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

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: A Court of Thorns and Roses Series by Sarah J. Maas

Image courtesy of Instagram profile: @courtofmaas

In Sarah J. Maas’s second bestselling series, a mortal young woman named Feyre Archeron is thrust into the world of the High Fae: a world full of mystique, beauty, political intrigue, and danger. the shadow of War is brewing upon the horizon, and with her newly found allies and inner circle, she must defeat a powerful enemy in order to save the world she already knows comes to love…

This has been such a popular series amongst SJM fans, it seems to be more popular than even her first series, Throne of Glass! I personally prefer TOG, but that doesn’t detract from ACOTAR; I still consider A Court of Mist and Fury to be the author’s best book to date!

Below, I’ve included an image of the main cast created by the extraordinary artist, Charlie Bowater! Her work is simply breathtaking and she is some of my all time favorite digital artists!

To see my book review for book #1 – A Court of Thorns and Roses – Click HERE!

To see my book review for book #2 – A Court of Mist and Fury – Click HERE!

To see my book review for book #3 – A Court of Wings and Ruin – Click HERE!

To see my review of book #3.5 – A Court of Frost and Starlight – Click HERE!

To see my review of book #4 – A Court of Silver Flames – Click HERE!

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Here is my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Feyre Archeron: Barbara Palvin, or Josephine Skriver

One thing that grinds my gears with a lot of the other fancasts/fanart I’ve seen is that they make Feyre out to be blonde….um nope, that’s cancelled because she’s brunette! Both of these models have delicate & feminine features, gorgeous smiles, and have a particular look that I believe is the essence of our heroine of this whole series!

Elaine Archeron: Minka Kelly

Minka Kelly has such a soft voice, similar to Vanessa Hudgens’ but much less annoying. You may remember her from Friday Night Lights, the TV Show and the college thriller flick, The Roommate.

Nesta Archeron: Bar Refaeli

Nesta was a hard character to cast, but I believe this supermodel has a look that’s very similar to the cold, intimidating, and oldest Archeron sister. She’s not an actress, but has been on the cover of the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated magazine, and dated Leo DiCaprio!

High Lord Tamlin: Kellan Lutz, or Luke Bracey

Anyone remember Kellan from, like, nine years ago? It felt like he was everywhere thanks to his fame found with being involved in the Twilight movies as Emmett Cullen, but he’s been on the down low ever since he got married. Luke Bracey is another name to add; he was in the Nicholas Sparks movie, The Best of Me.

Lucien Vanserra: Tom Busson

A lot of other fans say that Outlander male lead, Sam Heughan, is their choice for Lucien. I had him too for quite some time too, but now I believe he’d be just too old to play the part. Maybe he’d be better suited for Eris or his father Lord Beron, but I believe this Instagram model has a look much more suited to our beloved Lucien Vanserra!

Alis: Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer is just so adorable! She’s cute as a button, but can also go into a serious mom mode in her characters, and I thought she’d be perfect to play the part of Alis, the attendant who looks after Feyre when she’s brought to the Spring Court. It also makes sense considering Alis is from the Summer Court, and if we’re going to talk about Representation, the people from there are typically of African descent!

High Lord Rhysand: Ian Somerhalder, or Sahib Faber

One’s an actor while the other is a model, but both could so easily play the coveted role of the High Lord of the Night Court. If anyone has watched The Vampire Diaries, Ian portraying Damon Salvatore is a dead ringer for Rhysand: same personality, same swagger, same inner turmoil hidden by smirks and wisecracks, and of course the same devilish good looks. I couldn’t help but imagine the High Lord looking like Damon because of all this. Sahib is a more unknown choice, but why not have some more choices? Plus…just look at him! Would you just look at him? Just look at him!

Amarantha: Eva Green, or Deborah Ann Woll

I admit both actresses have such different looks when compared to each other, so as for who might be a better choice? I guess it depends on who you ask…Eva has such a nefarious, villainess look to her, but Deborah matches a lot of the fanart I’ve seen of Amarantha, so either choice works for me!

Morrigan: Maryse Ouellet-Mizanin

Mor was another hard choice! Everyone seems to be going for Margot Robbie for some reason, but there’s two things wrong with that casting: she’s too old for the part, and she doesn’t even have brown eyes. That may sound picky, but whatevs…it’s my fancast, so get over it. I personally envisioned this former WWE Women’s competitor who is undeniably gorgeous and physically fits the description of Mor much more effectively!

Azriel: Nick Bateman, or Joao Lima

Joao Lima, image courtesy of brazillianmalemodel.com

Both of these male actors are tall, lanky and can pull off the moody, brooding look: so for me, both of them could be excellent choices for our Lord of Shadows, Azriel! Nick does small acting jobs but is mostly an Instagram model, and was who I originally pictured, but once it became apparent that Illyrians were POC, I also picked this male model Joao Lima, especially when he’s more clean shaven! Or I guess he doesn’t have to be…I’m cool with Azriel rockin’ some facial hair!

Amren: Jamie Chung

Jamie is a fan favorite among others who’ve shared their fancast for this series, and I agree with it! She’s given her voice acting chops for Big Hero 6, and was also a wonderful Mulan in the show, Once Upon A Time, and if I don’t have you convinced yet, check out this image of her below with total Amren eyes:

Cassian: Santiago Loker

This guy is probably unknown to a lot of you, but oh my goodness, is he easy on the eyes! He’s an Instagram model, and looks great with a manbun which was a must to play our favorite charming, cocky general for the Night Court’s army.

High Lord Tarquin: Michael Ealy

I loved this man in Think Like A Man, and seriously…look at those eyes! They’re so hypnotic and I could so easily get lost in them for days! He never does anything even remotely close to Fantasy-genre, so it’d be cool to see him broaden his horizons and play the High Lord of the Summer Court!

Ianthe: Laura Vandervoort

Ianthe needs to be played by an actress who’s obviously attractive, but also looks like she could have a stick up her ass the entire time, and Laura looks the part 😂…She was in the show Bitten and was even Supergirl back when Smallville was still a thing!

King of Hybern: Jason Isaacs

I mean…Do I really need to justify casting the man who magnificently played the evil and elitist Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies? Nope, I didn’t think so either!

High Lord Beron: Mads Mikkelsen

He’s so great at playing villains! I’ve known this ever since he starred opposite Daniel Craig in 007: Casino Royale, and the guy played Hannibal Lector too! He’d also be another great choice to play the part of Big Boss Villain, the King of Hybern…It’s funny how Maas literally has her villainous kings just named “King of _______” from her books.

High Lord Helion: Joel Wieneke

Image courtesy of the model/personal trainer’s Instagram profile: @green.joel

Another harder one to cast; most of the actors that would be eligible—or were fancasted by many others—were either too old or too young or just not what I imagined at all. Not knocking anyone’s choices, but it made it harder to find someone that fit MY vision…I ran across Joel on Instagram and he is a gorgeous model and personal trainer who definitely looks the part in my opinion! Just stick a wig on him and a toga, and he could totally look like Helion!

High Lord Kallias: Heath Hutchins

Kallias, High Lord of the Winter Court, is a character I liked but him and and his mate, Vivianne, were barely in the dang books! I wished we got to see more of the other high lords, but maybe that’ll happen in later books; according to Goodreads, there are supposed to be, like, three more titles for the series!

High Lord Thesan: Hamid Fadaei

He’s an actor and model, even if I haven’t seen him in anything. He’s a pretty gorgeous Persian man, so I thought he was an excellent choice for playing the role of the High Lord of the Dawn Court!

Eris Vanserra: Ryan Cooper

He’s an actor who’s actually played a corpse in Rough Night, starring Scarlett Johansson, but also starred in a Colleen Hoover novel-turned-movie Confess. Dye his hair red, and with that wicked gleam in his eye, he could definitely be an option to play Lucien’s devious older brother!

Prince Varian: Jesse Williams

This man is in Grey’s Anatomy while it goes into its 15000th season, and I like casting him in Fantasy roles, so I’d like it if he played Lord Tarquin’s younger brother and subtle love-interest to Amren.

Princess Cresseida: Logan Browning

She has the similar features of other actors I’ve casted for the Summer Court’s royal family. She’s got gorgeous darker skin and mesmerizing eyes, so she’d look great playing the young princess!

Jurian: Taylor Kitsch

I’ve been a fan of his since he played Tim Riggins on the TV Show, Friday Night Lights, and he was decent in Vince Flynn’s movie adaptation of American Assassin, so he’d be my pick to play the interesting role of Jurian!

Priestess Gwyn: Emma Stone

Image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB profile

Now some people may think of someone younger like…Lily Collins to play this character (even though they’re both close in age but whatevs…), but this is my fancast and as soon as I read that Gwyn had red hair, for some reason I just really pictured Emma Stone! She’s an amazing actress and would portray Gwyn amazingly

Emerie: Lindsey Morgan

Image courtesy of superstarsbio.com

I don’t know much about this actress, but she’s in the CW show “The 100” and that seems really popular, so her face popped up and I thought she looked like what I imagined the Illyrian shop-owner turned Valkyrie!

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HERES THE LINK TO MY FANCAST OF THRONE OF GLASS, SJMAAS’S FIRST YA FANTASY SERIES

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UPDATE AS OF 11/28/2021:

STOP commenting negative things on this post…it’s exhausting replying to all the “this is the worst one I’ve seen” or “this person is a terrible choice for xyz reason” or whatever…KEEP YOUR NEGATIVE comments to yourself and keep scrolling, it’s not that hard…it’s people like those toxic little entitled creatures that think I care about how much they disagree with me and my choices that are why so many others consider the SJM fandom to be so effing toxic…get a life, be nice, if you disagree spend more time making your own and post it on your own blog! it’s MY fancast and I’m not changing it, so get over it 💁🏼‍♂️

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: May 5th, 2015
Number of Pages: 419 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Romance, New Adult

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Another title to add to those that fall under the modern retellings of classic fairytales, this one being Beauty and the Beast, but coming from the author of the bestselling Throne of Glass series, there’s no way I wasn’t going to give this a try. Like any SJM book, the reviews are mostly lovingly obsessive and elated over having another YA Fantasy series of hers to get into, and with reading the blurb on what this book is about, it also makes total sense.

After completing this book, I felt the same things as when I read Throne of Glass for the first time: intrigued, entertained, and hopeful for all the possibilities where this story could possibly go. We have a young heroine, a fascinating world, gorgeous fae men, snarky comebacks, and a teasing sample of the evil that threatens their world, and all the while this book also feels like pure set up for what else may come our way, and oh boy, there will probably be a lot coming! The main differences in this story is:

1.) it’s more high fantasy and less grimdark like the beginning of TOG

2.) Romance is put on the forefront instead of a story of revenge/redemption.

What It’s About:

Feyre Archeron, the youngest of three sisters along with only their father, has grown up used to being the only one who can actually take care of her family, who live in poverty and can barely scrape by. They live in the southern, mortal lands of Prythian, where humans have an uneasy treaty with the High Lords of the Fae, who all have their own kingdoms throughout the land north of the invisible force field known as “The Wall.”

The Map of Prythian, courtesy of the series wiki page

When out in the woods hunting for food, Feyre witnesses a wolf trying to take the deer she pursued, and ends up killing it out of self defense. She has no idea the choice she made right then and there would change her life forever, because it turned out that the wolf was actually a powerful fae who’d altered their appearance, and mortals killing anyone fae comes with deadly consequences.

The High Lord of the Spring Court, Lord Tamlin, comes to her home to take her and have her live at his chateau as his prisoner (although, if how she lives there is called a prison, she’s not really suffering too much). Tamlin wears a golden mask that hides most of his features, but seems weary of answering a lot of the questions that pop up along the way, which only makes Feyre even more curious to want to find out more the longer she’s there, but as she learns why, her initial distrust and hostility slowly turns to passion and lust as she also discovers the dangers that lurk within the magical realm.

It turns out theres an ancient curse on the land, and Feyre may have something to do in order to being able to help faerie kind break it before its too late, and the man she comes to love will be lost forever…

What I Liked:

  1. Lots and Lots of Great Characters! SJM absolutely excels at creating fun, interesting characters and giving them a unique dynamic to help drive the story. In this title, I’d say my favorite characters are Lucien, the crafty but loyal best friend of Tamlin, The Suriel who is a low fae that is extremely hard to find but has to tell the truth of any question you have should you capture him, and Rhysand…oh Rhysand…how much I want to say, but in due time with later book reviews…in this title, he’s a conflicting character; an intriguing villain/anti-hero, the High Lord of the Night Court and the most powerful of all the High Lords of the Fae, but is the right hand man of a madwoman…well, those fae males can’t be entirely perfect.
  2. Hints at More to Come! Like the first TOG title, this book felt like it was just entirely set up for what’s to come later on in the series, and one thing I love doing is brainstorming, thinking of all sorts of ideas of what those possibilities may actually be, and even helps me develop my own ideas for writing.
  3. The Worldbuilding! SJM seemed to have took more time and delicately plan out the world she wanted to have this story take place in, and seems to want to share every aspect of it, except that she doesn’t go into as much detail as I’d have liked about the other courts within Prythian. There’s seven total courts total, and they are differentiated by the seasons (Summer, Spring, Autumn, and Winter) along with the time of day (Dawn, Day, Night). The reason I put this in the “like” column is because my hope was that these courts are all shown to us later on in the series, and I was incredibly interested to see how the author made these different kingdoms come to life.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It’s Slower Paced…SJM’s writing has improved over time and has become so much more eloquent and compelling, and there’s a ton of action going on in her other series around the time this title was released, but you may feel like you’re taking a few steps back with this one, as the overall pacing is much slower than what we’ve gotten used to. The worldbuilding is given much more specific attention, but the real danger/action doesn’t start until the last third of the book, which is kind of a shame because the author writes action so incredibly well. This story feels a little less plot driven, but more character driven and just plain exploring a new and unusual world, which isn’t always the best route to go in terms of a fantasy genre novel. Luckily, there are little snippets that hint at danger that can keep you guessing and wondering enough to keep on reading!
  2. It’s Not really a Retelling…So after reading this book, I can conclude that while there are many aspects that may be seen as similar, it’s not entirely an actual Beauty and the Beast retelling, or if it is, it’s not the best in terms of that aspect. Tamlin seems to be put in the position as the Beast: the ruler of the cursed land, the one who must somehow break that curse, and has his subjects who also share the punishment with him. While I personally know more into the story as I type this review, I know this is not true at all…but like I said, more on that later in other reviews…All I can say to sum it all up is, yes, the first part of this story feels like another retelling, but then when Feyre goes under the mountain, it changes the whole game!

Conclusion:

Sarah J. Maas does it again with the start of another fantasy series that feels so very different from Throne of Glass, and allows us to once again start over with her words, but this time after having her writing improve dramatically over the years. The world she’s created for this is much more complex, but the pacing is slower than what we’ve come to be used to with her writing…Feyre is no Aelin, that is for sure… Romance takes a bigger, more central role to the story, and the vibe is much more sensual than most YA titles seem to go towards, which leads me to say that for those that care should know that it’s a little more mature than what the genre usually gives us. If you don’t cringe at sex scenes, yay for you! Enjoy 😉

I don’t necessarily recommend this title for those looking for a Beauty and the Beast retelling; it’s there, but it’s also not prominent in the overall execution, but more for those searching for a love story involving the Fae. It is a love story in a way, along with the threat of an evil overlord who threatens the world, but those who like stories that focus on romance will definitely enjoy this title!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell