YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Legendary (Caraval #2): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: May 29th, 2018

Number of Pages: 451 Pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

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

Too see my review of book #1 – Caraval – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

A much lighter and whimsical tale amongst the many that fall under the YA Fantasy genre, Legendary utterly sweeps you away, takes you on an enchanting quest, much like the previous book in this trilogy, Caraval. Both are filled with exotic locations, mysterious twists and turns at every street corner, gorgeous men with devilish smirks full of secrets, magical gowns that can transform based off the emotions of whomever is wearing them, and dazzling lights of the stars and streets as those who play the game and enter a hunt for the hope of something more.

Caraval was a fun summer read that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but there were definitely some things I had to say that I think could’ve made it better. I wanted more danger, more mischief and dark aesthetics; the stakes needed to be raised in order to add even more the excitement of this annual game. For me, Legendary seemed to have added all that to enhance the whole reading experience of these books! It was obvious that Stephanie Garber, the author, had decided to focus more on the storytelling aspect and less on the imagery and how it was described.

I’m sure it’s an added bonus for many readers that this time around, there’s less focus on Scarlett and more on her younger sister, Tella. Scarlett was our protagonist in Caraval, and the goal of the game was for her to find and rescue her sister, who’d been kidnapped as soon as she’d stepped foot on the island town where the game of Caraval was played. Not too many readers seemed to have liked Scarlett as the protagonist; she made some not-so-smart decisions, was cautious and sheltered, and was constantly the damsel in distress who needed the mysterious Julian to come and rescue her…It’s hard to get behind a character like that when there are so many stories out there now that have strong, fierce females who don’t need no man to help them out whenever things get rough. Tella is the complete opposite of Scarlett; she’s much more impulsive and daring, she’s more charismatic, and seems much more adventurous and courageous. I have to say she did make for a much more interesting story this second time around.

There was a much larger sense of worldbuilding in this book too that has to do with a larger story involving much mythology and lore that the author hadn’t included in the previous book. It involves the sister’s long lost mother, a deck of cards, and these ancient & immortal beings called “The Fates” that used to rule the world long ago, but have disappeared until recently. This had such a huge impact on the story and added so much to the overall depth of much more intricately crafted plot, and helped raise the stakes a large amount that the previous book needed.

I’m very curious if the author had all this planned out before she wrote the first book, or if all these new features were thought up afterwards as a way to keep the story going somehow. How much did she truly know before the first book?

Much like the last book, there were also a vast array of riddles and twists that I’m sure quite a bit of readers didn’t see coming, but there was also a fair amount of foreshadowing that I also think more seasoned readers would be able to catch so long as they’re paying attention. Some are more surprising than others, of course, but they get seriously much more juicy around the climax of the story. It all leads to a very cliffhanger-like ending that will make you want to get your hands on the third and final book ASAP!

I also love the theme that these books have become so consistent with; the whole play on what’s reality and what’s all just a part of the game. Everyone has secrets, everyone has their own motives behind their actions, and some are so much easier to read than others, and it’s actually so much fun to see how things play out, like, who are really allies? Who’s really an enemy? What are their true feelings for that character? Who the EFF is Legend already? The author asks so many questions about so many aspects of the story, it almost drives you completely insane at how much is going on behind the scenes and the rate in which they reveal themselves to Tella and you, the reader. I saw a comparison to HBO’s Sci-Fi thriller, “Westworld”, and it’s actually so true how the show and these books have such a similar theme driving the story. The whole idea of a park that draws people in, the cast of “actors” that enhance the experience, the story the audience experiences is entirely based on their choices, and there’s the scavenger hunt to find the ultimate prize at the end of the maze. It all raises some interesting points on the mysteries of the world and the human condition.

One thing I didn’t particularly like was how the romance building between Tella and Dante felt too similar to how it was built up between Scarlett and Julian in the second book. It was still enticing and a well drawn out slow-burn, but it lacked originality and just felt repetitive. I’m not sure if it’s the only setup the author is able to do in the romance department, but I hope for future stories that she can switch it up a lot better.

I’m happy to say these books are becoming a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking for a circus/theatre/performing arts-like story. Like Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, these books have the unpredictability and angst of “The Phantom of the Opera,” mixed with the over-the-top campiness of “Moulin Rouge.”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A heart to protect.

A debt to repay.

A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister, Scarlett, from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever…

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . the games have only just begun...

She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life.”

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

What I Liked:

  1. Donatella Is Now The Protagonist! The most consistent complaint anyone had about Caraval was how a lot of fellow readers found they didn’t like Scarlett Dragna. She made bad decisions, she constantly got into trouble and needed a man to get her out of it, I’m sure the list goes on for more readers, but you get the point. Tella is the exact opposite of Scarlett, and she is much more courageous and impulsive, and it seems like a lot more readers prefer her over her older protective sister. Personally, I liked them both and didn’t mind as much, but I have to agree I did love seeing more of Tella this time around.
  2. The Stakes Have Been Raised! There was definitely a higher dose of danger this time around that the books really needed, and it was nice to see how the lines between performance and reality continued to become even more murky, the plots became more sinister, and even more mystery shrouded the carnival event with people’s lives and the fate of the world on the line this time around. The question “Is this really still just a game?” was asked a lot throughout the story, and I love how the author crafted so much mystery and left so much up in the air. It also helps that there’s a for sure villain this time around too: You’ll meet Jacks, who has some seriously twisted thoughts inside his blond, bleeding silvery-blue eyed head. I’m not going to give too much away, but read the book and see for yourself!
  3. The Theme: What Is Reality? With the added danger I mentioned before, it also goes into what I also mentioned of whether this is all still just a game, or if now it’s real. You’re constantly questioning the motives of so many characters and all that’s going on behind the scenes, I liked the comparison I saw somewhere with someone comparing this story to “Westworld.” Now, some may think that’s a reach, but let’s think about it: the theme of “what is reality?” There’s the idea of a park where people go and become someone else, they let the game take them over, there’s actors surrounding you playing roles to only enliven the atmosphere, and then there’s the hunt to win the heightened scavenger hunt to find the prize at the end of the game or the maze.
  4. More Mythology/Lore: The Fates! Another aspect of the story that made this so much more impressive of a story was how the author added these ominous figures known as “The Fates.” Spoiler Alert as I explain who they were:…………. ………………… …………….. Centuries ago, they were these immortal beings who ruled the world and were agents of chaos, but were banished into a deck of cards by a powerful witch. There’s much more to it, like who each one is and a list of magical objects too, but that’s the main gist of it, and I don’t want to ruin the full experience of you reading it for yourself. It all does nothing but add to the story and continue to heighten the drama of how the story develops.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I’ve Seen This Before…I do love Dante; he was in Caraval but was a minor character. He was the pompous, hot, mean guy, so I was happy to see him receive much more attention this time around. I also thought he was a great love interest for Tella, but I noticed with him and Tella that it basically just felt like a total repeat of the whole dynamic between Julian and Scarlett in the previous book. It seems like Stephanie may only be able to write YA versions of alphaholes with a Mr. Darcy kind of vibe in her dashing male love interests, and I was hoping for maybe something with more original between Dante and Tella.

Conclusion:

Everything that I said needed to be added to Caraval happened in this book; Legendary was like a new and improved version on it with so a much more intricately drawn plot filled with much more sinister plots, daring twists, enchanting magic, and of course scorching romance!

If you enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, you’ll definitely love this sequel too. It’s not grimmdark, epically high fantasy, or anything too serious. These books are just a more fun. light-hearted, whimsical tale that can still entertain and enthrall all the same! I’d say just about everything about Legendary was bigger and better, all except for whether I can’t decide whether Dante or Julian is the better love interest.

Like I said earlier, I wonder if Stephanie Garber had everything all planned out in advance before she wrote the first book, or if she came up with it all later on or as she was working. I must say, she really does know how to expertly weave an intriguing story together with just about everything I love in a story: mystery and lore, unexpected twists, mysteries galore, second guessing everyone and everything, and of course scorching romance. You can bet I am going to for sure be reading what is sure to be an epic conclusion with Finale being the next title.

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

YA Contemporary Fiction, YA romance

My Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before (To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before #1): by Jenny Han

Publish Date: April 14th, 2014
Number of Pages: 355 Pages
Publisher: Simon Schuster Children’s Publishing
Genre(s): Teen Fiction, Contemporary Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

Yes…I am a part of the bandwagon with this franchise after it had gained some major popularity becoming a Netflix original movie. I both watched and enjoyed the dynamics of the film, and the cast of characters were fun to watch, so knowing that the book was probably better–like it usually is–I decided to give it a shot.

While it’s not action packed and adventurous like The Hunger Games, or plenty of other popular YA/Teen series, it’s still enjoyable with a more realistic, simple coming-of-age approach that talks about everyday themes like family, first love, the joys and sorrows of high school, and maybe writing fake letters to anyone you’ve had feelings for, only for them to somehow get all sent out, thus making it seem like your life is over…totally normal, right?

If anyone reading this is friends with me and sees what I read based off my other reviews and my “Read” shelf on Goodreads: it’s pretty obvious I like contemporary romance if not Fantasy. Not that I need to justify or defend what I like to read because no one should, I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and I want it for myself one day so I enjoy reading about it, and Lara Jean and Peter have an engaging dynamic for me. Lara is the quiet, preppy girl who keeps her head down in the halls and bakes on weekends instead of partying, and while Peter is the typical popular jock who runs the school, I do enjoy reading his interactions with Lara Jean and how he still tries to be the cool, cocky jock, but stops his act whenever he’s alone with her and shows a side of him that no one else has ever seen before. I get warm inside about that shit. They have a relationship where I sincerely hope it works out in the end.

What It’s About:

Lara Jean has never openly admitted any of her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, then sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed to never see the light of day ever again…

All that goes down the toilet when one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed out, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh.

As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all…

What I Liked:

  1. The “Fake Relationship” Trope! So a big part of the story was how one of the boys LJ had a serious crush on was actually her older sister’s boyfriend, Josh. He’s literally the boy next door to her, but LJ decides to pretend to already be in a relationship instead of dealing with that confrontation. She makes a deal with the popular Peter Kavinsky to “fake-date” as it turns out he’s trying to get over his ex too, Jen, and Peter was a recipient of one of LJ’s letters anyways. It’s a cute setup, and the fake-relationships-to-make-someone-else-jealous-but-ends-up-falling-for-pretend-bae is a familiar trope that I never get tired of! It just leads to some really hilarious moments throughout the story, some awkward instances of almost getting caught, and the thrill of will others find out about it?
  2. The Theme of the Importance of Family! One very important theme in the book is family. Laura Jean is incredibly family-centric and it’s probably the most important thing in her life. She loves her older sister, Margo, and is devastated when she leaves to go to college overseas. She adores her younger sister, Kitty, even though her childish antics and moodiness gets on her nerves, and is always looking out for her father and making sure everything within their house runs smoothly. Their dynamic is one of healing because their mom passed away and it’s obvious it was a big shock to everyone, and all have been affected in different ways.
  3. It’s Light, Easy, Fun Reading! TATBILB is just a light, fluffy, and a totally different change of pace from the angsty, heavier material I also read with the Fantasy genre and lately, Paranormal Romance. This book is what some call a total “beach read” as in it’s easy to follow along and constantly toss that bookmark inside, and come back to later without having to worry about trying to remember a thousand tiny details.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Leaves On A Cliffhanger…The ending just ends so abruptly, and was so unsatisfying compared to the pacing of the whole rest of the book. To a degree, I get it: you need to keep the series going and have people want to keep reading on for sales and all that, but I still felt like it could’ve ended differently and not feel so out of the blue and sudden.
  2. Laura Jean Doesn’t Develop…LJ is a total Mary Sue character in my opinion. she is seemingly perfect by being the perfect daughter who helps around the house, bakes on the weekends instead of going out to parties and getting drunk. Part of me gets it though…she is pretty innocent and has little life experience other than being the middle born child with an older sister who has a textbook type-A personality. Either way, it just seems like her interests and what drives her in the story seems really boy-obsessed and shallow, and by the end of the book, it doesn’t feel like she really learns all that much.

Conclusion:

I can see why the All The Boys I’ve Loved Before franchise has become so popular with the younger audiences in YA fiction: it’s fun, it’s light, it’s romantic and is pretty relatable with the characters and the inner turmoil and constant worry that goes through the lead character’s mind. I feel like there were plenty of instances within this book that a lot of teenage girls can relate to, and find comfort in this popular contemporary fiction trilogy.

I recommend this title to anyone who enjoys the “Fake Relationship” romance trope that continues to sweep across the contemporary romance genre, and compared to what I’ve read in the past, I feel like anyone who likes Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, or a novel I’ve reviewed on here: Again, but Better by Christine Riccio would enjoy this title.

It’s not anything deep or substantial in terms of literature, but it’s still just a light, fun read to enjoy if you’re looking for a change of pace and wanted to read deeper into the popular Netflix original movie.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: Truthwitch (Witchlands #1): by Susan Dennard

Publish Date: January 5th, 2016
Number of Pages: 415 Pages
Publisher: Tor Teens
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

A YA-Fantasy title with major potential!

It seems like there are so, so, so, so, so, so, so many fantasy-genre titles that have come out over the last couple of years, and I’m happy about it, but at the same time it makes me ask myself: which ones are actually worth reading?

It’s a question that’s been seriously stressing me out lately, and I’ll be honest, there are plenty of titles that I’m sure are just recycled spin offs of others and are filled with a lot of the same themes, character-arcs, settings, etc. Even the blurbs mesh together and sound the same at this point, and characters are only memorable if I have no idea how to even pronounce their name!

Don’t even get me started on how the titles have a variation of any of these words in no particular order: Throne, Sword, Glass, Storm, Glass, War, Thorn, Rose, Crown, Queen, Flame, Shadow, etc…

This title was one that I’d really questioned, and was really hesitant to open. The blurb didn’t blow me away, and everything just sounded unoriginal and just recycled material I’d read in other titles already. It’s Goodreads score was decent enough, and Sarah J. Maas hyped it up (before her and the author had a huge, mysterious falling out), plus I started seeing awesome fanart on Pinterest and Instagram, so I slowly warmed up to the book and decided fuck it, I’d give it a chance.

It was good, but not great. It has a lot of major potential, that is for sure, but nothing really amazed me or caused me to want to stay up until 4 am on a work night because I needed answers and not sleep. I say that with a grain of salt because I also have to take into account about trying to judge a series based off just the first books. I mean…look at any first book of a series you love, then think about either the latest or the final book if it’s finished. Was the first book absolutely eye-opening? did it make you excited? were the characters as amazing then as they are when it’s over? Odds are no, you read on and grew with the story as it’d developed and thats what made you love the book/series. Truthwitch wasn’t the most amazing book I’d read, but I can say I liked it well enough to care what happens next and want to read the next title someday!

One thing I appreciated about the author’s work is how she’d made sure to make her cast of characters incredibly diverse. This was as much for me to reference back to as well as anyone who wants to (feel free to bookmark the page), but here’s a rundown of the ethnic backgrounds of the main empires of the storyline and what they’d match up to in contemporary times:

Nomatsi: Eastern Asia

Nubrevna: Mediterranean/ Greek/ Spanish

Cartorra/ Dalmotti: Austrian/ Venetian

Marstoki: Mixed Races of darker skin, eyes, and hair

The author goes into detail about all this HERE on her Tumblr page for anyone who wants to look for themselves!

And now, onto the story!

What It’s About:

Map of the world of the Witchlands, image courtesy of the Witchlands wiki page

Truthwitch takes place in a world known as the Witchlands–seriously–and is ruled by three empires: Marstok, Dalmotti, and Cartorra. There are regular people, but there are also those with special abilities that put them in a class all their own. For the past 20 years, the three empires had been involved in a truce to not go to war, but times almost up, and tensions have risen to their boiling points, and not everyone may be renewing the contract.

The story revolves around two young women, Safi and Iseult, who come from different backgrounds, but had become best friends through training under the same mentor who’d helped them master both their special abilities.

Safi: blonde, tan, hot-headed, and of course beautiful, is a Truthwitch – someone who can sense if someone is lying, and it’s a power that is an extremely rare gift, which makes her extremely sought after by many powerful forces.

Iseult: pale, narrowed eyes, smart and strategic, calm and collected, and dark hair is a Threadwitch – someone who see’s invisible ties like string that bind those closest to her, meaning she knows where they are and what they feel.

They both fight for the chance to earn a simple and free life away from all the politics, the overpowering rule, but with war threatening to erupt, plans are quickly extinguished. The two of them find themselves working with Prince Merik–A Windwitch and ship’s captain– as they travel to foreign lands and see for themselves the world they’d only begun to understand. Meanwhile, a vengeful Bloodwitch –Aeduan–hunts each of them to try and return Safi to powerful rulers who want nothing more than to use her as a weapon!

What I Liked:

  1. The Various Point-Of-Views! I’m always a big fan of these kinds of fantasy novels, it’s like you’re getting multiple mini stories in one big book! I love when they intertwine and events from one point of view can become a big plot point for another point of view later on in the series. Safi, Iseult, Merik, and Aeduan were all the different perspectives of this story, and I personally liked Safi and Aeduan the most. Safi was a little clichéd, but I like her spunk and her dynamic with Iseult was fun to read. Merik seemed too moody and annoyingly angsty most of the time despite how I did like how everything he did was for the welfare of his kingdom and his people. Iseult is a great character, but I found her storyline to be a little lacking since she was injured in a bed for a good chunk of time, hopefully she gets more time to shine in the next title!
  2. The Theme of Female Friendship! It’s a major theme of the book, and something that anyone can enjoy if they’re fans of Fantasy, or fiction in general. It’s something we see surprisingly little of, where friendship is a theme or main focus of the overall story. Sure, it’s there in plenty of titles, but it doesn’t get as much attention. It would be cool if it’d possibly be an LGBT F/F relationship, but there are other titles out there that include that too, so I’m good with platonic friendship!
  3. The Diverse Cast! The author made it a point to not white-wash her cast, and instead made sure to make sure about 80%–my own estimate–are POC.
  4. Aeduan! He’s by far my favorite character of the book! He’s a Bloodwitch and a Carewan monk, and has an air of mystery to him that I liked. He’s technically a villain, but will probably have a similar arc to Magnus Damora from Falling Kingdoms and go from villain to anti-hero. Sure, he seems like an Assassin’s Creed knockoff with his white cloak and the fact that he’s a hired assassin, he still has some major potential to be an incredibly memorable character in this whole series!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Insta-Love…Well, it wasn’t outright, but it was obvious that something shifted between Merik and Safi the instant they’d met, and then danced together at a ball. The way the author wrote it was similar to a storm out at sea, making it sound like it was this epic thing with sweeping winds, harsh thunder, dark clouds, and the earth shaking, and even if the characters themselves didn’t realize their feelings for each other, it was an insta-love for us as the readers…ugh.
  2. Off To A Slow Beginning…After the initial setup at the beginning, the book felt slow to me. It was hard for me to get fully engaged in the story until after the halfway point. It was there that I’d gotten more attached to the characters and felt like the story had gotten more interesting.

Conclusion:

Overall, I can honestly say this novel has a lot of potential. It’s nothing too spectacular or mind-blowing, but I also say that knowing that nowadays, it’s incredibly difficult to be able to sum up a series from just the first book. I remember the first book of a lot of series I consider my favorites: both the Throne of Glass and even Harry Potter first books left me feeling like there was more to be desired, and look how they turned out…two of the most popular YA fantasy series of all time.

Truthwitch leaves you just curious enough to want to read on and see what may possible happen next. It’s filled with imagery and themes that are both familiar and somewhat new as well, and while I felt I wasn’t fully engaged for a good chunk of it, the positive definitely outweighs the negative.

I recommend this title to anyone who enjoy strong heroine-centric YA fantasy titles written by authors like Sarah J. Maas (who has an interesting past with this author), Kristin Cashore, Victoria Aveyard, Richelle Mead, Tamora Pierce, and Cassandra Clare (But I can at least say the writing is better than some of these names mentioned). Truthwitch is filled with adventure, action, complex and engaging relationships between it’s main cast of characters, and like I said earlier, the promise of more; let’s hope this series continues to improve as it develops!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell