YA Fantasy

My Review: A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes #3): by Sabaa Tahir

Publish Date: June 12th, 2018
Number of Pages: 464 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning! This book contains spoilers to previous books in the series! Continue reading at your own risk, you’ve officially been warned!***

To see my full review of book #1 – An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2 – A Torch Against the Night – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Sabaa Tahir is an evil genius!

Never before has a story that’s so devastating, so visceral, so gut-wrenching in the YA Fantasy genre than this incredible—and underrated—book series that started off with a young girl trying to rescue her brother and a young soldier who just wants his freedom. Things seemed so simple back then, even though they weren’t, but so much has happened since then to not only Laia and Elias, but EVERYONE in these books.

I will admit, I loved the first book a lot more than the second book. I liked the simplicity in the idea of just these young heroes fighting for their freedom with the rebellion against the Martial Empire with a tiny hint of magic sprinkled in, but book two made the series go in a direction I was not fully expecting, nor was I incredibly thrilled about. It brought up ideas I was indifferent about, but fell in love with more characters as depths to their motives were revealed. This book made me fall in love with the books all over again, and in my opinion, saved the series from continuing to slump!

Was it perfect? No…

Was it fun and entertaining? Yes!

Did I cry like a baby at the end and go into a crippling book-hangover for about a week after I finished this book? ….yes.

I can agree with a few people who say this book was slower in the beginning and with Elias’s chapters, as I’m also not really on board for how his storyline is developing. I honestly never pictured how it’s played out from the way he was portrayed in the first book. While thats the case right now, this book ends in a way that makes me very curious to read what happens in the next book, because lesbehonest…it feels like a HEA is almost impossible for Elias and Laia at this point, and I just want them to be happy when this is all over!

Helene continues to slay across the page and become such a strong and fierce female as more and more terrible things keep happening to her thanks to Marcus and the Commandant. Helene and the latter forge a rivalry of who can become HBIC of the Martial Rule, and that was a highlight as Marcus slowly descends further into insanity and paranoia, but what surprised me was how the author explored his character a little more than usual this time around. I mean, he’s still a sadistic nutjob who needs to cool it with the threats against Helene and her family, but it was a surprise nonetheless. I will never complain about developed villain!

The Commandant continues on with her amazingness, and I continue to love her wickedness and overall badassery!

There was a significant less amount of romance in this book—some readers may like that, but I’m the opposite—and it seems like the author gets a kick out of putting just about ANY wall between Laia and being happy with Elias, but there’s another romance that develops that I had been shipping since the last book, so I was happy to see that become canon, and hope it continues into the next and final book!

Overall, I loved this book and it honestly saved the series for me! Since I wasn’t the biggest fan of book #2, I was nervous this book wasn’t going to be nearly as good, but then I get to the climax of A Reaper at the Gates, and in reading all that happens and having all the information revealed to me, I was absolutely blown away by the occurrences and how emotionally impacted I was! The way it was all tied together: The Cook, Laia and Elias, Helene, Harper, The Commandant, The Nightbringer, and the prophecy we learn about….I definitely teared up from this one, and only one other book did this to me back in 2018, and that was Kingdom of Ash, the final book in the Throne of Glass series.

It makes me just as sad all this time later in 2020 that this series is coming to an end at the end of the year. I will be depressed about it for quite some time, just being completely honest about that, but I also enjoy the challenge of continuing on and using all that I’ve gathered from this series that I love, and using that to find yet another series I can fall in love with and shamelessly promote to anyone else who’ll listen!

What It’s About:

I will sing you such a story—a story that was long untold. The story of a name and its meaning. Of how that name matters more than any other single word in existence. But I must prepare myself, for such stories are dragons drawn from a deep well in a dark place. Does one summon a dragon? No. One may only invite it and hope it emerges.

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Reaper at the Gates”

The highly anticipated third book in Sabaa Tahir’s New York Times bestselling EMBER QUARTET.

Beyond the Empire and within it, the threat of war looms ever larger.

The Blood Shrike, Helene Aquilla, is assailed on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable, while the Commandant capitalizes on his madness to bolster her own power. As Helene searches for a way to hold back the approaching darkness, her sister’s life and the lives of all those in the Empire hang in the balance.

Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. But while hunting for a way to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would aid her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.

And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. But in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that will stop at nothing to ensure Elias’s devotion—even at the cost of his humanity.

Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Reaper at the Gates”

What I liked:

  1. The Well Developed Villains! A definite highlight that was really surprising was how the author really took the time to shine a spotlight on the evil characters in this addition to their series. They’re still downright despicable, but there’s some hidden depths there now that do nothing but enhance the richness of a good story. The Commandant continues to be one of the most sadistic female villains I’ve ever come come across—something I’ve been saying since the beginning of these books—but even Marcus has more going on with his character, and you finally learn about the Nightbringer’s backstory…and what his master plot is!
  2. The Stakes Have Risen Again, Indeed! The big reveal: what has The Nightbringer been planning all this time? What has all the buildup been about? Why is he there? Where did he come from? Who is he exactly? All this gets answered as the author finally exposes what his motive is.
  3. The Climax Scene! Some may argue that the book has too much filler, and that really depends on the specific reader, but I can say the epic climax of the story really makes up for the slower plot points! So much happens, so much angst and betrayal and shock; it was one of the most emotionally impacting book moments I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. It was truly amazing how all these storylines came together, how the author included the prophecy into the actions of the characters, and the shocking events behind the Cook! I literally have chills thinking back on it…
  4. The Slow-Burn Romance! Surprisingly, there wasn’t as much romance in this story, as the author has to come up with every single possible way to keep Elias and Laia away from each other…Helene and Harper have a nicely drawn out slow burn romantic sub-storyline that really develops. As someone who really shipped them since the previous book when Harper was initially introduced to us, I was happy for this to happen! I mean…Helene has a lot of heavy shit happen to her—as does everyone in this series—but she has had the most growth out of any character, so I’m more than fine for the author to throw her at least one freakin’ bone of happiness amongst all the misery!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Elias’s Story Development…I’m not gonna lie…Elias’s whole storyline is not for me. I still love him as a character, but I just can’t get behind how his development, especially in this book, has come about. It’s still somewhat interesting and tragic, especially with how his relationship with Laia is affected at the end, but I can agree with other critical readers when they say his chapters were the slower parts of the whole book. However, I am very curious to see how his storyline developments in the next and final book!
  2. Darin and Serric Steel Storyline Faces the Back Burner…I was majorly disappointed in how this whole storyline seemingly got dropped in this book. It was a huge part of Laia’s motivation as a character: to rescue her brother from Kauf prison and allow him to share how to use his valuable knowledge of the special metal to construct weapons to take on the Empire…but none of that seems to matter anymore. So, okay I guess…
  3. THIS Was Where The Book Rebranding Occurred…I mentioned this in one of my previous reviews, but this series got rebranded and A Reaper at the Gates was when that happened. Personally, I do prefer the new covers because I think they make the series stand out a little more than the older versions did, BUT don’t rebrand books while they’re still coming out! Maybe do it years later once the series is complete, or just use the design for another series, but it’s tacky to do it right smack dab in the middle of the series. People like me are incredibly passionate about their bookshelves and are OCD about having their books match: hardcover or softcover, or if the covers match. While some would be more than happy to go out and repurchase the newly designed books all over again, some people need to worry about the cost of that as well! This may seem outrageous and completely extra, but like I said: I’m extremely passionate about the books I keep on my bookshelf, and I want my collection to match.

Conclusion:

This book brings so much life into the series!

I was less than enthused about A Torch Against the Night, so this series sank from the pedestal a little bit, but this book changed that, and made me fall in love with the series all over again. One thing that’s stayed constant is the fact that I think the Commandant is easily one of the top villains I’ve ever read or watched in my life, somehow she gets worse and worse as the story goes on.

Sabaa Tahir writes her world in such a beautiful way, and does such a great job of creating complex and interesting characters, and I’d also say her writing has matured so well as the series has progressed. Its somehow gotten even more serious and gained an even darker tone.

It’s a shame that more people won’t read this series because it’s YA/Teen, but seriously, it’s such a great series despite that, and it doesn’t even read like a normal YA fantasy book; the only thing that makes it fall under the category is the fact that the main characters are teenagers.

Overall, what an amazing book, I was until 5 am to finish it, now I seriously can’t wait for the next title to release!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Frozen Tides (Falling Kingdoms #4): by Morgan Rhodes

Publish Date: December 15th, 2015
Number of Pages: 413 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers from the previous books in the series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my full review of book #1: Falling Kingdoms – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2: Rebel Spring – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #3: Gathering Darkness – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

For anyone who’s been following in my reviews of this series, some may be surprised at how my rating has dropped when compared to the previous book in this series. Believe me, I was just as surprised at my reaction to this fourth book in one of my favorite YA fantasy series, but to be honest, I just couldn’t help but be disappointed in this title a little bit.

There were plenty of parts that I immensely enjoyed, and still can say I loved reading it like the other titles; I guess for me it was mainly my disappointment with the direction the series was starting to move in at this point. I feel like there was a shift in the overall feel of the books by this point, and the overall story had started to move in a direction that maybe I wasn’t so fond of, at least concerning certain subplots or character arcs. While plenty of the twists and the forbidden romance continued to pique my interest, there was just a lot more aspects that I just wasn’t entirely agreeing with.

There were a couple things I loved about this series. One was the introduction of the Kraeshian Empire, the homeland of Prince Ashur and Princess Amara Cortas. Its presence has been brewing in the background since the second book, so it was nice to see it finally make its grand entrance into the story. Another was, of course, how Prince Magnus’s relationship with Princess Cleo continues to develop oh-so-achingly slowly, and one last one worth mentioning was the development of spy/assassin/double-crossing Felix Graebas.

There were of course plenty of things I disliked about this books as well: Princess Lucia Damora being the biggest one worth mentioning. I go into more details about all these things I’ve mentioned further below in my review, as I do in all of my book reviews on this website.

Overall, I did enjoy this book like all the other books in this series so far, I was literally vibrating with excitement waiting for their publishing date every year after waiting those 365 days. I couldn’t help but literally binge read whenever these books came out, because while it’s such a cheap tactic to put on us readers, the author is damn good at those cliffhangers that keep us coming back! The thing is, I wasn’t nearly as satisfied with this book when I finished like I was with the other books. I can’t explain it, but like I said, I felt like there was just a major shift with the overall series once I got to this book, and while I still enjoy the story and characters and want to keep reading on, part of me just isn’t as emotionally invested as I once was *shrugs.* Part of it could be because around the time I’d first read this, I was really getting more into the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, and maybe that stole the thunder from this series a little bit?

What It’s About:

Because if you don’t choose to fight against the wrong in the world, then you are the wrong in the world.”

– Morgan Rhodes, “Frozen Tides”

Rebels, royals, and monsters wage war over the Mytican throne in the shocking fourth book of the Falling Kingdoms series, from New York Times bestselling author, Morgan Rhodes.

CLEO: Reeling after a bloody showdown in Limeros ending with Amara’s abduction of the water crystal, and a vacancy in the Mytican throne, Princess Cleo must cast aside her feelings and look toward her kingdom with the eyes of a Queen.

MAGNUS: With the kingdom in chaos, Princess Lucia still missing and quite possibly in danger, and a shocking realization about Cleo, the steely prince is once again torn between love and duty, leaving him wondering whether he’s strong enough to rule his people.

LUCIA: The young sorcercess has had her vengeance after the cruel death of her first and only love. Heartbroken and unable to trust anyone, she allies with the awoken Fire god, who also seeks revenge.

JONAS: After escaping death by the skin of his teeth, the defeated rebel—along with a mysterious stranger–leader reunites with Princess Cleo, only to find himself a mere pawn in a dangerous hunt for the elusive Kindred.

KING GAIUS: Abandoned by Melenia and betrayed by his own children, Gaius flees Mytica and sails to Kraeshia, where he attempts to ally with the famously brutal emperor across the Silver Sea.

What our hearts want can overtake what our minds tell us is forbidden to us. We can’t control these feelings, even if we desperately wish we could.”

– Morgan Rhodes, “Frozen Tides”

What I Liked:

  1. The Kraeshian Empire! It’s been something that’s been brewing in the background since the first appearance of Prince Ashur at Cleo and Magnus’s wedding in Rebel Spring, and you finally get a glimpse of the vast empire in the capital city! To be honest, it doesn’t seem too different from Dorne in Westeros from Game of Thrones, but the author uses it to really further the development of Amara Cortas, who is quickly letting us know she’s an irresistible force to be reckoned with in these books. You learn more about her and her family, and it adds some major depth to her crafty demeanor.
  2. Felix Graebas! You met him in the previous book, Gathering Darkness, and you probably loved him as much as I did for his cheeky personality and overall charming amount of shadiness. Turns out, he was actually an assassin sent by King Gaius to kill Jonas, but he couldn’t go through with it in the end because Jonas had become like a friend to him. Still, Jonas and Lysandra found out and banished him away, which leads Felix to realign himself with the wicked king and become his personal bodyguard! There’s more to his character, but I don’t want to give too much away; like Amara, he’s given more attention in this book and there’s more depths added to him and his motives.
  3. Magnus and Cleo’s Romantic Development! In Gathering Darkness, we got a major moment with them admitting their mutual unrequited attraction to each other—along with a steamy kiss—and Magneo officially became canon! In this book, their relationship continues to evolve as they return to the Limeros palace, Magnus’s home, and continue to bicker and get on each other’s nerves, but it’s okay because it’s foreplay for them. They reluctantly learn to trust each other and use their strengths together in order to come ahead of all the key players in the hunt for the Kindred.
  4. Many Cliffhangers! It’s definitely a normal expectation for these books, but the ending will blow your mind with how much happens! Lots of excitement for the last 25% of the book, and I won’t spoil it, but expect a lot of unexpectedness!

What I Disliked:

  1. Lucia Damora…I swear, I like her less and less with every book…Sis just needs to go away. In this book, she takes a walk on the dark side as she aligns herself with Kyan, who was actually the fire spirit trapped inside the Fire Kindred. It turns out each orb has some immortal being trapped inside like some sort of poké ball and releasing them is actually pretty bad news for EVERYONE, including the Watchers on the other side of the portals strewn about Mytica. Lucia and him travel around the realm and search for a portal that can still be activated and allow him to kill off Timotheus, the leader of the Watchers. While this new predicament is interesting and raises the stakes, Lucia does not. She’s just so easily unlikeable by this point, and her chapters were really bleh for me. So many opportunities with her whole story arc were just tossed out the window like a Corona beer during the pandemic; the storyline of her birth parents was a letdown, and even her powers aren’t all that much more impressive…
  2. The Kraeshian Rebellion…While at the Kraeshian Empire, Nic and Jonas meet Mikah, who is a servant-but-actually a leader in a rebellion group looking to overthrow the whole Empire led by Amara’s family…This whole addition was absolutely not necessary to include into the story, to be honest. Sure, it was an unexpected twist for Mikah’s character, but I can say this whole rebellion doesn’t mean anything for pretty much the entirety of the book. If anything, it serves as a plot convenience to rescue a certain character, but that’s it! There was another way to go about sneaking someone out of the palace than including this rebellion into the story, especially if it won’t come into play to the entire plot after that…pointless.
  3. Jonas Continues to Dwindle…Jonas is like that meme with the guy doing the post game interview, stating they had ’em in the first half. That perfectly sums up Jonas’s character in this series! I had high hopes for him, I really did—I even totally hoped him and Cleo ended up together—but he’s slowly being pushed further and further onto the back burner. He’s accomplished literally none of the mission’s he’s set out to do, and it feels like by this point, even the author is seeming to give up on him.

Conclusion:

Another thrilling edition to the bestselling Falling Kingdoms series, this title continues the usual recipe these books have: winding twists and turns up the wazoo, unpredictable character deaths, scorching romance, bloody political intrigue, and magic now oozing off the sides.

While many other readers who read this book seemed to love this addition, I was a little less than impressed with this title for the reasons I’ve already listed above, so I won’t repeat myself and get repetitive on the matter. Still, with the many cliffhangers this book gives us at the end, you can bet your cute butt that I’m still invested and kept reading these books! I’ve spent too much time screaming over everything that’s happened and just about everything else with these books to give up at this point.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

LGBT, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: Us (Him #2): by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Publish Date: March 8th, 2016
Number of Pages: 322 Pages
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre(s): New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This book review contains spoilers from the previous book in this duology, read on at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Him – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Love is friendship set on fire.”

– Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy, “Us”

I absolutely adored the first book, Him, by these two amazing authors! They’re my go-to writers for anyone who’s looking for a funny, raunchy, well written, and overall entertaining contemporary new adult romance series to get into! Looking at a few reviews of this sequel, I was curious why some people were hesitant to start it…I mean, the first book could totally work as a standalone with how it ended, but if people loved it so much, wouldn’t they want to keep seeing what happens next? Sure, some people brought up the cash cow argument, and I can understand that argument, but kept an open mind as I’d opened this book and got back into the world of Ryan Wesley and Jamie Canning.

Overall, I wasn’t disappointed in this book and enjoyed it immensely! It had all the characteristics of what I’d enjoyed so much about the first book besides the obvious “second chance” and “friends to lovers” romance tropes. If anything, this sequel showed an incredibly realistic portrayal of the struggle of finding ones place in the world as the newly emerged adult group aged 18-25. The struggles of finding that dream job, financial worries, even still the coming to terms of one’s sexuality and their first serious relationship. The relationship is explored and shows how both people need to work in order to make the relationship work past its initial honeymoon phase.

While I enjoyed this book a lot, I can say I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book too. I felt like Him would’ve been just fine as a standalone novel, and despite the relatable issues the characters dealt with in this title, I felt like maybe this book was a way for the authors to possibly bridge into another project of theirs, and I’ll go more into that later on in this review. The main thing I dislike the most about this book was the issue of the lack of communication between Jamie and Wes, but it wasn’t for the same reasons I usually dislike that conflict.

There also was a big emphasis on a fictional lamb disease that was treated similarly to the bird flu and even the 2020 COVID-19 situation, but on a much smaller scale. I was scratching my head about this plot point, mainly because it really makes a bigger presence in the story than I thought it needed to, and with how the world is right now with the novel virus, I was hoping for less and less focus on this sort of issue…

There were a great amount of side characters, a lot more this time around than in Him which is great! The main characters had more people to really interact with that were around their age and for us to get to know and fall for too! Blake in particular is an acquired taste, and is a lot to take in at first, but he does eventually grow on you.

I would argue that this next title is actually a stronger novel than the previous book, but maybe because of it being too realistic with the real world issues, it’d diluted the entertaining factor and was less “fun” I think. That, along with repetitive issues we thought were solved in the first book, and with my thought on it being a bridge into more future projects amongst these authors, maybe that’s what people didn’t like as much this time around.

Despite all that, It’s still an incredibly well written continuation of an amazing queer love story!

What It’s About:

Book #2 has us brought back into Wes and Jamie Canning’s world five months after they reunited at the end of Book one. They’ve confessed their love for each other, they’ve moved in together into their apartment in Toronto, Jamie introduced Wes to his family, and Wes started his rookie season in the NHL and is absolutely KILLING it on the ice!

Everything seems perfect for the two childhood best friends-turned boyfriends in love, except for how they have to keep their whole relationship a secret…there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL, and who knows how it’ll go if a rookie were to come out of the closet and cause a media field day. While it isn’t the greatest set up, Jamie and Wes both agree to wait with the news until his first season is over and their schedules aren’t both so hectic. It starts off easy enough, but soon the secret becomes a much bigger burden to carry on their shoulders.

Jamie’s job isn’t exactly what he signed up for either, and the hiding really takes a toll on him especially, but at least when it’s just him and Wes in their apartment, everything goes back to euphoric bliss and they can just be themselves…at least, until Wes’s noisy teammate moves in upstairs and pops up at their door without any warning!

The world seems to want to keep them apart, and is constantly throwing just about everything it can between the two of them, so can they overcome it all? Their relationship will definitely be put to the test…

What I Liked:

  1. The Hint of More to Come! What I mean by this is there is a spinoff book series that gets going that I definitely saw coming after a few interactions between two secondary characters: Wes’s teammate, Blake, and Jamie’s sister, Jess. There’s a few moments between them that had me guessing, but then they both disappear for awhile, and part of me wondered what’s going on there…turns out, plans for them to start a spinoff were happening! The first book is called Good Boy, and based off some other characters, there’s a slew of stories coming our way for the WAGS series these authors have going for us!
  2. What Comes after the HEA! We all know the first book could actually totally be a standalone with how much of a Happily Ever After we get with Wes and Jamie! This book showed us what goes on after that moment, after the honeymoon phase, and how a relationship needs work in order to survive. Both guys try to do so much to make each other happy, and both realize how hard the real world can be, even for a pro hockey player. I thought the idea of them trying different things and trying to work at their relationship was an intriguing and realistic portrayal that anyone in the New Adult age range can relate with, queer or straight.
  3. Just as Sexy as Book #1! While there’s plenty of fluff to melt out hearts with the soft and tender confessions of the heart from both male main characters, BUT there is plenty of raunchiness and sexiness in this book that smut lovers can also appreciate.
  4. Great Secondary Characters! There were actually quite a bit of fun side characters that added to this sequel, and more people closer to Wes and Jamie’s age than the coaching staff at the camp, and the teenage players they coach. There’s Blake, Wes’s teammate who moves into their apartment complex (I go more into him below), there’s Jess Canning who is always finding some new business venture to try out, and there’s Wes’s other teammates who tease him for his bright green dress shirt. They added a lot to the story, and I can see some of them starring in the spinoff WAGS series I’d mentioned above too!
  5. Jamie Canning’s Struggle! Wes was kind of the star of the first book for me, so I’m glad it got switched over to Jamie for book #2. Let me also make it clear that I’m not happy about Jamie’s suffering in this story—I’m not really a sadist, masochist or whatever term you say—but more with how it was handled and the issues that were brought up. I get Jamie’s growing frustration with him and Wes having to keep their relationship under wraps. With it was a growing fear of losing each other, and whether they’ll be able to overcome all the adversity, and some of the communication issues with that. A lot of people struggle with talking about that emotion: fear. Those fears turned to doubt on both the situation and themselves: Do I sound unreasonable?…Am I being selfish?…Is it worth bringing it up?…Am I asking too much?…Do I love the person enough to put them through this?…Do they love me enough to stick by me not matter what? Both guys ask themselves these questions, and both are terrified of ending up having their hearts broken in the end, and adding the fact that they hardly see each other as much as they’d like, neither guy wants to bring up these heavy topics with the time they are allowed, and thats totally valid and a realistic worry we all can relate to. These communication issues I can get behind…
  6. Jamie’s Mom! The woman continues to be a total saint who doesn’t change this time around in the net book, and continues to be a great mom for both Jamie and Wes, especially for Wes since his parents are pretty much MIA and have left him behind to rot.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Repetitive Lack of Communication…Now, I usually get annoyed by this being a big issue in ANY romance novel, which is ironic because I know I am someone who is terrible at communicating my feelings. I am such a moody bitch sometimes, and will do the passive aggressive act with the silence or the “I’m fine.” line—I can’t help it, it’s a character flaw of mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t lie awake at night kicking myself for it—and for a m/m romance I can see why it’s an actual plot point. Speaking as a guy myself, I can say that guys are not the greatest when it comes to sitting down and communicating that stuff…it’s just the way we’re programed, and I’m not trying to make this a toxic masculinity thing; it’s just not all guys like talking about that stuff, even if they’re queer. Not all girls like to either, so don’t get at me! The issue I have with the communication issues in this book in particular are because we’ve already dealt with the same issue in the previous book. They’d already gone through it, so I’d hoped they’d learned their lesson this time around…yeah, not so much I guess.
  2. Blake’s Immaturity…I like Blake; he really grows on you. At first, he’s pretty obnoxious and does the text lingo in his dialogue and gives people lame nicknames (example: Jamie is “J-Bomb“… #lame) Plus, he’s yet another obstacle that gets in the way of Jamie and Wes’s happiness, so that alone instantly makes you annoyed with the guy. Like I said, he grows on you, but it takes a while for that to happen.
  3. The Use of Illness and Medications for the Plot…Maybe it’s because as I’m typing this, America is in a pandemic with COVID-19 and I’ve been in the whole isolation and #socialdistancing, but this whole part of the story didn’t resonate all that well with me, and also just became a bigger thing than I thought it needed to be. I understand the whole thing that happened with Jamie and his meds, it’s happened to me in the past and is an actual side effect for certain people and medications they’re prescribed, but it felt like the whole thing could’ve been handled differently to make it better for the story.

Conclusion:

A good sequel to an iconic LGBTQ+ m/m sports romance, but not as strong as its predecessor; I still enjoyed the real world struggles Jamie and and Wes faced not only with themselves, but also their relationship and the steps they both needed to take in order to keep their relationship still working past the HEA. It felt incredibly realistic and is completely relatable to anyone who’s close to their age and trying to find out where they exactly belong in the world today as a new adult. The issues they both face are great examples of the emerging genre between Adult and YA, and prove it can be more than just the angsty romance that has filled a lot of the genre itself.

While showing more of Jamie and Wes’s relationship, it also lays some easter eggs for the next project the authors are working on, which is a WAGS series that most likely will star the notable side characters you meet in this book as well, which just means us readers can remain in this world of queer hockey players, and the romance on and off the ice!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Shadowfever (Fever #5): by Karen Marie Moning

Publish Date: January 18th, 2011
Number of Pages: 608 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers from the previous books in the series, continue reading at your own risk. You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Darkfever — Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Bloodfever — Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Faefever — Click HERE

To see my review of book #4 – Dreamfever — Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

Finally…

At long last…

The time has come to get answers to the ever-growing list of questions that have come up since starting this blasted series, but I can say without a doubt that SO. MUCH. HAPPENS. IN. THIS. BOOK!

A few words to describe it: wicked, vicious, sexy, intoxicating, twisted, unpredictable, startling, unrelenting, infuriating, addicting, enchanting, and utterly mind-blowing! The most satisfying component about this book by far is how we finally get some answers that Karen Marie Moning had been deviously hiding from us since the very beginning. From the very first chapter, your heart and your soul is put to the ultimate test as you’re put right back into the thick of it with how the previous book ended, and from there on it just feels like a never ending emotional roller coaster!

Looking back on this series and where it’s taken me, I had no idea that it would truly suck me in like it has since the start of the new decade. I know I’ve probably said this before in my past reviews, but I seriously just remember scoffing at the description of Darkfever a little bit when my work friend, Erika, first told me about these books and how they’d completely sucked her in. Plus, with some of the cover designs, I figured it would just be another really stupid and trashy paranormal romance series… While I can say there have been over sexualized, strange moments in this series to prove my point, I can’t stress enough that they had quickly become so much more than that as I’d read on!

I was especially surprised at how deep the plot had ended up becoming as I’d devoured each book after the last; the Fae lore and all the big players that have only been mentioned in all the stories that we’ve been told, the Sinsar Dubh–that freaky as fuck possessed book that everyone is hunting and has been following Mac like some creepy stalker…not to mention all the incredible side characters we’ve gotten to know too! There’s Christian Mackeltar, Ryodan, V’Lane, Dani O’Malley, Inspector Jayne, the other Sidhe-Seers, Dreamy-Eyed Guy, the monsters, the Unseelie Princes, and even Darroc–aka The Lord Master–has become someone truly intriguing in this series. Also, I just love the unpredictability of it all…not the character tropes because I will admit a few of them are pretty cliché, but just how I truly didn’t know what was going to happen next and what direction everything was going to take…I had my guesses throughout, but almost every time was way off.

Before I can go further, all I can say to those who’ve made it this far; all the cliffhangers and frustration hasn’t driven you away, and I can say without a doubt this book will not disappoint. It finally answers a lot of questions while still leaving us with some loose ends in order to keep the series going further, BUT it’s not nearly as bd as it has been! It’s truly a satisfying ending.

What It’s About:

We left off with Mac losing her frickin’ mind over whoever the beast had turned out to be. She and Ryodan teamed up to kill the big, bad beastie while Ryodan had been tossed over a cliff to disappear, and were left wondering if he’s dead. Mac absolutely loses it and ends up on the ground in the fetal position over the body of….

…major spoiler ahead…

…Jericho Barrons. That’s right, he’s the beast that showed up shortly after she’d dialed the “IYD” number on her phone Jericho had given her way back. She’s sobbing, she can’t go on, she doesn’t know how to keep going, she realizes her true feelings for the mysterious and brooding alpha-hole we’d all come to appreciate. She’s devastated until there’s a shift within her, and suddenly she’s not anymore. She becomes like a shell of herself, and becomes cold. calculating. sinister. vengeful. She vows the last thing she’ll do is to finally capture that damned book and use it to create a new world. A better world with her dead sister, Alina, and Jericho both brought back to her. To do that, she has to gain help from the most unlikely source of them all…The Lord Master himself, Darroc!

Mac truly seems to have gone over to the dark side with her new alliance, and the Lord Master provides her with more information about the book itself, and believes he knows a way to be able to merge with it without letting it possess him and corrupt his soul. All the while, Mac waits like an Angel Shark beneath the sand and patiently waits for the perfect moment to strike.

The war between humans and the Fae continues to escalate, and become even more dangerous as new alliances are formed, shocking and bitter betrayals steal our breath away, and finally figuring out how exactly to stop the Sinsar Dubh, what exactly Barrons and his other men are, also figuring out who exactly Mac is. It’s been played with for a little bit now, but there’s definitely something off about the visions and memories she has that aren’t her own, other clues and newfound powers…what’s going on there? Also, the grand finale of it all will reveal a enemy that has been like a wolf hidden amongst the sheep: someone who’s started all of this, and someone who had the most to gain through everything that has happened…

What I Liked:

  1. That Finale! What a surprise! There were two major reveals in the climax of the book: one that involved multiple people and the other that was shocking, but part of me just wants to say…I FUCKING CALLED IT! Ever since I’d met this character, I’ve had an off feeling about them, and I’m happy to say my gut reaction was right about them all along!
  2. Dani O’Malley! Let me start off by saying that I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Dani, especially as she becomes a more central character and you hear from her perspective in a few chapters…Not a fan. I think she needs to go through some more growth before she takes center stage, HOWEVER…something happens in this book that makes her character a whole lot more interesting, and raises many eyebrows too. Suddenly, I want to hear more about what’s going through her head, and how certain things came to be.
  3. How Nicely Everything Ties (Mostly) Together! I’ve loved how tightly woven the plot and all it’s mysteries have been planned out throughout this series since the very first book. So many little factors that have stacked on top of each other and have added to the anxiety produced at how slowly things are revealed. I have to say overall how everything tied together in the end really well with this book; it was obvious that Karen Marie Moning knew about how this outcome would come to be since the very beginning and gave us clues and tidbits of info at an achingly slow pace that built until this moment. As far as I’m aware, every question that’s popped up has been accounted for, and there aren’t any holes left untouched!
  4. Mac and Jericho’s Relationship! In this book, it’s shown how their relationship has changed and honestly has become more satisfying than any of the other books in this regard. What I can truly appreciate about KMM’s work on Barrons is that he stays true to his character. He’s not some soft, vulnerable being who shows a sensitive side of himself whenever it’s just him and Mac, and he never becomes that guy either. He stays hard, cheeky, cold, snippy, but we love him for it anyways. The two of them still have those many, many arguments, but they also have those important conversations with them just looking at each other. The sexual tension continues to build and build between them, and while he doesn’t lose his edge to do it, Barrons finally reveals what his true feelings are and I am HERE for it!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Highlanders Cross-Over…For many fans of Karen Marie Moning, I’m sure you’re aware of her other series out there: The Highlander series. I personally have not read it, and honestly don’t plan on reading it either, but can tell you that the main characters of that series come over to Dublin. You’d met some of them in the previous book too, but as they’re the group of Druids that assisted the Seelie Fae Court since ancient times, they are needed in order to assist in the capture and containment of the Sinsar Dubh. For me, it was a jumble of other characters that were a struggle to be able to tell the difference between. I know some fans were probably jumping with glee about this crossover–I probs would be too–but with me not touching the other series, this addition was honestly kind of lost on me.
  2. What Barrons Turns Out To Be…I’m not gonna lie…this reveal was disappointing to me. I just thought with so much emphasis around the mystery of what exactly Jericho Barrons was would’ve lead to a much bigger reveal in the end. I was someone who’d suspected he was the Unseelie King, and he was after the Sinsar Dubh because as the king, he’d created it, but realized he’d made it too powerful, and wanted to destroy it once and for all. I think what he turns out to be is cool enough, and would be interested in learning more background info/history of what he is later on in the series, so we’ll see I guess…

Conclusion:

An epic finale of what I guess is only the first phase of this intricate and twisted urban fantasy series that has become a serious addiction since the start of 2020. All our frustrations as readers has finally been rewarded, and KMM gives us so many answers to our questions that have been with us since the very first book, Darkfever. While she ties pretty much all of her loose ends together, she’s also able to reveal some shocking new information too that tells us things are very much far from over…

Part of me really wishes I could go back and reread all these first five books, and catch all the little details and easter eggs I’d missed and become even more impressed at the masterful storytelling this series has given me, but know I have so many other books I haven’t touched on my “to read” shelf that I seriously need to give a try already. It’s okay, because I love this series so much already that I have hardcover copies already giving my bookshelf a massive glow-up with their presence, so it’ll happen at some point, that much is guaranteed.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: September 1st, 2015
Number of Pages: 648 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Be warned!! This review contains spoilers from previous books in the series, so continue reading at your own risk. You’ve officially been warned!!***

To see my review of book #0.5 – The Assassin’s Blade – Click HERE

To see my review of book #1 – Throne of Glass – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Crown of Midnight – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Heir of Fire – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

By now, we’re so far into the series and even further into the evolution that was Celaena Sardothien into Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, the long lost heir of Terrassen. We’ve gotten to know her as a character, see her bloody past and her mistakes, and to see her grow before our eyes as readers. We’ve also met plenty of memorable characters along the way too; some that will be major players for the battle ahead!

Queen Of Shadows is a particularly interesting part of the series because of a few reasons. It was obvious—even back during Heir of Fire—that the series had taken a massive shift. A major change to the tone and the overall feel of these books was evident, and whether or not that’s a good thing really depends on who you ask within the Throne of Glass fandom. I for one absolutely loved it—as you can tell by my star rating above—for many reasons. In my opinion, it’d felt like we’d gotten to see a lot that we’d been waiting a long time for: the reveal of the big villain behind everything, the meeting of many new characters, certain character interactions happening, and of course, the possibility of justice to the realm of Adarlan.

For a few though, they say things like how it feels more like fanfiction from it’s own author, how certain characters have been pushed aside, and the series has gone in a direction that may not have been the best choice…They say plenty of other things, but I politely & respectfully disagree as I personally say Queen of Shadows is actually one of the author’s better written books. I felt like the entire time I’d read it that it was filled with so much high-octane events and amazing characters; how could anyone not appreciate that!

You can definitely tell Sarah J. Maas’s skills as a writer has continued to grow in her ability to make the plot of the whole series more complex and twice as dangerous as more and more keeps getting revealed, like the wyrdkeys and their significance, the Valg and how they want to take over, seeing both sides of the battlefield and getting inside the minds of important characters, enticing side-stories, sexual tension between love interests, and continuing to deepen the development of the world she’d created.

For me, she has an amazing talent to be able to make you fall in love with characters, even when you’d barely thought twice about them at first. She makes them feel so personable, memorable, and strong in their own ways; you wish they were real and that you were a part of your squad IRL.

Going off of that, another high point is how newer characters keep getting introduced with each book on top of the already established cast with some that have been there since the beginning, but it never feels overwhelming or unnecessary! You met Rowan, Aedion, Queen Maeve, and Manon in Heir of Fire, but more keep getting introduced in this book along with a few others that you haven’t seen in sometime since the first two books.

What It’s About:

Aelin has returned to Erilea from across the sea, ready to fight it out as she’s now been trained on her Fae abilities–her fire–but she’s going to need some extra help. She seeks out the help of anyone in Rifthold–the capital of Adarlan–even one man whom she considers a great enemy: her former trainer & mentor, Arobynn Hamel. Still reputable as the “King of the Assassins,” he informs her about her cousin, Aedion, being imprisoned and set for execution.

She also meets up with Chaol and a new ally, Nesryn Faliq, and they all get caught up on whats happened since they’d last seen each other, mainly the fact that Aedion and Dorian got captured, the latter now succumbing to the control of the Valg, and they realize just how bad everything has gotten even without them always getting at each other’s throats about it. They both carry valuable information, but neither are willing to share it with one another because of the mutual distrust they now share with their tense history.

More players enter the game as (spoiler alert but not really)…Rowan makes his way over from across the sea too and reunites with Aelin as they try to get ahead of their enemies and learn so much more about the Valg and what exactly has been happening.

Meanwhile, Manon Blackbeak and the other Ironteeth Witch clans are still in Morath training with their Wyverns for when the King of Adarlan finally calls them forth to battle. Her and Duke Perrington butt heads as she tries to figure out what exactly is going on, and he’s having her choose a clan for an experiment with the witches and the implantation of Valg stones to see if they can successfully breed together. She also wonders what role another female prisoner must play, but becomes concerned when her deadly power shows that more is definitely going on than she’s actually aware of. Maybe this isn’t what she signed up for?…She also meets a servant/kitchen maid, Elide Lochan, who may or may not be another key player added to the mix and is more than meets the eye.

So, so, so, so, so many things happen in this book: there are many twists and turns, epic battles, bitter betrayals, new characters introduced, familiar characters that continue to grow, and even more plots become revealed in this next installment in one of my all-time favorite series!

What I Liked:

  1. You Meet Lysandra (Sort Of)! Lysandra is a former courtesan (prostitute), and the mistress of Arobynn Hamel. If you’d read The Assassin’s Blade—which you totally should if you haven’t already—it was there where you actually first met her and instantly thought of her as the token hot & sexy mean girl who knows she’s hot and is an instant enemy to Aelin because she’s threatened…Obviously, as you get to know Lysandra more in this book, you’ll come to know that is the complete opposite of who she actually is. Her as a character and her dynamic with Aelin throughout Queen of Shadows was excellently done, and as more is revealed about her, you’ll quickly add her to your list of favorite characters.
  2. You Meet Arobynn Hamel (Sort Of)! The man has quite the reputation, that much is certain…You’ve heard his name thrown out plenty of times, but if you skipped The Assassin’s Blade novellas—seriously, read them if you haven’t—you come face to face with the “King of the Assassins” himself for the first time in person. Aelin returns and reluctantly seeks him out for assistance in rescuing Aedion from the castle, but it may as well be making a deal with the devil, as she learns he continues his deadly mind games and has plans of his own in their uneasy alliance.
  3. You Also Meet Lorcan Salvaterre and Elide Lochan! Even more new-ish characters! You’d kind of met Lorcan in the previous book, but he wasn’t there for too long, so it would’ve been easy to write him off and assume you’d maybe never see him again….WRONG! The legendary warrior is back with a vengeance under the orders of the Fae Queen Maeve after how things ended between her and Aelin’s confrontation across the sea. He hunts for the ring to return to his master, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it back, including going head-to-head with Rowan. Next, we’ve got Elide Lochan, who meets and reluctantly befriends Manon. I liked her instantly because despite her limp and her misleadingly weak demeanor, it was revealed how crafty she is and how she’s a survivor. There’s definitely more than meets the eye with her, so watch out!
  4. So Many Strong Female Characters! You already know Aelin and Manon, who are both total badass babes, but literally EVERY female character in this book is too! There’s Elide, who has mastered the art of deception in order to survive, Nesryn Faliq is a master archer who becomes a big help in the many rescue missions, Lysandra shows so many hidden depths to her character, you learn more about Asterin Blackbeak as her character is explored more, and even (spoiler alert!!)…………..Kaltain Rompier makes a surprise reappearance and is able to change the game in her own way!
  5. The Big Bad Guy Revealed! I’m going to say this is a major spoiler for the book, so readers beware!…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….Okay, so we’ve known about the Valg, right? The shadowy demons from another dimension that have come into this world through ancient wyrdgates and plan to take over and turn it into a dark, icy, windy wasteland much like their homeland. There have been a few higher ups–the Valg Princes–but now it’s revealed there’s an even BIGGER villain that’s in charge of it all: it turns out there are actually three Valg Kings, and one of them has come over and goes by the name Erawan. He was locked in a tomb deep beneath the mountains many years ago, but was also revealed to have been let out, and has been let loose into their world this whole time! I know, this plot twist sounds eerily similar to the White Walkers, wights, and Night King story arc from Game of Thrones, but you have to admit that it certainly raises the stakes, and makes you rethink everything about a certain character that has always been there, but had remained in the background until now…creepy stuff!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Sudden Shift With The Romance…Now hear me out, I am a big supporter of romantic subplots and am a firm believer in OTPs. It’s even better when the romance is a subplot and it doesn’t interfere with the main storyline, which is a case in this series when it comes to budding romance between Aelin and Rowan. I think this is a big part of why some people don’t like this book because they were major shippers of Celaena and Chaol from the first two books in the series–I was too, but at the same time I also figured with how they’d developed that they weren’t actually right for each other. Once it was revealed that she was Fae, he just couldn’t see past that and couldn’t look at her the same. It made sense because that’s the kind of character Chaol is: very traditional, raised a certain way, and has a certain set of beliefs. I get it, but was disappointed with him nonetheless. Aelin wasn’t all that innocent either; both of them made mistakes, and they call each other out on it in this book. Anyways…Now it seems her and Rowan have a thing going on, and while I do see it, I felt like it was a bit of a jump that could’ve been smoother. In Heir of Fire, the two of them had a complex relationship that’d felt more platonic and friendship based, and then we get here and there’s suddenly romantic feelings beneath the surface that neither fully admit to, sexual tension that burns them from the inside out…and like I said, it just could’ve been a smoother transition. It feels like this subplot was added just so there could be at least ONE major romance going on in this title. All I can say is, I agree when it’s said that Chaol was good for Celaena but Rowan is good for Aelin, and there is a difference there.
  2. Chaol Reduced to the Bitter Ex…While part of me knows this isn’t necessarily true in some regards, I consider my biggest disappointment with the series how it’d felt like Chaol and Dorian got done dirty and were pushed aside to make way for Rowan and Aedion. Nothing against those two, but I have a thing against social climbers who ditch their old friends for people newer and “better,” and it felt like that with Sarah’s treatment of continuing to break up the original trio who we’ve all come to know and love. In this book, Chaol and Aelin reunite, but it’s clear they’re both still harboring some ill will towards each other. Chaol seemed to have been reduced to the bitter ex role, and just becomes the antagonist who questions Aelin at every opportunity that arises. Not that it isn’t completely unjustified; Aelin has screwed up too, and it’s nice to see that Chaol still isn’t afraid to call her out on her faults, but it still felt at some points it was like he purposefully got in her way or poked at her sides in some petty act of revenge of a bruised ego. Maybe that’s not how others saw him in this title, but as a serious fan of him and his quieter, more stoic demeanor; I was continued to be disappointed to see where his character has gone by this point.
  3. “Why Are You So Obsessed With Me?“…It’s gotten quite repetitive with how many times you hear how amazing Aelin/Celaena is by now. Everyone still seems to fuss over her, obsess about her, is in love with her, in awe of her, etc….like okay, fine, she turns out to be the long lost heir to the throne, her power is pretty cool if not the most original special ability to have even if the amount of her power has never been seen before…Believe me, we get it by now Sarah…She’s fire, she’s ash, she’s light, and she’s embers. She will bow to no one and take what is rightfully hers by blood-right. Why are we hearing the same pep talk over and over again?

Conclusion:

A thiccccc addition to this action-packed, high fantasy series! The book’s substantial size may seem intimidating, but let me assure you that it doesn’t slow down or bore you to tears. Lots of things happen–some you’ve been hoping to see since the beginning–and lots of new characters to get to know! Some you may have met if you’d read The Assassin’s Blade—One last time: READ IT—but still plenty more where they come from, and the plot thickens with the reveal of a major villain!

The series has shifted since the first two books, and honestly kind of has an even bigger Game of Thrones feel to it overall, but that doesn’t necessarily detract from it in any way! There’s still plenty to get excited about with all the intrigue, the danger, the monsters, the romance, the brutality, and the strong bonds formed between the characters. Also, total side note, but who else totally jammed out to Halsey’s “Castle” (The Huntsman version or the original) while reading this?

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell