New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Kingdom of the Wicked (Kingdom of the Wicked #1): by Kerri Maniscalco

Publish Date: October 27th, 2020
Number of Pages: 372 Pages
Publisher: JIMMY Patterson
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, New Adult Romance, YA Romance, Paranormal Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Pages

There are victors and victims. Decide who you want to be. Or the choice will be made for you, witch. And I doubt you’ll like it.

I threw my head back and groaned. ‘It’s a game of scopa, not a battle between life and death. Are you always this dramatic?'”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

Kingdom of the Wicked was a slow burn of a book for me; the beginning started off like any other YA Fantasy title, but once you get further into the story and discover more and more myth and lore in the world that the author of the Stalking Jack The Ripper series has created, I can really say that the book takes off with a jolt in some witchy delight!

This is actually my first novel by Kerri Maniscalco, and after reading it I can say I’m definitely more and more interested in reading her other series I mentioned above because there are still some familiar themes of murder, mystery, romance, and historical settings to make the reader engaged and wanting to stay up late to see what happens next. What I’m noticing with this newer series, however, is that the author seems to have more room for fun and creativity to take her story even further!

The romance was a huge draw for me, and for the most part, it certainly didn’t disappoint! I easily got into the chemistry that oozed between the two main characters, Emilia and Wrath, and loved their whole dynamic; I never get tired of an enemies-to-lovers dynamic. While both characters weren’t anything brand new or entirely unique to the genre, I can say they’re still fun to read as they argue and (attempt) to ignore their growing attractions for each other as they work together to solve a murder mystery.

It wasn’t a perfect read; The the overall pacing with the chapters and how they’re set up was a little strange for my liking, and some of the ending needs to be clarified for me—or I need to go back and reread it for myself and make sure I pay more attention!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Two sisters…

One brutal murder…

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance…

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

‘One day you might beg me to kiss you.’ He stepped close enough for me to stab him.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

What I Liked:

  1. The Many Food Descriptions! Several other reviewers pointed this one out, but there are some seriously delicious italian dishes that get mentioned in this book since the main character’s family owns and operates a restaurant. Cannoli’s are amazing, and I had some major cravings for some once I arrived to that part within the story…yum!
  2. The Romance Between Wrath and Emilia! This book is a great addition to the enemies-to-lovers romance trope as Wrath and Emilia have some immediate sexual tension that builds and builds between them as they reluctantly work together to solve the murder of her twin sister. They irritate each other and start verbal lashings from each other, but underneath it all is an obvious attraction that neither can ignore the closer they become. Their dynamic also grew rather realistically as they slowly begin to trust each other—at least until certain things happen—and rely on each other’s strength into a begrudging respect for one another.
  3. The Worldbuilding! I actually liked the class systems of demons the author presented us, there are also the seven demon princes of hell representing the seven deadly sins, the witches living amongst the normal folks and the witch hunters who are secretly members of the church, even werewolves; it’s all mixed together to create an interesting world that may or make this series an incredibly memorable one!
  4. The “Whodunnit” Murder Mystery! I always love a good mystery where the main character is on the hunt for a killer who leaves a bloody trail of bodies behind.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Beginning Felt Very Generic…This book was pretty boring at first and felt like any general YA Fantasy title out there, but once Emilia and Wrath run into each other and meet for the first time, that was when things really begin to take off!
  2. Not Enough Steam…I know this is a YA Fantasy book so the sexual content (a.k.a. smut) is supposed to be very limited, but really do feel like this story would be even better if there were more steamy scenes. I mean like let’s see truly how “wicked” Prince Wrath can be *wink*wink.* Maybe there’ll be more scenes like this in later books, but again, I know it can only go so far within the YA reading level.
  3. The Ending…Okay, so this one may be on me because I maybe wasn’t fully paying close enough attention and missed something, but part of the ending kind of went over my head. For most of the book, it felt like a pretty light read that didn’t require my entire attention, but then all of a sudden SO MUCH was happening at the end and I blinked and missed some vital information I think…if someone sees this review and wants to message me to fully explain it all to me, you’d officially be my favorite person!!
  4. The Short Chapters…Some chapters were only like a page and a half long, and I was wondering to myself why a single conversation was sometimes three whole chapters when it could’ve been just one? It was weird pacing to me and kind of annoying at times…

Conclusion:

This is my first Kerri Maniscalco novel, and this book really does make me interested in reading her Stalking Jack The Ripper series that put her name on the map!

Like the romance between the two main characters in this book, the story was a slow burn that definitely left me interested to keep reading on once the next book arrives later on! It wasn’t the next binge-worthy series for me to become obsessed with, but this book shows that the series has a whole lot of potential to become a huge fan favorite among the many other incredibly popular YA Fantasy series most of us readers know and love!

A reckoning awoke in me. The more I gave, the more he returned. We traded kisses like blows. And if this were a fight, I wouldn’t know who was winning. I understood why some thought kissing one of the Wicked was addictive. Each time his tongue touched mine, it felt as if the ground beneath me quaked. Like we were a cataclysmic event that shouldn’t be.”

– Kerri Maniscalco, “Kingdom of the Wicked”

I recommend this book to those that really enjoyed other titles like Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin or the Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black; the dynamic between Wrath and Emilia for sure gave me some impressions of Jude and Cardan with the whole enemies-to-lovers, then back to enemies dynamic!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: The Guest List: by Lucy Foley

Publish Date: June 2nd, 2020
Number of Pages: 330 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

There’s something about the season of Autumn that just gets me in the mood for a juicy murder mystery novel! the changing of the leaves, the crisp air, the warm drinks, and making the shift from t-shirts and shorts over to sweaters and jeans just gets me in the mindset to want to get into a creepy story that makes my mind race and keeps me guessing until the bloody climax. I’d maybe even say it’s similar to those who really enjoy having horror movie marathons during the months of fall; with Halloween just around the corner, why not be spooked a little bit for your amusement? I’ve never been a big fan of horror in both book or movie form, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t drift away from what I usually enjoy reading and turn to something with a much more sinister vibe to it, at least for the sake of a good story!

The Guest List is the most recent release from author Lucy Foley, who’s written another suspense/thriller/mystery titled The Hunting Party, which I haven’t read yet, but it’s definitely on my radar! With the gorgeous cover design, and my interest in a murder mystery story piqued during the fall season, I wanted to give it a try and see how I liked it. It wasn’t a bad book at all, in fact it’s actually set up in a creative way of mixing the past with present day, but I just wasn’t as excited as I’d hoped I’d be. I was curious enough to want to keep reading on and see who was behind it, and I also wasn’t disappointed at the big reveal at the end, but I just wasn’t mind-blown or completely shocked out of my whit by this story.

There are some incredibly noteworthy things I want to address about this book, as I don’t like to only leave my negative thoughts known in my reviews: I loved how the author had this story told from multiple perspectives, how unpredictable the story overall was and how I didn’t know who the killer was until they revealed themselves, and Will Slater ended up being an incredible character for the sake of the story!

Even though I’m lukewarm about this book, I’d still easily recommend it to those who love books within the genre it belongs to. I think just because I didn’t fully get out of it what I wanted, I can still see how others could really get into this story and enjoy it much more than I did.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

What I Liked:

  1. It’s Told From Multiple Perspectives! I really do like a story told through the views of multiple characters, it can make a story feel so fresh and more interesting that way, and it really added to this book to see how the timeline developed. You see one event happen within the day leading up to the wedding; some actions were more shocking than others, or a character was acting strange, and then someone else’s perspective has an assist in explaining it afterward. You have Aoife (the wedding planner), Jules (the bride), Johnno (the best man), Hannah (the plus one), and Olivia (the bridesmaid). Each of them have their own secrets and baggage that seem to have followed them to the island where this wedding is taking place.
  2. It Kept Me Guessing! I love to be unsure of who the killer is in a whodunnit-style mystery, and this book truly had me trying to figure it out up until the big climax of the story and the killer is revealed!
  3. Will Slater. It’s not that I liked the character, in fact you’ll like him less and less as you read on, but the way the author integrated him into the story and had him be such a pivotal character despite how he’s not one of the character’s who’s telling the story, I had to make a note about him and how on the outside he seems like the Hollywood “golden boy” but has so much more going on beneath the surface. Definitely keep your eye on him when you read this book!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It’s a Real Slow Burn…I’m not exactly sure what the perfect way to set up a murder mystery like this would’ve been, the author technically checked off every major aspect to include in the set up: have a cast of characters, give them all terrible secrets and some sort of connection to each other, put them all in an isolated environment and have their means of communication cut off from the outside world so they’re trapped. What really slowed this book down in the middle was getting to know the characters and getting a sense of who they were. As it went on, the characters did get more interesting as secrets slowly began to reveal themselves until suddenly everyone had a motive to be the killer, but it was just so slowly drawn out that this book was a little hard to initially want to keep reading.
  2. Don’t Know The Victim Until The End…The story is told in a way that has it constantly switching back and forth to the night of the wedding and the day before when the bridal party and the close family members arrived. The night of the wedding, it’s implied that someone has been killed and a small search party goes out in search of whoever it may be. Switch back to the day before, and things slowly escalate to make you have two questions: who’s the victim, and who killed them? Personally, I like the murder mysteries where the killer takes out multiple people one-by-one. I’ll admit the way this whole story was told was cleverly done and was pretty creative amongst the many other murder mystery stories out there, but I personally find that I just like the stories with multiple murder victims: they’re just more exciting to read in my opinion.

Conclusion:

A clever, well written whodunnit-style murder mystery that will truly leave you wondering who could possibly be behind it until the very end. A perfect fix for anyone who likes to get into the suspense/thriller in the fall like I do, I think anyone who enjoyed books like And Then There None by Agatha Christie and An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena will enjoy this book!

Overall, I thought The Guest List was an okay read but didn’t love it, but lately any sort of suspense/thriller hasn’t really hit me like they used to. Believe it or not, but they just aren’t thrilling enough for me, ironic enough. I’m always happy to hear recommendations from anyone interested, so if you have one that you think I’d enjoy, I’d love to hear it!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, Romance

My Review: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: March 3rd, 2020
Number of Pages: 803 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

Through love, all is possible.”

– Sarah J. Maas, “House of Earth and Blood”

I know, I know…it sounds like a really cheesy quote; like something straight out of a Sailor Moon movie where something flower or heart shaped pops out of Serena’s chest along with some song with those exact lyrics while she saves the world with the help of Tuxedo Mask and the other sailor scouts and everything becomes back to normal…Read this book though, and this quote will have much more meaning to you, along with the characters who say it.

So, it’s been a couple of days since I’d finished this behemoth of a book, and with the time away from it, I was able to fully absorb everything that happens and be able to organize my thoughts. I’ve also been able to get a Fancast for the series going on here as well

You should check out my in-progress Fancast/Dreamcast by clicking the link HERE!

Like any other title SJM has written, I’d gotten completely transported into the story with all its characters, and nothing else mattered to me but finding out what happened next. I know some people aren’t really fans of her work—a few who’ve read this couldn’t get past the repetitiveness of her words—but I can’t help but admit that I just really connect with her books! The plots, the characters, the twists, and the romance; I just can never get enough of it…Plus, isn’t it normal for an author to have similar themes and/or characters in their multiple work projects? If it works for them once, can’t it work again? Also, don’t readers also have a set of similar expectations whenever they check out the author’s other books anyways?

I had many different emotions while reading this book: the first one being confusion because right off the bat there was a TON of world-building info that honestly didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The next was the usual overall happiness because theres also a group dynamic amongst the main character, her long-time best friend, and their squad of wolves—not werewolves because they can choose when to change. The next was absolute heartbreak…then that turned back into excitement, and I’m not going to lie, I actually cried six times the last 25% of the book too, and now I need to know what happens next when the sequel doesn’t even have a release date yet!

Great…

I did have some initial hesitation going in that I thought was worth mentioning. Once I’d read the blurb, I was worried how similar this plot sounded compared to A LOT of other paranormal romance titles/series out there. One in particular that I’ve become obsessed with in 2020: The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. They both sounded too eerily similar: both include a young, gorgeous party girl who’s easy, party-drug induced world is flipped upside down when someone they care about more than anything else ends up mysteriously murdered. They’re thrust into deadly hunt to find some answers with the reluctant help of Mr. Tall, Dark, Gorgeous…and completely broody, cheeky alphahole. Together, they discover the dark workings of an underworld full of demons and other evil creatures, along with many sketchy beings, and make questionable alliances in order to learn the truth and save the world from impending doom. I was thankfully relieved when after I’d gotten a few chapters in at how different the two stories were able to remain amongst each other, especially as it would’ve looked worse for SJM since the Fever series has been coming out since 2006. She’d dodged the bullet there, and still managed to make another series that’s just as binge-worthy.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Bound by blood.
Tempted by desire.
Unleashed by destiny.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance Development! So it can’t even be considered a spoiler because of the blurb, but there’s a romantic subplot that occurs between Bryce and Hunt. I would gladly categorize it under the “Enemies-to-Lovers” romance trope, and it’s honestly done to perfection. The two of them become reluctant partners to try and solve the big mystery of the murders, and as the stakes get higher, they grow closer along with the sexual tension rising at a really well drawn out slow burn. Hunt and Bryce really compliment each other well, and as they grow closer and become more vulnerable with each other, they reveal tidbits about themselves and realize how similar they both are. I seriously just loved their relationship, and how they’d come to mean so much to each other in the amount of time they spend together. I really, really hope they’re endgame because based off how SJM book romances go, the first love NEVER works out…Hopefully this relationship breaks the pattern.
  2. SJM Called Herself Out! SJM has gotten a reputation for having the same content in her books, but also excluding certain components too: mainly, people get sick of how she doesn’t seem to try and include diverse characters in terms of both ethnicity and sexual orientation; she only likes to write characters who are straight + white. They also say her male love interests are complete alphaholes— who gets way too possessive, jealous, and the word mixes the word alpha with asshole for those that couldn’t figure it out. He’s usually broody, moody, and scowls a lot while being considered an admirable/fearsome leader, and usually has a tragic background and doesn’t think he’ll ever find love…spoiler alert: he eventually does with the main character. There’s more to it, but I think you get the point…Bryce calls Hunt out right as their partnership is officially formed, and I actually laughed as I’d pictured SJM herself flicking off all the haters to show everyone that she sees them..and she beat them to the punch. It felt like SJM listened to the criticism she often receives from some readers, and showed them how she’s aware of it all, and honestly made an effort to change it for this book.
  3. Ruhn Danaan! I think he’s considered a minor character, but he also feels like a main character because you read his perspective throughout the story, but all I know is, he is by far one of the best characters in this book. He calls himself out on his “chosen one” status everyone has given him as the heir to the Fae throne in Crescent City, but based off his demeanor and how he’s gone all tattoos-and-piercings; he rebels against the expectations everyone has given him. His relationship as Bryce’s cousin…anyways, it’s also quite a treat to enjoy to see how it evolves and uncover hidden depths of its dynamic as you read on, so please enjoy!
  4. The Cover Design! House of Earth and Blood probably has to be her best cover yet! I’ve loved some of the Throne of Glass covers while not really the Court of Thorns and Roses covers, but this one instantly bops to the top!
  5. The Theme of Friendship! The deepest relationship besides Bryce and Hunt’s relationship explored is the friendship between Bryce and her sister from another mister, Danika. Throughout the story, their friendship really goes through the wringer, and is tested as more secrets are unveiled in order to solve the mystery. This was especially shocking because you know about Danika’s terrible fate even in the blurb. It’s a real emotional roller coaster, especially as you learn how hard it is for both women to actually say the words I love you to anyone else and how they’d literally die for each other and sacrifice everything in order for the other to be happy. Nothing exchanged between these two is insignificant, that’s for sure!
  6. The Swearing and the Sex Talk! Honestly, I am here for the amount of swearing there is in this book; it makes up for every “fuck” Aelin wanted to yell but wasn’t able to. I swear a lot when I talk amongst my friends or whenever I’m in a casual setting, so this truly resonated with me, and made the dialogue feel so much more natural! SJM has quite of bit of her characters lewdly talk about topics like sex, drugs, drinking, and partying because it’s stuff that people actually talk about in today’s world. At least, they are amongst my friends and age group of the New Adults aged 18-25. It makes it even cooler that in this book, the people doing it are Fae, Witches, Mermaids, Witches, Wolves, Vampires, and other creatures straight out of fairy tales.
  7. The Evolution of Danika! Like I’d mentioned above, Danika was a huge surprise for this book. Once the inevitable happens, I’d kind of written her off, but her character continued to stay relevant as the plot thickened. It turns out Danika had a lot of secrets to hide, and even has her moral code questioned at one point, only to develop even further, and I was amazed at how SJM was able to do that with a character that was never standing by the rest of the cast in present time. My favorite part of SJM’s writing is her character work, by far. She can even make a dead girl one of the most popular characters of the entire book, not to knock any of the characters still alive—just read the book to see what I mean.
  8. Aidas! A character we see only three times, and of course he’s the most interesting character to me despite that fact. He’s a level-5 demon prince from Hel (not a typo, thats how it’s spelled in this book), and since there’s only two other princes above his status, he’s kind of a big deal. He’s partially at fault with how I want the next book, like, NOW! The very last words are uttered by him, and with that, the torturous waiting has begun…

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Massive Info Dump at the Beginning…One of the biggest critiques this book has been receiving is the massive info dump that occurs within the very first few chapters, and I gotta say I’m in total agreement here. 80% of Chapter 1 is an info dump, and it’s just way too much too soon, and it hardly made any sense as quite a bit of the information doesn’t really come into play until much later in the book. I say, SJM should’ve spaced it out more to make even the opening chapter less overwhelming for everyone reading it for the first time. I can say, however, once you get past this initial set up, the book gets a whole lot better, and even the last third of the book is balls to the walls amazing! Seriously, if the book is dragging for you, PLEASE wait until the last 200 pages to really give it a chance, because it makes it all so worth it!
  2. The WorldBuilding is All Over the Place! With the info dumps at the beginning, it’s also confusing how so many cities and other civilizations are referenced so much in this story, but we don’t know where they are, or have any map for reference to help my fellow visual learners make reading it any easier. The only map we get is of Crescent City itself, so that was irksome…Hopefully another map of the whole world will be created soon, maybe even before the next book releases. Hopefully!
  3. Compared To Her Other Work…Not that I didn’t enjoy the book, but once people started pointing out certain things, I couldn’t ignore it. They’re saying she’s almost plagiarizing herself with how similar this book is compared to her Throne of Glass series. A lot of the character arcs all seem the same, and I don’t feel like going into detail about it all, but I can say that I definitely see the comparison made there.
  4. It’s Length…No, not the velvet wrapped steel SJM sometimes mentions in her sex scenes….you filthy perverts can go get your minds out of the gutters! I’m talking about how this is one thicccc book, and for those that are already on the fence about SJM and her books, this one will be a major test to see how you fare with her work because of the length, and how no major twists or revelations happen until after the 500 page mark. Even I can agree that the pages before you hit 500 could’ve been condensed a bit more in order to make it an easier read for some people. I remember I had a similar issue like this with The Priory of the Orange Tree, but I have other issues besides the length of that title, and I will say something controversial by stating I enjoyed this title more than the standalone literal brick by Samantha Shannon—check out my review in the embedded link to see my reasoning for that.

Conclusion:

At this point, I really take a lot of the criticism SJM books receive with a grain of salt. I’m always extremely emotionally invested in her stories whenever I open the pages of my copy of whatever book it is of hers, whether it’s for the first time ever or I’m able to squeeze in a reread of the previous book before the next one releases. I just connect with her style of writing so much, and enjoy her work more than so many other authors. I can recognize her faults as a writer too, and still be able to look past them to still be able to enjoy her stories. I just hope some people will learn to go out and find other authors that they can enjoy and praise more instead of wasting so much time and energy bashing her work just because she won’t include certain components into her titles. No writer should be forced to do something like that, to change how they tell a story just because certain members of the target audience require X,Y, and Z in order to be able to enjoy a work of fiction. Like I said, if you don’t like an author, simply go search for someone else’s work to praise instead. SJM has a huge following, her books are always popular, so some negative reviews on Goodreads aren’t going to change that anytime soon! Okay…rant over on that, now back to House of Earth and Blood:

Was this book perfect? No.

Is this book my new favorite? I’m not sure, but it’s defs up there!

Did I still enjoy this book? Hell yeah!

Did I cry while reading this book? Oh, you bet’cha…

Do I need the next book? Immediately!

I recommend this book to anyone who already enjoys Sarah J. Maas’s other books, maybe more her later work that gets more mature themes. Personally, I would be fine if she decides to stay this route and not continue with YA anymore just because I can tell she enjoys the more mature themes, like the swearing and sex scenes themselves that can only get a whole lot better as she keeps writing! I also recommend this book to people that enjoyed titles like the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning; Bryce Quinlan has a lot of similarities to Mackayla Lane that I think fans of both series will immensely enjoy, and might also enjoy comparing Hunt Athalar to Jericho Barrons! Total side note: but wow, their names sound so much more crazy when they’re next to each other like that… It’s a good thing I’m still crazy about those two alphaholes!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: The Shadows Between Us: by Tricia Levenseller

Publish Date: February 25th, 2020
Number of Pages: 326 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This is definitely a title to check out for those lovers of villains out there! There are many things to this 2020 release that makes it a story that many can enjoy:

  1. A female MC who doesn’t apologize for who she is.
  2. It’s a standalone
  3. Both the main LI’s are villains
  4. It’s been advertised as a Slytherin romance – which is actually almost a perfect way to describe it!
  5. The MC is incredibly complex in her ability to be both malicious and cunning, but kind and thoughtful all the same
  6. I suppose theres a “fake dating” trope
  7. A murder mystery
  8. A devilishly swoon-worthy male love interest
  9. it’s just overall fun!

Now I will be honest…this story wasn’t perfect—they hardly ever are—and this title didn’t necessarily live up to the expectations I’d given it. It had a few components I hadn’t expected to be included in the plot, and I won’t say they were bad, I’ll just say it wasn’t the direction I wanted it to go. It just felt like this book went the safe route after its initial set up, and I’d hoped it’d go down a much darker and twisted path. BUT…this title is still immensely enjoyable in the fact that as its a Slytherin romance, and it’s also a drawn out, slow-burn romance at that, and it still has quite a few enjoyable minor characters to add to the cast.

The cover you see above is the original cover design, but this boy decided to try out Fairyloot, a YA Fantasy subscription box stationed over in the UK, and while it didn’t straight out tell me this was the book I’d be receiving, a little research had made me 99% sure this was the book I’d receive. Below is the Fairyloot exclusive edition:

There’s not too big a difference based off just the initial glance at it besides the color choice of the background, but usually these subscription editions of books there’s more to it: there is exclusive artwork of the two main characters on the opposite side of the dust jacket, exclusive embossing on the hardcover, it’s signed by the author, and has a letter from her with a beautiful commission of the devious couple who star in this story, and that’s not even including all the other bookish items you get inside with your new book! What I’m trying to point out is, if you enjoy reading YA fantasy and enjoy receiving mail, I say check out their website and try it out!

What It’s About:

Allesandra Stathos is a young woman in a higher class noble family, but depending on who you ask, she’s very far from the lady that’s to be expected of her. Empowered to make men kneel at her feet, she’s not above taking a lover or two into the bedroom, and has even killed the very first boy with whom she’s given her heart to out of sheer revenge. Needless to say, she’s definitely not your average protagonist of the story.

In an effort to distance herself from her family and gain even more power, she devises a wicked plan: the woo the young Shadow King, manipulate him into falling for her and asking her to marry him, then to kill him and take the kingdom for herself. It’s a mystery surrounding him as to what his shadow capabilities can do exactly: are they controlling him? He can control them to do his bidding? Perhaps they insidiously whisper people’s secrets into his ear and warning him of who is actually his enemies. Either way, Allesandra has a plan, and she intends to go through with it.

Unfortunately for her, she’s not the only one with a similar plan, and she soon finds herself going out of her way to protect the Shadow King as invisible enemies also attempt to take his life. She’s not the only one who can come up with a villainous plan, but she also needs to watch out to not fall for the king herself in order to be seated on that throne by the end of it all…

What I Liked:

  1. Allesandra is the Main Character We Needed! She’s not the chosen one who’s to save the world, she’s not the long lost queen who’s come to reclaim what is rightfully hers, and thank effing god she’s not the shy, awkward girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty when she’s got, like, four different guys fighting for her affections…She’s unapologetically herself. I loved how she can go from planning out someone’s murder to gushing over a puppy in a single moment. She’s incredibly self-aware, ambitious, sexually confident, cunning, smart, conniving, and honestly acts the way I’m sure a lot of us wish we could on most days. Who wouldn’t be pissed at someone who broke their heart, and of course only after they’d had their virginity taken, and want to stab them repeatedly in retaliation? The only difference is: Allesandra Stathos actually goes through with it.
  2. It’s A Villain Love Story! I’m totally into the idea of authors exploring the villain MC prompt more often. I feel like it’d make for a much more compelling story, plus lets be honest, we all like to explore our dark side every now and then, right? I’d love to see how far authors can go into the dark and twisted minds of a villain, and have that be the main perspective of the story. Some great examples of that off the top of my head would be The Young Elites trilogy by Marie Lu, or You (The Netflix show and novel by Caroline Kepnes). It’s a love story between two people who definitely appear as villains, and I appreciated the fact at how it was a more original idea than most of the stories that are published.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Ahh yes, every great romance has that drawn out slow burn…it moves every so slowly, infuriating you until you just want to squeeze something in your hands and feel it shatter! This book does a great job of that, and actually has a unique way of making it happen too; you too feel the burning inside along with the characters until it feels like a mere single touch will cause them both to erupt with passion. I will say though, it’s pretty tame in terms of love scenes, and feels like it has the same sexual tension of a victorian era romance where most of it is drawn from stolen looks and gazing into each other’s eyes…at least until the very end!
  4. Its Commentary on Feminism and Gender Roles! What was not expected from this book was it’s take on women and the role they play and how they measure up to their male counterparts. Allesandra goes against the idea of how a high class lady should act, and even risks her reputation by taking men into bed, and you know…even secretly murdering one too. Throughout the story, she challenges the set ways of sexism and wants a much more forward way of life, and makes a great point of how women should not be judged by what they do or don’t do in the bedroom. Men aren’t judged nearly as harshly, so why should they be? If men can go and sleep around, yet women have to wait until marriage, the math just doesn’t add up there. There was also a strong representation of female friendship. Our MC meets too ladies while staying in court, and she’s never had a pair of girlfriends before; other women have more been competition for her growing up. She develops great relationships with them as the story moves on, and even finds herself helping them in order to find happiness and love.
  5. It’s Standalone Novel! Based on how this story is set up, it’s really great that the author kept this as a single novel and isn’t going to try and make this into a series, or even a duology which is supposed to be the big thing right now for the genre/reading level. It’s not necessary to be honest, and not enough of the world is really explored outside the tightly woven plot. If the opposite were true, then maybe a duology would work, but a single novel is just perfect for this premise (plus there aren’t a whole lot of standalone YA Fantasy novels anyways).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Have We Met Before?…As the story progresses, Allesandra gets to know the King more and find herself falling in love with him a little more every day, and that part of it is fine…I’m more talking about the pure aesthetic that is the Shadow King. He’s a great character, I enjoyed him, but he just seems too similar to other characters I’ve seen before in other Fantasy Titles: He’s pretty much another copy of Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Darkling from The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, or even Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. They all share that same aesthetic of a ruthless dark prince-like figure who’s definitely an anti-hero if not a full on villain.
  2. Absolutely No Worldbuilding…While the romance and the plot were the main focus of this book, the setting takes a definite back seat–so much that it might as well be strapped to a car seat with a pacifier–so anyone who’s a fan of fantasy novels that are rich in detailed and well thought out lands and worlds to explore…you may want to sit this one out.
  3. It Could’ve Gone Further with the Villainous Main Characters…Allesandra starts off on a high note with her evil intentions, and even the Shadow King shows dark ambitious moments, but after awhile it’d felt like they’d lost their edge when it was becoming more and more obvious about their mutual growing attraction. I remember I had similar feelings with how Suicide Squad turned out, and wished there could’ve been more chaos with their wickedness.
  4. What About The Mystery?…I felt like the author could’ve gone further with the whole mystery aspect of the plot as to who else was trying to assassinate the king. I feel like the other villains/antagonists were way too obvious and wished their actually could’ve been more sneakiness behind the scenes amongst the court with more secrets revealed, and I would’ve loved to see scenes or moments with Allesandra trying to figure out who the killer is with her thoughts racing into paranoia. I wanted more courtly intrigue with emphasis on the members of the council and have them be even more scheming than just one character.

Conclusion:

Overall, a fun and entertaining story starring two villains as the main characters and love interests as the story; something you don’t see too often in any sort of work of fiction. Those who appreciate the darker themed stories or the anti-hero characters with obvious morally gray personalities like the characters from both The Young Elites by Marie Lu and You by Caroline Kepnes I think will really enjoy this title!

It didn’t entirely live up to the hype for me, and didn’t put as much focus into certain story components that I’d wished it had, but like I said, entertaining and binge-worthy all the same!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, Paranormal, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: House of Salt and Sorrows: by Erin A. Craig

Publish Date: August 6th, 2019
Number of Pages: 416 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance, Mystery, Paranormal

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

Flushed with starlight and moonlight drowned, all the dreamers are castle-bound. At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind, revealing fantasies soft or unkind. Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams. Come not as you are, but as you wish to be seen.”

– Erin A. Craig, “House of Salt and Sorrows”

You know the whole aesthetic of reading a book during a stormy evening? The resting by a window, snug in your little reading nook with a blanket, maybe something steaming in a mug nearby along, some candles lit, and joined by your furry BFF napping on your lap?

Yeah…don’t read this book if you enjoy any of that.

Stormy, murky, and unpredictable like the sea, House of Salt and Sorrows is a title that can entice and draw you in like a siren’s call, but the harsh reality hits you too late, and you’re dragged beneath the surface, unable to breath and see in the black abyss of the depths. This book offers great imagery and has a fun oceanic setting with a group of islands, rich with myth, lore, and ancient traditions.

I wish there was more oceanic-centric fantasy, maybe something with mysterious creatures, merfolk, maybe throw in a Kraken for added dramatics? I feel like that kind of world hasn’t been touched on as much as it should; I can only imagine the kind of stories that could come from this kind of setting. I mean, I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (the first one is one of my all-time favorite films).

Seeing the gorgeous cover of this novel, I had high hopes that I’d found that kind of story within the pages…I hadn’t exactly, but I’m not detracting that from the book by any means. The setting was perfect for it with the islands that lined up side by side like a pearl necklace, but there wasn’t much mythical creatures to add to the fantasy aspect this title had been categorized under. It’s rather a light fantasy like Caraval by Stephanie Garber, but I’d consider it more Paranormal Romance than anything.

What I didn’t know at first was how this was actually a retelling of a classic tales from the Brother’s Grimms: The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Retellings of classic fairytales that we’re all familiar with have been a real hit or miss with me, maybe it just depends on which story is being retold, but I hate to say that for the most part, I’m on the side of saying nay rather than yay. I tried to let that also not deter me from how I’d take in this book when I’d read it.

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Annaleigh, who lives with her many sisters, father, and stepmother at Highmoor manor on the island of Salten. It starts off on a dark note as theres a funeral occurring for one of Annaleigh’s sisters. Once there were twelve total sisters, but now it’s down to eight as they’ve all died from the oldest and down the line; each death more tragic and gruesome than the last. With all the grief and tragedy hanging over the family, everyone starts to believe they’re cursed.

After her most recent loss, Annaleigh has started to have nightmares: terrible and disturbing images plague her mind. She starts to suspect the worst: that her sister’s deaths might not be accidents, that they may have been murdered by some malicious force.

She discovers her sisters have been sneaking out at night; it turns out they’d found some sort of portal within a seaside cave that transports them to foreign lands with glitzy and enchanting balls, but starts to wonder what is real and what is a mirage of the mind playing tricks on her. To make matters even more tense and confusing, a beautiful and mysterious stranger arrives onto the island, and he carries some secrets of his own.

More and more death and darkness unravels in her life, bodies show up as she tries to get answers, Annaleigh has to race against the shadows in order to save herself and her family from suffering the same fate of those she’s lost…

What I Liked:

  1. The Cover/Overall Design Aesthetic! The cover is a work of art in my opinion, and the overall dark and murky tide pool aquatic design theme was a big draw for me. I’ve always loved the ocean and its many secrets, and with the book also featuring imagery of an octopus throughout the inside of the jacket and through the pages for each chapter, it satisfies my aquatic adoration. Overall, excellent work on the people at Delacorte Publishing that’d given this aesthetic the green light!
  2. There’s Some Creepy, Horror Elements! With the main plot of the story involving a multiple-corpse murder mystery, the author added a paranormal aspect with some actually unsettling scenes throughout. Some were pretty cliché, but the author describes the shadow play for these scenes in a creative and creepy way, and uses Annaleigh’s fear with the anticipation of something popping out at her, and questioning of her sanity before actually coming face-to-face with them in great ways.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Another aspect that drew me in was the romance Annaleigh develops with Cassius. It has a rather slow start, but when it finally starts to take off, it gets pretty entertaining! Cassius has the combination of medium length dark hair paired with pale eyes, and that shit is stuff I never get tired of. Added bonus is the air of mystery that surrounds him as more and more deaths occur, and he becomes a possible suspect.
  4. The Big Reveal In The Climax! Obviously I won’t spoil it for you folks, but I can for sure say that you won’t see it coming when it’s revealed what exactly is going down on the island of Salten. Part of it did actually disappoint me though; I thought it was a little randomly added in and didn’t do much for me, but again, I’m not going to spoil it. Just read it and see what you think.
  5. It’s An Accurate Retelling! So I’d mentioned earlier how this novel is actually a retelling from one of the many tales of the Brothers Grimm, and after looking more into the original story, it was fun to see how the author incorporated all the main criteria of the tale into her own story. There was the mystery of the 12 sisters and how their shoes would get worn out even as they never left their room–according to their father. There was also the contest the father initiated to whomever could solve it, and even the mysterious man who later arrives. Not everything matched up in the same order of the story, but all the main criteria was present, and twisted around to make the story new and fresh.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Main Character was Lacking…Annaleigh was just so bland in my opinion… I felt like I’d never really gotten a sense of who she was outside of trying to solve the murder mystery the plot centered around. To me, she was just a forgettable Mary Sue protagonist that was merely tugged along by the story, and swept away by the enchanting romance.
  2. Such A Slower Pace…Take this with a grain of salt as I am a 26-year-old male saying this…I mean, I’m gay too, but okay…This book for the first 200 pages was just way too slow for me. Like, it focused more on the outfits the sisters would wear, or what boring/everyday activity they were off to do. A 13-year-old boy, girl, or non-binary might find it more intriguing than I did, but like I said, this is a YA title, so it does somewhat come with the territory. It does get better as the plot thickens, but by that point, my overall interest wanes to the point of wanting to say screw it and tossing this title on the DNF shelf.

Conclusion:

Fans of Guillermo Del Toro will enjoy this enchanting, gothic, ominous, and somewhat romantic retelling of a classic Brother’s Grimm’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The story has sweeping ball gowns smooth as silk, luminescent gala’s to get lost in, beautiful strangers that catch your eye, the offering of a hand with a dark and heated gaze, and something not entirely this world chasing you along a dark corridor.

Like I’d said earlier, this book wasn’t necessarily one for me; I don’t plan on keeping it in my personal library, but I can definitely see the appeal it can draw to younger readers who love a romantic suspense of a story with fairytale-like vibe. The novel offers great visuals and has an overall gorgeous aesthetic, I just wished it’d moved faster at the beginning and focused less on the detail of the gowns and instead added even more chills and danger.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell