Hey everyone I’m officially back from hiatus! I had a great break from finishing some video games, playing with my dogs, coloring again and finishing books of course! Besides some blues with being home more often and not socializing a ton with the virus being global, it’s good to be back! I’ve got a bunch of mini reviews here for books I’ve finished. I’ve got separate ARC reviews coming soon as well, since I wanted most of my ARC books to have individual reviews. These aren’t in any order of when I read them or rated them but let’s go!
Title: Twisted Fates (Dark Stars #2)
Author: Danielle Rollins
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Time Travel
Release Date: February 25th 2020 HarperTeen
Format: Library audio book
Narrator: James Fouhey
Listening Time: 8 hours, 29 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: One past. Two girls. Infinite futures.
As far as anyone in New Seattle knows, Dorothy has disappeared. The stowaway from 1913, the girl that Ash maybe—possibly—could’ve loved: she’s gone. And in her place is bloodthirsty Quinn Fox, silver-haired and vicious. But even though he saw her fall through the anilon their last ill-fated mission through time, Ash can’t stop himself from looking for Dorothy around every dark corner. What he doesn’t know, though, is that the girl he fell in love with is the very same one who is fated to kill him.
As Ash and his friends grow increasingly desperate searching for a way to head off the devastating earthquake threatening to tear down New Seattle for good, Quinn and Roman are working to take down mob boss Mac Murphy, who is attempting to use them to control time travel for his own selfish purposes. When they collide, can they change the course of the future entirely?
This was a book I was excited about, since I think Stolen Time is a really fun and underrated YA book that deals with time travel. Plus the first book had a cliffhanger for one character, so I was interested to see where the sequel would take the story. We continue to have Dorothy and Ash’s POVs like the first book. Dorothy is a very different person, since her circumstances are very different. Without spoiling too much, I’ll keep this review short.
While I liked the first book more, this sequel was good. I think that the first book had a better balanced pace, the characters seemed more layered and interesting and of course, a bit of the “will they, won’t they?” romance between Ash and Dorothy. While Ash is looking for Dorothy in this sequel, the romance takes a back seat in this sequel. This second book really focuses on what the characters are trying to do to prevent more disasters to New Seattle and Ash is also trying to solve the mystery of how he will die. I will admit that the first half of this book was kinda boring. There wasn’t a lot of action or tension, lots of talking and recap for the first book. While I did want to keep listening and wanted to know what happens, the first half wasn’t my favorite as far as the pacing. I also get frustrated for Dorothy’s reasons for the choices she makes in this book and there’s a a lack of communication on a MAJOR thing that never got discussed which was ridiculous.
But by the second half, things picked up. We got some answers on the time travel stuff, some log entries from another character whom I wont’ name here and the ending was great! I liked what we learned, things that are insinuated (I’m pretty sure I’m right on one theory) and a bigger cliffhanger. The final book should pose some major crap to go down, since I have no idea how things will be fixed for the end of the trilogy. I do like Ash more now than Dorothy, so I hope he will survive and have a better story arc. I do want to say that I personally think that this trilogy is becoming more plot driven than character driven and that might work but I’m not sure yet.
Overall: I will say that the narrator is good and he made it a fun audio book. This is shorter than the first book and I ended up rounding my rating up because the last half gave us new information, hinted at new revelations and provides quite the open cliffhanger for the final book. I do recommend trying the first book if you like time travel stories. It’s worth a try. While this sequel didn’t have a great first half due to a slow pace, it’s still good and I’m very interested to see how the series will end.
Review: , 3.5 originally but rounded up to a 4 due to the ending
Title: Be Not Far From Me
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Genre: YA Contemporary/Survival
Release Date: March 3rd 2020 from Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Format: Library audio book
Narrator: Brittany Pressley
Listening Time: 5 hours, 30 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: The world is not tame.
Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof. So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine. Morning brings the realization that she’s alone – and far off trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive despite the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.
So I’ll be honest: I wasn’t a fan of the first book I read by this author. I had gotten A Madness So Discreet for Christmas years ago and I had read about the synopsis and seen reviews for it on YouTube. Sadly, I didn’t like it and wasn’t sure if I would read from this author again. But then my library’s Overdrive app got the audio book of this and I had an impulse to just download it and try it. I’m SO glad I did! This is a short book but it really packs a punch and I could tell that it’s going to stay with me. At being only 5 hours and 30 mins long, it was hard to not listen to this in one shot but being an adult, I finished it in about a day and a half. But this was incredible!
We follow Ashley, a teen girl whose a track star and her and her friends are celebrating in the woods with beer and staying overnight. She’s with her boyfriend Duke and they’re friends. But after she catches her boyfriend cheating on her with his ex-girlfriend, she runs away in a drunken rage and takes a bad fall that breaks her foot. Her story of survival then beings and MAN this author doesn’t shy away from things like what infected skin looks like, a person being in pain, menstruation in the woods, how she contemplates if she wants to live, the courage to do hard things and even the gross things she has to do to survive. I don’t want to much else besides that; the less you know going into this story, the better. But just know that it’s quite intense and you wonder if she’s going to get out alive.
I cared for Ashley so much! She’s had a very hard life and she hasn’t been the best friend, daughter and girlfriend to those she cares about. The anger she has is understandable as we go inside her head as she keeps trying to survive. She’s afraid, angry, tired, starving and fights with the two sides of herself: the side that refuses to give up and the side that occasionally contemplates if she wants to wake up the next morning. The narrator Brittany Pressley does such a great job with showing Ashley’s spectrum of emotion and mood. It was really heard not to listen to this all in one go but it was about two sittings that I finished it. This book shows how being alone in nature can change you and also traumatize you as a person and Mindy McGinnis has a true gift for showing how this girl was so tough and fought back and how nature gives her a major reality check and she even checks herself to see how she really is. I wanted her to keep going despite her challenges and I was so engrossed in this short story to see if she gets out or not.
Overall: This was such a surprise for me and it’s what I needed at the time. This my first 5 star book since reading The Vanishing Deep back in mid January! Mindy is such a talented and layered writer, showing a real and authentic girl trying to survive. I’m so impressed with every aspect of this book that this feels like a rare treasure among YA contemporaries that I’ve read. If you liked Far From You by Tess Sharpe, I think you’ll love this book too since the writing, character study and the harrowing plot are on the same awesome level. I want to give this author a couple chances now with other books by her. The audio book is incredible and please don’t sleep on this book!
Title: Shielded (Shielded #1)
Author: KayLynn Flanders (Debut)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: July 21st 2020 from Delacorte Press
Format: Kindle ARC via NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis: For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.
The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.
As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.
Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.
First off, I’ll say that the author is an amazing person! I’ve met her twice now, once at a book event and once in real life and it was really cool to meet her and talk to her and be excited for her book. So I was happy to get approved for it on NetGalley a couple months ago. Plus I think the cover is awesome and the cover does remind me a little of Sorcery of Thorns, but that’s where the marketing comparisons end. Take the marketing tagline that much at the beginning of the synopsis with a grain of salt, since those tags don’t always match up to the actual book. This book is it’s own thing 🙂
The first thing that I liked was the world building of Jennesara’s kingdom Hálendi. She lives in a Northern kingdom which is a colder, ice type kingdom. They’re a warrior people so we see Jennesara training a lot in this book. I also liked the lore of how magic went away where she lives and the Great War that changed things. There’s a hint at a magical library which is a fun detail and it was a fun detail to keep wondering if we’ll see it. As far as the rest of the world we see, it was okay to be honest. Nothing really stood out to me as great world building. It’s just developed enough to provide variety in this book, but the rest of the world isn’t as fantastic as Jennesara’s home kingdom. The rest of the world just felt stale and not as exciting.
The major issue I had was the whole secret of Jennesara having a magical affinity. The books talks about this talent she has early on in the story, but why was it a big deal? It’s not a hugely important ability. I don’t get why she had to keep it a secret. Her brother is the one that’s educated about magic and she isn’t, which bothered me but I won’t quite mention due to even minor spoilers. Jennesara is so uneducated at the start of this book, but of how and what her ability is and could do and also the outside world! If you’re going to send one of your kids to be married off in another country, they should know a few things! This is a pet peeve of mine that stalls my enjoyment of the story. While she is smart enough to defend herself and whatever is needed to survive, she really should’ve been educated, secretly if needed, about those things I mentioned. This felt like a useless plot device that I didn’t care for.
Then there was the pacing in this book. This felt like two different books almost: part survival story and part “I’m trying to help my kingdom” and I’m not sure if both quite fit. I liked the beginning of the story where we learn about the lore of magic, her training and her tundra like kingdom. She has really good intentions to want to help her people and cares for her family. I like Jennesara fine, but the story felt too packed if you get my meaning. There’s a journey story involved that felt very convenient in how she handled surviving and the whole saving the kingdom, but her whole secret about having magic didn’t feel that important. I’m sure there might haven been something important later in the story that I didn’t get to that would have these things make more sense, but the lack of stakes, real action and the unbeliveablity that her magic had to be secret just made me not motivated to continue.
Overall: While this was good at first, I lost interest in this debut novel. While nothing is glaringly wrong, this book felt too packed with lots of wandering, surviving and the pet peeve of a girl being uneducated before having to be sent out into the world. There’s a possibility that I could give this another chance through the library, but if this sounds like a fun book, do pick it up and give it a shot. I wanted to love it but I couldn’t finish it due to pacing, lack of caring for her magic and no real stakes or tension where there could’ve been some great moments to keep me reading.
Title: Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1)
Author: Janella Angeles (Debut)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: June 2nd 2020 from Wednesday Books
Format: Physical ARC via the publisher
Goodreads Synopsis: In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.
So many of you KNOW how much I was dying to get my hands on this book! I got the physical ARC of this right before my Christmas vacation and it had made my day when I got it. Then, I started it on Valentine’s Day weekend because I really wanted to mood read. I did have really high expectations of this book, with being called a collaboration of Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rogue which are two of my FAVORITE THINGS EVER. So when I opened the book, I only had the small paragraph of the synopsis at the beginning of my ARC to go off of. What ended up happening…was the apocalypse of disappointment.
DNF @85 pages
I wanted to love this guys but it didn’t happen. I DNF’d it after reading about 85 pages, when I had to stop. I will say that I will give this one more try, most likely with the audio book if my library gets it since I think there is potential to like it more if it has good narrators. (I’m weird like that) But while the world itself seemed excited, I couldn’t get into this book for a few reasons:
The first reason was the characters. Kallia, our main girl who really wants to explore the world and wants more. People have compared her to being like a Slytherin and I think I see that, so if that’s your jam, I think you’ll like her. She just didn’t feel like a genuine character to me personally. She was way too arrogant and “I’m better than all of you and I don’t your help, I can do this by myself” all the time. She didn’t have anything to her besides that, so I wasn’t on board with her completely. I don’t mind having a very confident character, but she was the stubborn type that gets herself into bad trouble by not listening and that bugs me.
Then we have Jack, who is obviously the Phantom type character, felt way too young for the personality that he has. I think his dark and mysterious nature would’ve worked better if this was an adult fantasy instead. It was just too hard to believe that he was a teenage character. Then, with Demarco, who I think is Kallia’s love interest (?) just seemed okay. I was reading the section where he’s introduced and he was just fine. Nothing really stood out to him when I wad reading it.
The second reason was a combination of the writing style and pacing. I feel like this book started strangely. It felt like you were just dropped randomly into the story and struggled to follow along as Kallia wonders about going outside the club she lives and works at. I felt like the atmosphere for being lush and exciting was built more than the characters. The setting of the club and all the pretty and flashy things, with some magic thrown in, was more of a distraction instead of evolving naturally as the story unfolds. I feel like I was missing something at the beginning when it talks about Kallia can’t leave the club and who Jack really is. It might just be me, but the plot didn’t move well and the writing was too wordy without being impactful if that makes sense.
Overall: I apologize if this isn’t a great review, but I couldn’t get into this. My expectations were definitely rattled when I started reading the actual story and it was kinda overly worded and boring? I will give this one more try, hopefully through the library. If you’re still excited for this book, do check it out but be aware that your expectations might be completely different compared to what actually happens. This one really hurt guys…
Title: The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles #1)
Author: Kester Grant (Debut)
Genre: YA Retelling/Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Release Date: June 2nd 2020 from Knopf Children’s (Random House)
Format: PDF ARC via the author & E-ARC via Netgalley
Goodreads Synopsis: Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.
In the violent urban jungle of an alternate 1828 Paris, the French Revolution has failed and the city is divided between merciless royalty and nine underworld criminal guilds, known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine (Nina) Thénardier is a talented cat burglar and member of the Thieves Guild. Nina’s life is midnight robberies, avoiding her father’s fists, and watching over her naïve adopted sister, Cosette (Ettie). When Ettie attracts the eye of the Tiger–the ruthless lord of the Guild of Flesh–Nina is caught in a desperate race to keep the younger girl safe. Her vow takes her from the city’s dark underbelly to the glittering court of Louis XVII. And it also forces Nina to make a terrible choice–protect Ettie and set off a brutal war between the guilds, or forever lose her sister to the Tiger.
I FINALLY got to read this guys! I’ve been waiting for this book for nearly 2 years! The release date of this was delayed several times in the past couple years before official news and this STUNNING cover! I signed up for the author’s newsletter some time ago and that’s how I came across getting a PDF ARC from her and then also got approved on Netgalley. This is a solid debut that really has some great lore to the Miracle Court but also showing a lot of darkness and poverty. This book doesn’t shy away with how people probably suffered during the 1830’s in France and how ruthless powerful people can be. So while this wasn’t a 5 star read for me, this was very engrossing, with great descriptions and mystery that kept me reading! Let’s do the break down:
- Callbacks to classics: This is a retelling of both Les Misérables and The Jungle Book and it was cool seeing those callbacks to these classics. While I’m not familiar with the original Kipling tale (only saw the Disney movie), I really liked seeing where the author went with this first book. Eponine is our main character in this story and she goes by Nina. Some familiar characters from Hugo’s huge novel are seen here which was really fun. I could also see the tone and darker moments of Kipling’s story reflected in this story as well. These classics are hardly ever retold, so this was a breath of fresh air when it comes to retellings.
- The Miracle Court: I loved everything to do with this Miracle Court! The Miracle Court is an underground group run by different lords and their guilds. There’s the Guild of: Dreamers, Letters, Assassins, Flesh, Dreamers, Beggars, Smugglers, Thieves, Gamblers and Mercenaries. Each guild has one Lord and that Lord is your father/mother when you join that guild. I loved how rich the lore and history of this Court is. The author did such a fantastic job with building this underground world and all of its rules, history, flaws and dangers. Nina joins the Guild of Thieves when she’s young so that she can rescue her sister from the Tiger, the one lord in the Court who ignores the rules. But one thing that’s cool about this Court is that: no matter your religion, skin color or background, you are a child of the Guild that you’re apart of and you are cared for. It was cool to see people from all over the world be apart of this guild. But while you can be protected in some ways, we see through Nina’s eyes that even your Guild can’t protect you from some things. This aspect of the story was the most fascinating and I can’t wait to know more about the Court in future books.
- Backdrop of France: The other highlight for me was how the author brings Paris to life! This book is set during the late 1820’s and early 1830’s in France. Paris is a place of death, poverty, not trusting monarchy and threats of revolution are whispered. Paris is almost its own character in the story, with the author showing how ruthless this city is but also the heart that wishes to be free as well. I loved all the descriptions of the buildings, the gilded and stuffy monarchy and also the poor and dying. This book does get dark at times, so this is a more mature YA book since it mentions slavery and sex trafficking. But the author does a brilliant job at bringing Paris to life!
- The mystery: While Nina is trying to get her sister back from the Tiger (who runs the Guild of Flesh), there’s more to this story than that. I just felt that the story line with Nina’s sister wasn’t the end. Nina also wants to take down the Tiger. This man, while a lord in the Miracle Court, deliberately breaks rules and isn’t afraid of anything. Even the other lords don’t dare go to war with him. There’s also the threat of revolution of the people against the monarchy. I wonder how both of these story lines with merge together in later books, but I like the overall mystery of how to take down this powerful lord and what other secrets could be hidden was fascinating.
- Nina, the protagonist: While I really liked the first couple sections of developing Nina as the protagonist of this story, I didn’t completely love her in the end. I understand her determination to rescue her sister, see justice served and seeking the truth when no one goes to get it. She is a fierce girl with who won’t back down. But I do feel like the story was happening around her for the most part and she was held at a bit of a distance from the reader. I didn’t completely understand why she wants to protect Ettie so much: yes, the young girl is kind, innocent and beautiful, but those were the only reasons I feel like I was given? I feel like Nina was using Ettie for her own gain in some ways to get what she wants, despite feeling guilty. She is also too good at what she does, hardly struggling or enduring some serious crap like most people would. She a tiny bit like a “special snowflake” in a few situations but I hope that’s remedied in future books.
- A few jarring time jumps: Since this book has a few sections that are different timelines, that did mess with me sometimes. When we would jump forward in time, it was jarring enough that I had to get used to this new timeline. People have done things in the past that are just mentioned and I was like “I wanted to see what they did” and all of that. In these new time jumps, it felt like a ton of side character names were thrown my way and I had to keep trying to remember who this person was. But luckily, the last half of the book stays in one timeline so I’m glad the time jumps didn’t happen all the time.
Overall: This was a breath of fresh air to read and it was mysterious, dark and pretty engrossing. While I don’t love Nina and the time skips were hard to adjust to, this is really good and one I recommend picking it up when it comes out. This is great, diverse and mysterious first book in a series. The Miracle Court and all of its aspects and possible secrets was the highlight for me and I’m very interested to see what book 2 will bring.
Rating: .75 stars
Have you read any of these books? Which one sounds like the most interesting to you? What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments!