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Review: The Cruelest Mercy by Natalie Mae

The Cruelest Mercy by Natalie Mae (sequel to The Kinder Poison)

Recommended: sure
For continuing the series, for a lot of character development

Summary

SPOILERS FOR THE KINDER POISON!

After surviving the Crossing, Zahru has sworn off adventures. While crown prince Jet navigates the looming threat of war, she’s content to simply figure out what the future holds for them. But they’re dealt a devastating blow when prince Kasta returns with a shocking claim: he’s the true winner of the Crossing and the rightful heir, and he bears the gods’ mark as proof. Even more surprising–he’s not the only one.

Somehow, Zahru possesses the very same mark, giving her equal right to the throne. The last thing she wants is to rule beside her would-be executioner, but she can’t let Orkena fall into his merciless hands. So Zahru, Jet, and their allies must race against the clock to find a way to stop Kasta, because once he’s crowned, there’s no telling what horrors he’ll unleash to win the war.

Zahru will do whatever it takes to keep Kasta from taking the throne…but to stop a villain, is she willing to become one herself?

Thoughts

This got points for being a really interesting character line, which I couldn’t predict at all (in a really good way!). This lost points for having objectively very little actually happen for most of the book. I didn’t really notice while reading it, but looking back I’m realizing how the plot was pretty sparse. Especially in comparison to the first which was obviously pretty packed with action, the sequel is a lot more focused on the characters and the way they’re growing and changing.

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Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
Verdict: uhmmmmm… don’t bother. Severely lacking in all aspects

Recommended: no
because of a lack of compelling plot, uninteresting characters, a distinct lack of promised magic, a book that’s ultimately just pretty dry and boring. Maybe it’s a good plane book to read then ditch or donate.

Summary

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago.

Thoughts

To turn a common phrase on its head, this book was entirely putdownable. Which I did, many times, and only picked up again out of a general sense of obligation to see it through.

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Review: Anna K Away by Jenny Lee

Anna K: Away by Jenny Lee

Recommended: sure
For a followup to the first one, for an easier read than the first one, for a short story following each character

Summary

How the mighty have fallen. Anna K, once the golden girl of Greenwich, CT, and New York City, has been brought low by a scandalous sex tape and the tragic death of her first love, Alexia Vronsky. At the beginning of the summer, her father takes her to the other side of the world, to connect with his family in South Korea and hide her away. Is Anna in exile? Or could this be her chance to figure out who she really is?

Back in the U.S., Lolly has forgiven Steven for cheating on her, and their relationship feels stronger than ever. But when Lolly meets a boy at her beloved theater camp, she has to ask herself how well Steven will ever really know her. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, everything between Kimmie and her new boyfriend, Dustin, is easy–except when it comes to finally having sex. And Bea escapes to LA, running away from her grief at her beloved cousin’s death, until a beautiful stranger steals her heart. Is Bea ready to finally forgive Anna, and let herself truly fall in love for the very first time?

Thoughts:

I was excited to see the characters again, and particularly interested in seeing what Jenny Lee invented as a followup story since this one is not based on other material, as the first one was. The plot moves much more steadily in this than the first book, and generally each character we follow is interesting. I think people who were a bit bored in the first book but liked the characters may enjoy this one more.

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Notes from the author: Nghi Vo on Empress of Salt and Fortune

Hey y’all! One delightful aspect of Goodreads is that when you read a Kindle book, you can link your notes and highlights within it to your Goodreads account and read them later online in a nice format.

My favorite way this has been leveraged (and I’m seeing it more often lately) is when the author themselves will write notes on quotes in their book and publish it to Goodreads publicly. It’s like the commentary track on a movie, but for a book. Hearing the author’s personal thoughts on their writing is such a delight. Unlike normal interviews or Q&As, this is entirely directed by their thoughts and what they want to share. I 100% adore that.

One set that I read and enjoyed recently was from Nghi Vo, author of Empress of Salt and Fortune (a fantastic, mystical novella that you can read more about here).

Here’s one of my favorite notes from the author:

If you’re interested,
the full set of notes is available here!

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ARC Review: Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-ÍyímídéExpected Release: June 1, 2021
Verdict: lots of heavy topics combined with an intense drama/mystery that draws you deeper with every page

Recommended: YUP
For a high school drama that turns into a mystery that turns into an actual oh-sh*t situation, for a story of friendship and identity and isolation and trust and race, for a story where you get halfway through and wonder how it could get any more intense

Summary

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

Thoughts

YEAH y’all, my overall advice is that if you read the blurb and think you might be interested? Just read it — it will probably go well. I don’t see how this could disappoint. The twists are many, and the level of mystery and secrets and intrigue is like Agatha Christia / Hercule Poirot level. I felt like a detective, trying to isolate all the clues and variables and figure out the who-dunnit mystery of it all. The story evolves into way more than that, though.

Devon and Chiamaka are both pretty comfortable with their sexuality, even as they learn more about themselves and what they like, want, need. It’s obviously a large part of the impact on Devon, as he’s forcibly outed in the first chapter and fears the repercussions from his homophobic neighborhood if the news spreads. Taking a turn into darker waters, though, both Chiamaka and Devon have much heavier events hidden in their past.

Race, trust, sexual identity…. this book is full of topics, but it’s also couched in this drama and mystery that realy sucked me in. I loved both aspects of it, and devoured this book in two days. It was that whole thing where you stay up super late because you’re so close and you just have to finish it! Any time my S.O. interrupted to ask a question, or we needed to do some chores, I was heaving a big sigh and very reluctantly putting it down.

Read the book.

Thanks to Bookishfirst and MacMillan for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: How Lucky by Will Leitch

How Lucky by Will Leitch – Expected Publication: May 11, 2021
Verdict: eh, not for me but I’m confident others will really love this

Recommended: sure, for other people
For folks curious about life with SMA as a wheelchair-user, for a light mystery heavy on character introspection, for small laughs about dark things

Summary

Daniel leads a rich life in the university town of Athens, Georgia.  He’s got a couple close friends, a steady paycheck working for a regional airline, and of course, for a few glorious days each Fall, college football tailgates. He considers himself to be a mostly lucky guy—despite the fact that he’s suffered from a debilitating disease since he was a small child, one that has left him unable to speak or to move without a wheelchair. 

Largely confined to his home, Daniel spends the hours he’s not online communicating with irate air travelers observing his neighborhood from his front porch. One young woman passes by so frequently that spotting her out the window has almost become part of his daily routine. Until the day he’s almost sure he sees her being kidnapped. 

Thoughts:

I can’t really believe I’m rating this as “just ok” but that is indeed what’s happening. I can’t really pinpoint what missed for me with this book. Objectively I can look at it’s components and think it would probably be good, but ultimately I just wasn’t that into it. Reading it wasn’t a chore, but I guess I just never really connected with the characters nor the plot.

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Review: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
Verdict: wow.

Recommended: yes indeed

For an exploration of Alaskan wilderness, for a story that feels real and immediate, for a journey with so many others that ties you into a larger part of history, for a fabulous example of how multimedia can create a powerful effect

Summary

The cover is as entrancing as the contents

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.

Thoughts

I bought a used copy of this book, because I like stories that have the stories of people on them as well as in them. The well-creased spine of my new-old copy made me think I had chosen well in this particular story, and I was not disappointed.

I was first surprised at how heavy the book is, physically. Despite it’s average length and being a paperback copy, it was significantly heavier than other books of similar style and size that I had. Now that I’ve finished the book, that feels strangely appropriate. I’m still in that world enough to feel that maybe the man who flies on black wings has something to do with it.

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Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Verdict: hella good horror, even for folks who don’t usually love horror!

Recommended: yes!
For folks who don’t usually love horror, for an insiders view of a faked (maybe?) possession, for psychological horror where you don’t really know what to believe or who to trust

Summary

The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.

To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.

Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.

Thoughts

This book is absolutely fascinating. I am not a fan of horror, whether in movies, games, books, or anything else, really. But this book recommended to me was a captivating winner! So I recommend it for folks who don’t usually like horror, but DO like a story that makes you question everything over and over again, and analyze all aspects from a million angles. It’s a bit of a who-dunnit in that you just don’t know what to trust.

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Review: The New Girl by Kid Toussaint

The New Girl by Kid Toussaint

Recommended: for sure!
For a cute friendship story with a twist of family drama, for some (possibly accurate?) insight into Dissociative Identity Disorder, for a flavor of Inside Out with the different personalities that come out, for gorgeous art to render a potentially complicated problem

Summary

Elle is just another teenage girl… most of the time. Bubbly and good-natured, she wastes no time making friends on her first day at her new school. But Elle has a secret: she hasn’t come alone. She’s brought with her a colorful mix of personalities, which come out when she least expects it… Who is Elle, really? And will her new friends stand by her when they find out the truth?

Thoughts

I saw this book a few times and was debating reading it, but I figured it would be pretty much like that movie inside out and didn’t really want to bother reading a story I felt like I would already know (despite the fact that I haven’t actually seen that movie…). Finally, I read a couple of reviews and several people mentioned that it’s more focused on dissociative identity disorder and other personality things like that rather than just being a characterization of emotions in general. Frankly, that’s what sold me. I was hoping this would be fun, and creative, but also a way that mattered a little bit more and could give people insight into those that need it.

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