love it. I’ve heard so much about the slow enemies to lovers romance, so I decided to stick it out and keep reading.
From the get go of this book, Jude is intense. Like, I really didn’t enjoy a lot of the stuff that she had to do from a political fae standpoint. I liked the push and pull between she and Cardan. I definitely enjoyed the heat between them (however few scenes of it there were). I didn’t really like the whole kidnapping plot. It felt a little unrealistic for me. I didn’t get why the water queen (whatever her name was lol) would immediately go for kidnapping Jude. I guess it’s because the one who betrayed her told them. BUT. They could have also told them about Jude’s control over Cardan. Maybe I missed it and that was something she didn’t share with her spies. I dunno.
Her sisters really annoy me. Vivi, I can somewhat understand her actions, but Taryn is annoying as all get out. I don’t understand her motivations. I don’t understand how you can literally share a womb with someone, grow up as their best friend and main confidante in a world where you’re not wanted, and betray them like Taryn betrayed Jude. Maybe it’s something that will be explored more in the third book, but it felt really unnatural for me.
Now. The Ending. I won’t post details here, but basically it was a twist boom bang like the first book in the series. It wasn’t necessarily bad. But it wasn’t necessarily good either. I have a tendency for softness when it comes to the ‘bad’ characters, so I’d like to believe that this character’s motivations are one thing, but then again, he’s a faerie and I just don’t know.
I’ll be reading the third one, simply to see how it all ends, but I’m not too sure about reading much else by this author. I wish this story lived up to the hype a little more. Maybe it’s because it’s YA, but the hype seems a little overdone based on what I’ve read so far. Maybe the last book will change my opinion.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J Maas
This was my most anticipated read of 2021.
Warning: there are spoilers, so please do not read further if you haven’t finished ACOSF.
It’s been about two years since the novella, A Court of Frost and Starlight dropped, and it literally was just a tease into the next book.
The first time I read the ACOTAR series, I read it for Feyre and Rhysand. Their love story was incredible. I fell in love with it just like most of the rest of the world. The second time, I fell in love with Cassian. Cassian…and how he was with Nesta. I know a lot of folks out there hate Nesta. They didn’t see why she should get her own book. That’s the thing about well written characters: they have shades of gray, layers, and things hidden beneath the hard exterior that deserve to be delved into.
I am so glad that Sarah wrote this novel.
First off, she thicc. This book is 750 pages. And a lot of it is SMUT. And. I. Am. Here. For. It. I knew that Nesta and Cassian would be dirty. That did not disappoint. This book was everything that I wanted when it came to exploring Nesta: her trauma, her journey, her redemption. I adore her. I adored reading her perspective and seeing how she sees Cassian. I loved seeing the way she affected Cassian with simply a look. The two of them being locked together in the House of Wind was super fun.
That being said, there are a few things I had problems with.
First off, didn’t we cancel Tamlin for keeping Feyre essentially locked up and locked out? Isn’t that the same thing Rhysand did in this book? Come on, you can say all you want he was “trying to protect” her but if it was Tamlin doing this shit, everyone would be cancelling him all over again. I did not like this plot point. I didn’t like the *SPOILER* pregnancy plot point, but we knew it was coming based off of TOG and ACOFAS, plus Sarah was pregnant around the time she wrote this.
Secondly. Where was Mor? There’s been a lot of dialogue around Maas’s lack of diversity. She doesn’t have many POC characters (and even then, they’re side characters) and she has literally one main LGBTQ+ character. In ACOWAR, she revealed that Mor prefers females, which is why she never pursued Azriel. In ACOWAR, she told us through dialogue with Mor and Feyre that Mor preferred females. She didn’t show us. You can tell me all you want, I won’t believe it until I see it. (She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named saying Dumbledore is gay instead of showing it in the text is the same damn thing) That being said, Mor is barely in ACOSF. She’s absent so much that it feels like Sarah didn’t want to write her into this one. As if she were avoiding writing Mor. I was incredibly disappointed. Mor couldn’t have been doing that much in another territory to have such a small role in this book. And even when she was in the chapters, she wasn’t the Mor we already know. I have a feeling the next book will be Azriel. And if there isn’t more Mor, I dunno how I’m going to feel about it.
There were two bonus chapters in a couple of the editions of the books. If you haven’t read them, you may want to find them and read them if you don’t want spoilers.
The Feysand one was typical Feysand, I don’t have any comments or complaints. The Azriel one, however… I have some thoughts. Firstly, if Elain is interested in Az, great, let me see it, and then let’s go. But I feel like this is the only time there’s even been a glimpse of something between them other than him being protective of her. That being said, the argument between Rhysand and Az sort of pissed me off. Az’s comment about there being three of the Archeron sisters and three of Illyrians really made me bristle. He is not owed anything, and that’s how it felt to me. I’ve always liked Az. I almost wish I hadn’t read this bonus chapter because it gave me a bitter taste in my mouth about him. That being said, I really hope he and Gwyn have a romance. I’d love to see her be able to work through her trauma and for Az to have a happy ending. His shadow didn’t retreat from her. That has to mean something.
Alright. I thoroughly enjoyed ACOSF. I loved everything about it. I wish the mate moment had been bigger, but let’s be real, we all knew they were mates since before Nesta was even fae.
I can’t wait to see what Maas does next. Let’s hope she fixes some of her problematic stuff, because I hate seeing people fight about it.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer
Alright. So if you read my January reviews, you know I have thoughts about this series. That didn’t stop with the second book.
I wanted to like this. I was hoping after the disappointments I felt in the second book, that this one would turn things around.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
What did I like? Grey. Grey is the best character in this entire world. He is honorable and kind, but fierce and loyal when he has to be. I’ve loved Grey since the very first book. I always shipped he and Harper. When Harper remained behind and Grey left Emberfall, I was really upset. The two of them had this chemistry, but yet…she and Rhen? I’ve never bought the romance between Rhen and Harper. It didn’t feel natural to me in the first book. It didn’t feel natural to me all through the series.
I can’t stand Lia Mara. She is the most annoying character in the entire series, and I find it hard to believe that people would follow her. She and Grey’s romance is absolutely not believable. Again, I wish the author would have made her an ace character, so that Grey could still get a romance with Harper and an alliance with Syhl Shallow.
The best part about the ending was Rhen and Grey reconciling and showing their brotherly love for one another. But the rest of it left me feeling unsettled, like the story isn’t really over yet. I didn’t like where it ended. I wanted to feel for Rhen. I wanted to root for him by the end, but it almost feels like I got cheated.
All in all, this was a pretty depressing finale to this trilogy. It had good parts–don’t mistake me. If you’re looking for a story that’s well written in a fantasy world, please read it. I just have a bad taste in my mouth because it wasn’t a satisfactory ending to the series for me. I tend to be a little more critical of stories than most. A lot of people love the series. More power to them. The only way I’ll pick up something else from this author is if it has Grey in it. He’s perfect. But the rest of the characters are…not.
Since I read so much, it’s nearly impossible to write individual blogs on every single book. So beginning in 2021, I decided to compile a single blog post and include everything that I finished reading in the month. Here is what I read in January!
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
I don’t read contemporary or literary fiction that often. I tend to stick to the Fantasy genre mostly. However, this book kept popping up on all of my social media feeds. I saw reviews where readers said the story absolutely destroyed them. Every now and then, I want something that’s going to make me feel emotional and, dare I say it, make me cry. I wanted to cry for this, but it didn’t happen.
The structure of the story itself is a little jarring at first. The reader follows Addie LaRue in two separate timelines — starting in 1714 and 2014. The base premise of the story is that she makes a deal to get out of having to marry, but, as all sane people know, any sort of magic comes with a price. In exchange for getting her out of the deal, Luc’s magic causes everyone who has ever met and will ever meet to forget Addie. She is, quite literally, invisible. Until… she meets Henry. Their love story is actually incredibly sweet. I wish they’d spent more time in the details of the present day storyline instead of so much revisiting the past. Maybe I would have felt more emotional in the end. Would I recommend it? Sure, if you like an interesting contemporary story with some interesting twists.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
Over the last few years, I have lived for YA Fantasy. From THE RED QUEEN to ACOTAR, to THESE REBEL WAVES, YA Fantasy has been my jam. However, 2020 was a bit of a down year for me in reading. The majority of my normal authors didn’t have new releases. I ended up venturing away from the genre. WHERE DREAMS DESCEND was another book that kept popping up on my socials as a suggested read. To be honest, while the story was interesting and endearing, it felt almost as though the plotline wasn’t completely flushed out. And it left on a huge cliffhanger with literally no answers. A story at least needs to have some sort of resolution or wrap up. I believe the sequel novel to this one has already come out, but I was left with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I do like the circus theme, but I found the main characters to fall a little flat. I would have much preferred to follow the members of the Conquering Circus. If you like circus and magic themed stories, this might be one to consider. While it was lackluster compared to other YA Fantasy novels I read last year, I wouldn’t turn anyone away that wanted to read it.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Written in the Stars by Alexandra Bellefleur
I write in the Adult Fantasy genre, mostly Romance, so I have invested a lot of time and energy into researching books in the genre. The biggest problem that I have is the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in the genre. This has led me to read more contemporary books (RED, WHITE, & ROYAL BLUE was an amazing M/M romance!!). I had no idea what WRITTEN IN THE STARS was about, but some of the reviews that I saw really spoke to my little pansexual heart. We need more stories about LGBTQ+ people where coming out isn’t the obstacle they have to overcome. This one was exactly that! A modern day spin on Pride & Prejudice, Bellefleur’s enemies-to-lovers F/F romance was a joy and a delight to read. She managed to hit way too close to home on some of my personal trauma issues, but that’s the point to literature! You want to make people feel something when they read, and I had alllll the feels when reading this! Darcy and Elle are the perfect example of opposites attract. This book made my little pansexual heart flutter!! I enjoyed this read immensely and look forward to anything further that Bellefleur writes!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
A friend recommended this book to me. I’ve seen it before, but never really looked into it. I added it to my Goodreads and Amazon book wish list. Surprise! I won a gift from an AuthorToker who would gift me something from my wish list. This was the book she chose!
Imagine my surprise when I started reading this book and found that the premise hooked me pretty quickly. I knew that this was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I didn’t expect it to be such a fresh, new perspective on the BATB storyline. You’ve got Harper, a badass female protagonist who gets sucked into an entirely different world against her will. Only to be faced with the fact that she is there to break a curse. She’s obsinate and stubborn, but so incredibly kind. We follow her journey in Emberfall, watch as she and the Prince learn how to work together to save his kingdom, and even entertain that there could be a love triangle between Harper, Prince Rhen and the Captain of the Guard Grey (Hellooooo Grey. I’ve had a thing for Captains of the Guard since THRONE OF GLASS heheh). I love that it followed the same basic premise as BATB, but it continued to add little elements and things that I absolutely adore. One of my favorite things about this one was that the MC had a disability-cerebral palsy. But it wasn’t something that held her back from being a badass! I definitely recommend this one if you’re looking for a fresh take on an old favorite, or if you’re just looking for a new YA Fantasy series to get into. I can’t wait to read the sequel!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
This year, I promised myself that I would read more diverse books. I fell into the whirlpool that is the straight, CIS, white world of Fantasy stories. While I was researching LGBTQ+ stories, I came across this title. I saw many rave reviews, so I decided to add it. This story is a fresh take on Cinderella. It is full of brown queer girls set out to take down a terrible patriarchal society. I loved the fresh spin on the Cinderella fairy tale! Cinderella has always been my favorite fairy tale. In Lille, the story of Cinderella is the same as the one you and I know. Only, it’s a lie. The author explores what life would be like for women in Cinderella’s world 200 years after she died, and shows that happily ever after isn’t always what happens. I love fairytales. I took a foundations of children’s literature class in college as an elective, because I love it so much. Fairytales were created as cautionary tales for children, so I loved how this author took that same principle and applied it to this story. While personally, I wanted a little bit more action when it came to the climax, I still feel like it was a very well written story with badass, diverse women. If you’re looking for a good LGBTQ+ YA Fantasy story, this one is for you!
Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer
I managed to get the sequel to A Curse So Dark and Lonely on Amazon for like $9! I love when I can get a good price for a book I was already going to buy. The last chapter of the original work left on a slight cliffhanger. Even I, queen of predicting plot twists, did not see this one coming. For those who want to read the first book, I won’t spoil it. However, this book follows Prince Rhen’s captain in the guard, who learned a very dangerous secret at the end of the first book. The sequel follows his journey to accept who he is and gives him a chance at love. When I read the first book, I totally shipped Grey and Harper. They had a little spark–one that I felt Rhen and Harper were missing. I truly wanted Harper and Grey to get together, and for Rhen and the magesmith who cursed him to become hardcore enemies to lovers. Sadly, that did not come to pass. Instead, we are introduced to a new character–the daughter of a neighboring queen, who stupidly gets herself captured and then escapes and then she and Grey become friends and eventually–dun dun dun–love interests. If Lia Mara had been a more interesting character, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed in this book. I ADORE Grey. He is such an incredible character. There were moments when reading that I had to pause because he’s such a great person, and he shows that characters have shades of gray (see what I did there, huh? :)). The story had a slightly predictable ending, and the final chapter did the same as the first: introduced a massive swinging plot twist! The third book in the series, A Vow So Bold and Deadly just came out, so once it’s available through the library, I will be reading it. Maybe Harper and Grey will end up together. One can only hope!
Rating: 3 out of 5.
I feel like I didn’t read as much in January as I normally do. I fill my mornings with reading before work while I drink my coffee, and I usually read when I’m doing cardio at the gym. January was incredibly busy because I got back developmental edits on Guns & Smoke and we spent the month working through them. We hired a copy/line editor, and had to get the manuscript cleaned up for today, February 1st!
All in all, it was a good reading month. I’m looking forward to the rest of my TBR list!
As I begin my journey to writing more in the Romance and Fantasy genres, I decided to do some research on what was currently selling. FROM BLOOD AND ASH by Jennifer Armentrout kept popping up in my suggestions and on my TikTok feed. Everyone rated it HOT on the heat scale, so I was really excited to dive into it.
Let me preface this by saying I have not read a lot of romance. Most of the stories I read have romantic elements, but my knowledge of the romance genre in general is very limited. Because my NaNoWriMo project this year was an Adult Fantasy Romance, I did some digging to find books that were similar (medieval setting, magic, etc.) and landed on this one. There were a couple of others that I’ll review later as well. I have not read any contemporary romance, but I have written a Dystopian/Post Apocalyptic romance novel with a friend (and had a BLAST writing it).
Let’s begin, shall we?
“Captivating and action-packed, from Blood and Ash is a sexy, addictive, and unexpected fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Laura Thalassa.
Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and temps her with the forbidden.
Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel. “
I was really excited to start this book. After the glowing reviews I read about it and all of the hype, I was expecting this book to blow my socks off. I was, sadly, disappointed. Not because I didn’t like the story, but because this was promoted as Fantasy Romance, when really it’s a Fantasy with romantic elements. There’s a scene early on where the heat is ON, but then it’s another four hundred pages before it comes again. In my opinion, a romance needs to keep that burn going low and steady, ramping up the heating from time to time, not leaving things to chance.
Quite literally, two-thirds of the book is world building and setting it up for a crazy third act, where pretty much everything happens at once. While I am not an expert on romance, there are many things I would have chosen to do differently if given this storyline to work with.
Given that Armentrout is a largely successful writer in the romance sphere, I’m not surprised that this was marketed as a romance.
The love interest, Hawke–bad boy with a wicked grin and mysterious past–is the reason I ended up reading the second book in the series, A KINGDOM OF FLESH AND FIRE. Hawke shows up early on in FROM BLOOD AND ASH and he is everything we love in a bad boy. Tall, handsome, badass with a sword, and fiercely protective of the main character with *issues*. (Reminded me of Rhysand from ACOTAR, but not nearly as good :))
The main character is a strong young woman–we love a badass female protagonist–who has been sheltered but begins to grow and learn and find out who she truly is, only to have the world turned upside down. There is a big twist toward the end, followed by some hate-sex (which, in my opinion, was pretty toxic, but readers seemed to love it though I didn’t).
One thing I didn’t like was the lack of diversity. There was no LGBT representation and very little POC representation. It’s 2021 folks! We. Need. Representation!! It’s so important for readers to be able to see themselves in stories, and not just as a side character or a token character that fits into all of the discriminatory tropes.
I borrowed the second book from the library, and I plan on reading the final one when it comes out this spring: A CROWN OF GILDED BONES, because the second book in the series left off on a bit of a cliff hanger. I want to see where Armentrout takes the story given the ending of book two.
While this wasn’t my favorite read of 2020, it was still a pretty good story and helped me to understand a little of what the fantasy romance genre looks like currently.
Overall, I’d rate this one as 3.5 stars out of 5. If you’re looking for an escape story with drama, fantastical elements, and some decent heat, check it out!
Have you ever been hooked on a book from the very first line?
I’m not talking about Austen’s “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” because that is, clearly, a classic. What I’m talking about is a novel released recently (let’s call it the last ten years) that just absolutely HOOKS you from the very first sentence?
It’s been a long time since that’s happened for me. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was taken in by a book so quickly.
As with all things 2020, finding good reading material has been a challenge. I’ve reread books and started new ones so far. With most of my favorite authors’ new releases not out until 2021 or beyond, I’ve been in a bit of a book slump.
A friend of mine suggested Tricia Levenseller’s THE SHADOWS BETWEEN US. Given that she and I have similar tastes in books and plotlines, I knew by her rave review that I would enjoy it. What I didn’t expect was for it to be the best book I have read in 2020!
Pitched by Kerri Maniscalco, bestselling author of STALKING JACK THE RIPPER as “The Slytherin romance we’ve all been waiting for,” I was ecstatic to read this.
Anyone who has listened to me talk about my writing passions knows that one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter world is Bellatrix Lestrange. However, it’s not because of anything we see in the Potter books. The reason I love her so much is because I assumed this character back in the mid-2000s back when forum roleplaying was a thing. I explored the depths of this dark character, I really dove in and tried to figure out what made her tick–alongside the dashing man she married. Put simply, I’ve been dying for someone to understand my love of the dark side and put it into print.
When I say I fell in love from the first line, y’all, check this out.
I was hooked from the very first sentence. I have a great love of true crime and murders in particular (I am currently working my way through YEARS of the Podcast, My Favorite Murder!). If you can have murder, intrigue, and a character that’s not afraid to get their hands a little dirty, I. Am. Hooked.
As we meet the main character, Alessandra, we learn of not only her ambitions, but her determination to be uniquely herself. She is not a heroine. She’s an anti-heroine. Her father is finally bringing her to court–after severely admonishing her for her dalliances with young men–and Alessandra has her eyes set on one person and one person alone: the King. Alessandra is ambitious and unapologetic. She wants to woo the king, marry him, then kill him and assume his power. What she finds is completely different than anything she could have ever expected.
Kallias is an intriguing, alluring, and confusing character. It takes time for him to open up, but once he does, the story blossoms. It does have a “fake dating” trope to it, but I found the two characters’ interactions to be charming.
Especially when Alessandra and Kallias go skinny dipping in a lake together and she tells him that she’s not a virgin. Surprisingly, we see a feminist in Kallias when he assures her that he won’t judge her for the things he’s allowed to do. We. Love. A. Feminist!
All in all, this story touched the deep dark parts of my Bellatrix heart and made me long for my own Slytherin romance (one day)! If you’re looking for something a little dark with a lot of fantasy and interesting characters that you just can’t help but root for, check it out!
I give this one 5/5 stars simply because it is the best book I’ve read in 2020. You definitely want to put this on your TBR list!
I have been sorely behind on blog posts. Apologies! Life is hectic at the moment, but I have not slowed down one bit. I’ve been reading a ton and trying to figure out exactly where my book journey is taking me. More on that is coming soon(ish).
Anyways, on to the point of this post: a book review! Sarah J. Maas is basically the Young Adult fantasy author these days. Between her NY Times Bestselling series THRONE OF GLASS and A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, I have read ten of her books in the last year. This author is amazing in that she’s managing to pump out these huge novels each year. They are not short. A COURT OF WINGS AND RUIN was 700 pages!
I am here to review TOWER OF DAWN. If you haven’t read the series, there may be mild spoilers ahead, as this book takes place after book four (QUEEN OF SHADOWS) of the series and concurrent to book five (EMPIRE OF STORMS). If you have not read through QUEEN OF SHADOWS, please stop reading right now. If you haven’t read the series at all and think that you might, stop reading!
In THRONE OF GLASS, one of the first characters we meet is Chaol Westfall, captain of the king’s guard and best friend of the prince, Dorian Havilliard. He’s portrayed as arrogant, and basically sort of a jerk, until he starts helping Celaena Sardothien (the main character) on her journey. In book two, he falls in love with her; she’s an assassin and also a secret queen in her own right (though he doesn’t know it at the time).
Chaol (pronounced Kay-all according to SJM, but I’ll forever say it like Kale) and Celaena have a pretty volatile relationship. It’s not that all empowering love you feel for someone, but it was a visceral love, a need to have someone to be close to, to maintain your humanity during dark times. That’s not to say it wasn’t truly love…it just wasn’t meant to be. And I was not happy about that.
At the end of book two, the two of them have a pretty harsh breakup. I loved Chaol so much; I related to him. I could see how he struggled between doing what was his duty and doing what was right. He’s similar to a character I’ve written, and it made me love him even more. He sends Celaena away to find the truth of herself, and to protect her from the king. In doing so, she goes on her own journey and ends up finding her mate, her one true love, the person she was meant to be with. And I hated her for it. I refused to like the new guy. But that had more to do with the fact that I adored Chaol and never gave Rowan a chance.
By the time she returns, all hell breaks loose, battles are fought, and Chaol nearly dies at the hands of a very bad guy. The end of book four sees Chaol with a terrible spine injury that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. I was relieved. Relieved that he was alive, yes, but heartbroken for him because of the injury. He was a soldier. He’d always been a soldier. What else could he do? He was sent to the southern continent to seek out their world renowned healers and convince the monarchy there to join the war.
So, I read on to EMPIRE OF STORMs, ready for some more Chaol action. Two of my friends that read the series before me were egging me on, telling me to get through it because of the book hangover. I got halfway through the book and THERE. WAS. NO. CHAOL.
Where was he?! I honestly couldn’t care less about the rest of the characters.
Then, I found out. SJM had planned to write a novella about Chaol’s journey south. No. Chaol. In. The. Damn. Book. Then, SJM announced that OOPS! She’d written so much for Chaol that it was no longer going to be a novella, but a full length novel! I preordered the book the moment I found out. And so began the six month wait for the novel to release.
This leads me to receiving the book. I was so excited about it coming out that I took off the two days of work after Labor Day just so I could read it. That is how much I love this character. I could go on and on. If you think I’m joking, ask my friends. They’ll tell you.
So, Tuesday after Labor Day. It shipped USPS, Amazon said release day delivery. My mail came on release day. No book.
Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m a pretty patient person. I can understand, since it was coming from Texas, that the after effects of Hurricane Harvey had something to do with this. BUT. SJM is the Fantasy author right now. All of her books become bestsellers the first week they are out. As soon as Amazon realized there was an issue, they should have prepared for this release. Look, even my local Wal-Mart got this book on release day; they usually don’t get them until weeks and months later.
So, I complained, but there was nothing they could do. I had to wait until the next day (look at me, being proactive, taking time off in case of stuff coming up!). My mail delivered and when I got home, it wasn’t in the mailbox. I was about to blow up. But when I checked the tracking, it said they put it on the porch. So I looked outside and there it was. FINALLY! I had Chaol’s story in my hands.
All of this lead up to my favorite book that SJM has written.
If you follow me on any of my social media, you know that I’ve been going through some stuff. I’ve been on a journey of my own–working to find my way back from the hard parts of life. Chaol’s journey in this book was similar to mine. His was a physical injury, sure, but it was all about chasing out the darkness, facing the hard stuff, and learning how to live again. This book isn’t just a continuance of a story. It’s the tale of someone who was broken, beaten down by their lot in life, and their journey to finding the light again.
There were several times I had to stop in my reading just to take a breath. It can be difficult to put your troubles into words sometimes, and I found that SJM was able to do it beautifully.
Once Chaol and his companion Nesryn arrive in the southern continent, they are thrust into the court. The reader is given a brief but thorough explanation of the monarchy and how it works, and they get to see the subtle interactions between the new characters. I always worry when they name a bajillion characters up front. One, because I can’t guarantee that I’m going to remember who they are. Two, I’ve always, always, tried to live by the mantra of “Only give a character a name if they’re important”. [I felt similarly about THREE DARK CROWNS] The thing is, all of these characters are important.
Once Chaol is introduced to the royals, word is sent to the Torre Cesme–the tower where the healers live and practice–for the Healer on High to assess his injuries.
Then, enter Yrene Towers. She is a character introduced in the prequel novella book THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE. When we last saw her, she was a barmaid, struggling with her lot in life. She left her home in the north and traveled toward the southern continent so she might hone her skills and become a healer. At the end of the novella, Aelin (assassin and secret queen) left Yrene a pouch of money to get her to the Torre Cesme and pay for any tuition. The person she was then was left behind in THE ASSASSIN’S BLADE. We are reintroduced to Yrene. She is strong-willed and an extremely talented healer. The Healer on High has set her to the task of assessing Chaol Westfall’s injury.
And Yrene says no.
The healer has plans of her own, of leaving the Torre Cesme and returning to the northern continent. She made a promise to help save her homeland. Healers are always in short supply. Her superior manages to convince her to at least assess Chaol. When Yrene does, she’s determined to hate him. He used to be the captain of the guard for a monstrous king, responsible for the destruction of her home.
What follows is a beautiful journey of two people, each with their own trauma and darkness, finding the light together.
I won’t give away any major plot points. Only this: there are things revealed in TOWER OF DAWN that tie to the bigger picture of the THRONE OF GLASS series. Even if you didn’t like Chaol, I think reading this would give you a different outlook on the character.
One gripe I have about Sarah J. Maas: she refuses to write wedding scenes. She didn’t do it in EMPIRE OF STORMS nor in A COURT OF MIST AND FURY.
There are also other character plots interspersed between Chaol and Yrene–namely Nesryn. I felt like I could have done without those. All I wanted to do was read more about Chaol and SJM kept giving me Nesryn. But! There was a purpose to it all. Nesryn uncovers key information that will affect the final book in this series–that someone is not who they are portraying themselves to be. TOWER OF DAWN tied together some key information that gives the novel what it needs to be considered a full length story.
This novel is a reminder that though there may be dark times, the darkness is only temporary. No matter what happens, it. gets. better.
All in all, I give this book 5/5 Stars. It is my favorite book written by SJM, and my favorite book in the THRONE OF GLASS series. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, go here. You can follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram. The final chapter of the THRONE OF GLASS series (untitled as of yet) is coming on May 1, 2018!
I’ve got a couple of other book reviews upcoming. Including Alex Bracken’s THE DREADFUL TALE OF PROSPER REDDING for some Halloween related fun.