Review: Dance of Thieves by Mary Pearson

Dance of ThievesDance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

Apparently this book is close to 500 pages, and I devoured them ALLLLLLLLL in two days. An admission: I am a sucker for a well-written romance, especially when it's in a fantasy adventure/mystery setting. Having read a lot of YA/NA fantasy romance lately, and being disappointed in pretty much most of them, I was expecting this book to be a dud.

It was not a dud.

It was nowhere near a dud.

I loved every freaking minute of this book and I want more!

The characters are well-developed. They all have backstories, histories that make them who they are. The world is rich with tradition and origin stories. The plot is convoluted in the right ways, and while I did guess at several of the "twists," I didn't feel let down that I was right. The romance is even believable, which isn't true for most of the crap I've read lately. I think my only real gripe about the romance is that these two are so in love with each other and make out all the time but they never actually "do it," as Synove likes to say. Not that people need to have sex to get a romance going (I like when they don't, TBH), but there was a loooooot of heat between these two people and it's kind of hard to imagine that nothing but kissing was going on.

Anyway, I'll be clearing my schedule for book two when it comes out, because I really need to know what happens next. And apparently this is set in a world the author has written about before? Looks like I have a whole new stack of books to add to my ever-increasing TBR pile...

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Review: The Story Peddler by Lindsay Franklin

The Story Peddler (The Weaver Trilogy Book 1)The Story Peddler by Lindsay A. Franklin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

Last night I stayed up a little late just to finish this off, because I really couldn't leave it hanging until today with only one chapter to go. There is a lot to like in here, and I am definitely in for #2, but I did have a few hang-ups. Let's talk about the good:

Tanwen is not as wishy-washy as some of the female protagonists I've read, and while she's not yet the "strong woman" figure I like to see, she's on her way. The way she figures out her powers on her own, just by thinking about it - some would say that's a bit deus-ex-machina, but I read it more as she was discovering herself, by herself, instead of anyone else showing her who she is.

The story itself is interesting. Tanwen gets caught up in a scandal without realizing how or why (I still don't understand why the white strands were alarming; I assume we'll find out in book 2 - I hope), and finds herself on the run with a band of rebels who claim she needs to be protected. Her journey from there is somewhat predictable, but it was written well, with a lot of struggle and twists and turns.

Braith is about the strongest woman we get to see in this book. While I haaaaaaate her name (and the naming structure in general - it was very confusing and didn't make much sense to me), I absolutely adored her character. She was one of the few I felt got fleshed out to the "real" point, where she's not just words on a page but a breathing, evolving character.

There were some interesting foils in Sir Dray and High Priest Naith (or whatever his title was, I couldn't keep track of everyone). The little surprise with Naith in the end was completely unexpected, while I saw most of the other twists coming.

So let's talk about those twists. From the start I had a feeling that Tanwen was somehow related to the previous royal family, although admittedly I first pegged her as the king's bastard daughter because that's where most YA fantasies go with this kind of storyline. She wasn't nearly so important as that, but she was still pretty high up there. I still can't figure out why she specifically was a threat to the kingdom with her white strands, but there you go. Finding out who her father is/was (which was so super spoiled by the "The One In The Dark" chapters) led to a bit of an interesting revelation. But just about everything leading up to it was so obviously foreshadowed that it was impossible to be surprised.

If we're talking about wishy-washy characters, look no farther than Brac, the farmboy who loves Tanwen so blindly that he's willing to join the royal guard to convince her to marry him (a boneheaded move if I ever saw one, he's not too bright really). It's almost stalkerish how he practically begs Tanwen to marry him every time he sees her. She obviously doesn't want to marry him, and she's told him no several times, but he keeps persisting. Sad puppy stuff. Drove me nuts. (view spoiler)

The characters were also not that great. I had a hard time getting to know any of them. When I left the book last night, intending to write the review today, I knew I needed to stew on it a bit. Because I liked it, but there was something bugging me. I realized that I didn't remember any of the sideline characters. They never became real enough that they jumped off the page. They felt like background, filler, thrown in just to complete the gang. I really wanted to love them, because they're the good guys, but I never connected. Plus everyone kept telling Tanwen that they'd reveal all their secrets about her identity "in good time," and of course that time never came. Personally, I think the only reason to do that is to delay the surprise, when in reality the perfect time to tell someone about who she really is is right now, not three weeks down the line just because you don't feel like doing it right then. If you're driving the plot based on purposefully withheld necessary information, there's a problem there.

And lastly, let's talk about that ending. (view spoiler)

The negative seems like it should outweigh the positive, but I really did like reading this book. The adventure was interesting, the story strands was something I'd never seen before, and I love a good adventure. Predictable, not great characterization, and a bit of a rush-job ending, but I enjoyed the ride more than the specifics. Looking forward to book 2, hoping there's a bit more clean-up and deeper delving into characters.

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Review: The Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer

The Oddling PrinceThe Oddling Prince by Nancy Springer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

I have apparently never read any Nancy Springer before, and what a pity, because this book was wonderfully beautiful in all the best ways. Her writing reminds me of a combination of Dahlov Ipcar (A Dark Horn Blowing) with a dash of Peter Beagle. No, there were no unicorns in this book, but the utter dreaminess of the story took me back to The Last Unicorn.

In this story, Prince Aric of Calidon (at one point there seems to have been a typo of Caldor and it made me giggle a bit) is about to lose his father the king, Bardaric, to the power of a supposedly evil ring. No one knows where the ring came from or why it is wasting him. As the moment of his death arrives, a man blazing white shows up at the castle and, amid a huge spectacle, saves the king's life. He reveals himself to be Albaric, the half-fey son of the king, conceived while the king had been held prisoner by the queen of Elfland. Bardaric doesn't remember this because the queen sent him back to the moment she had stolen him, with the ring she had placed on his hand. The king refuses to accept Albaric as his son, instead choosing to believe he is a "fetch," or evil fey thing come to steal his own son and possibly the throne.

Aric, on the other hand, immediately and intensely loves his new half-brother. The two share a connection almost unbelievable, but it is so real that neither can deny they are brothers and bound to one another. Meanwhile, King Bardaric grows ever more distrustful and sinister. The brothers must find a way to return him to himself, a previously generous and good king, before he kills everyone around him. Intertwined with this story is the legend of the White King, the one who will come and restore the kingdom to peace. Bardaric is more and more afraid of someone, anyone trying to steal his throne that he even begins to loathe his own son.

I enjoyed the story, the pacing, and the characterization. At times the relationship between Aric and Albaric was a bit over-the-top, and I pretty much saw something of what was coming at the end as soon as the White King was mentioned. But this is absolutely a fey story - it draws you in slowly, entrances you as if you're in a dream, and then knocks you over the head with how beautifully it's written.

Highly recommended for fantasy readers of all ages - especially those who love the dreamy quality of Peter Beagle and others. I loved every minute of this and plan to add more Nancy Springer to my (constantly growing) TBR pile.

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Review: The Memory of Fire (The Waking Land #2) by Callie Bates

The Memory of Fire (The Waking Land, #2)The Memory of Fire by Callie Bates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.

I did read the first book in this series, The Waking Land, and enjoyed that so was excited to read this one. This book was also pretty great, although I admit I wanted to know what the heck was going on with Elanna and Sophie while Jahan was doing his thing. Jahan's voice was refreshing, although he was pretty traumatized by his upbringing and has a lot of emotional issues. His problems trusting people and letting them in caused him a lot of trouble in this book, much of which probably could have been avoided if he'd only thought things through before acting.

Some of the characters' motives were extremely unclear through the entire book. It was difficult to tell who the reader could trust. This can be a great thing, especially for mysteries, but in fantasy I feel like there needs to be some solid ground that the main character can rely on. The only person I felt was true the entire way was Jahan's old friend from school. Even Leontius was a bit of a dishrag for much of the story.

Admittedly I didn't remember much about the relationships from the first book, so this was like starting over for me. I felt like some of the relationships weren't written the same way, like I don't remember Jahan being so insecure with Elanna (although he very well may have been), and I don't remember reference to Leontius being so angry at Jahan (but I'm sure it was there).

Overall this was pretty well-written. I thought there were way too many angles for me to keep track of, and character motives were a bit muddled, but I'm looking forward to book 3 and seeing how Jahan and Elanna manage to defeat the threat to Sophie's kingdom.

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Review: I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

I Have No Mouth and I Must ScreamI Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The writing itself was pretty good, and the stories interesting enough, but I really can't get past the way he portrays and talks about women. All of his female characters are pretty terrible human beings (granted the men aren't any better, but I'm seriously getting tired of reading stories about evil plotting women, women who get raped but were asking for it/deserved it/wanted it, women who are faceless whores, etc.). And the author makes himself sound like a pompous ass in his introductions.

I can now say I've finally read some Ellison, since he's a Big Name in the SF genre apparently, but his is a world I don't think I'll be visiting again any time soon.

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Review: The Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy

The Book of KellsThe Book of Kells by R.A. MacAvoy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Too much talk about naughty bits and jerking off. All of it seemed incredibly irrelevant to the story. It was like the author was obsessed with pubes. The characters were all pretty much unlikeable (except maybe Ailesh and Snorri). And I hated the ending. The Book of Kells itself doesn't even feature into the story very much, only for a couple of scenes, that have absolutely no bearing on the actual events in the story. It felt like a bunch of irrelevancies muddled up in a semi-interesting plot. I didn't love it, I didn't hate it, but I probably won't read it again.

Two stars, but giving an extra one because I really liked Snorri and wish there was more of him in it.

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Review: Olympian Challenger by Astrid Arditi

Olympian ChallengerOlympian Challenger by Astrid Arditi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

[I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

I don't intend this to sound mean, but it may. I liked the book, but I didn't, so my review is mostly my problems with it.

I'm somewhat torn on this book. In pretty much all ways, it's extremely formulaic. Girl with home issues gets sucked into an adventure she doesn't want, she needs to beat out a whole crapton of other people who are better at everything than she is, somehow she makes it to the actual competition, and eventually she wins. I can't term this as a spoiler, because it is GLARINGLY obvious from the first page that she is going to win this thing. Even though she has no skills to help her through the competition, her "pure" heart and love are enough to beat out a bunch of other teenagers.

Along the way, she makes friends with a couple of people, hates and loves her teachers, and falls in love with a god. (This also isn't a spoiler, because from the second the guy is mentioned it's clear he's meant to be the love interest.) By the end they're whispering sweet nothings to each other and making out like horny teenagers (and at least one of them still is a teenager...).

This book is so meta that it even mentions The Hunger Games. In one scene Hope thinks that she has read that series and that's what this competition feels like to her. Well, it was. Really. I was reading The Hunger Games on Olympos. Even the government conspiracy comes into play because it's revealed at one point that the gods have their own sinister motivations for all of this. Next, I assume her job is to take down the gods/government and free the people (the demigods/heroes/earth) from their tyranny.

And Hope, as a character, is pretty bland. She's only concerned with getting back to her mother, she gets rescued a lot because her heart is so pure, she is the favorite of everyone to win except the actual gods, and she doesn't make mistakes ever. She's the perfect Mary Sue character - she can do no wrong (except that one time she tried to forfeit and then did the darn thing anyway). And she's annoying for it. Even when she can't do something herself, her mysterious powers come to the rescue. The scene at the end with the Pythia really sealed that for me. Her love conquers all! Her weakness has been turned into a weapon! It could not get any sappier.

Anyway, despite all of that, I did find myself liking the mythology, and some of the writing. Most of the characters were trope, and the time limits on some challenges didn't make much sense, but otherwise it was an okay read. So if you don't mind a rehash of The Hunger Games and all the similar books that have come out since (and before, since a lot of people argue that The Hunger Games was really just Battle Royale), and you don't have anything better to do with your time, you could give this one a whirl. I wouldn't buy it, and probably won't seek out book 2, but it was an okay read. I'm giving it three stars instead of two because I loved Gabriel so much.

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Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Before I Let GoBefore I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

[I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

Most of this book was pretty mediocre. Several times it seemed that things were getting sinister, supernatural, and that something really bad or interesting was going to happen. Nothing ever did. There was so much emphasis on Kyra's "psychic" abilities, and none of it was ever explained. A lot of supernatural things happened (the voices, the shadows, the garden blooming in the middle of winter, etc.), but none of it was ever accounted for. Aaron's revelation at the end was not the murderous plot I was expecting after all the junk I had to slog through. And the ending was ridiculous - Corey just flies away and decides she isn't going to bother telling Kyra's story because no one would believe her and she gave up the letters Kyra wrote but never sent, so the whole damn "adventure" was for nothing.

Also, Corey was a shitty friend.

The book was okay, so two stars. But I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you're looking for a good thriller. Thriller this was not.

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Review: Everybody Always by Bob Goff

Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult PeopleEverybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Bookish First for review purposes.]

I've read through some reviews of Bob Goff's first book, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, but since I haven't actually read that book I semi-dismissed them. There was some commentary that I remember about how Love Does is pretty much a "Look at me and what I did" bragfest. After reading Everybody, Always, yes I can see that he does do the humblebrag a lot. It's not quite humble, though, since even though he's always bringing it back to Jesus, it's still a "look what I did" kind of thing (and holy crow is this guy rich and he lets us know it). I get what he's doing with it - Jesus works with us and through us and yes we can all do amazing things just by loving others. But I can see where people are coming from when they say it feels like he just spends a couple hundred pages bragging about his accomplishments.

That aside, I really did enjoy this book. It gets repetitive - love everyone, love your enemies, love the difficult people, etc. Jesus loves us, we should love everyone, yadda yadda. But I think that the repetitiveness reinforces how it's something we all need to practice. And practice. And practice. Because we're never going to be perfect, but at least we can practice.

This guy sounds like he has an amazing life. Yeah, I'm a bit envious of all the traveling he's done, everything he's done for others, and even how much he's managed to grow throughout. I rolled my eyes a few times at the mention of buying houses, motorcycles, and planes on a whim. But he interjects so much humor at such random moments that it made up for it. And underneath the wealth, I could see a man who is far from perfect, but wants to be like Jesus, and wants everyone else to be like Him too.

If you can get past the "Look at me" feeling of the book, this is highly recommended for anyone struggling with how to love others, especially those you don't want to love. The last few chapters were a story in themselves, which I found remarkable. I am hoping to pass this book along to the people I love and hope they can get something good out of it as well.

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Review: School for Psychics by K.C. Archer

School for Psychics (School for Psychics, #1)School for Psychics by K.C. Archer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

This came up on my dashboard on NetGalley, but when I read the synopsis I didn't think I was very interested. There are so many books on my TBR pile this year, I didn't want to waste time on something that didn't sound interesting to me. But then someone I follow, who usually has similar taste in books to me, praised it in a review, and made it sound so much better than the blurb. So I requested it, and I was approved. But I put off reading it because of other books I wanted to read, so this review is a little delayed. My apologies to NG and the author for that.

Anyway, you'll notice that a book I wasn't interested garnered four stars from me. They are pretty enthusiastic stars, too. It wasn't perfect (far from it), but I absolutely loved the character progression and how you are always led in certain ways, but may end up in a different place than expected.

So there was some obvious foreshadowing. A few different characters come under suspicion, and you aren't sure which one(s) to believe or disbelieve, but I think I figured out the "big bad" early on in the book. I wasn't 100% sure, but my suspicions were confirmed at the end.

But it's not really a "big bad" in the sense that the characters have to destroy this thing to save the world. So in that it's much more sinister. What are their true motives? By the end we know approximately who they are, but not what they are, and not really much else about them.

Regarding characterization, I absolutely HATED Teddy when I first met her. She was selfish, seemed to have a sense of guilt but still threw her life away anyway, and didn't seem to want to improve her situation at all. She went to Whitfield very reluctantly, and only because she had just lost a shit-ton of money at poker and her bookie was going to come to collect very soon. When she got there, she distanced herself from everyone, refused to let anyone in, and kept making selfish mistake after selfish mistake. I wanted to slap her in the head and ask her what the heck she was doing, because I know her trajectory is all too realistic and it is frustrating. She was *real* to me. Even when she's still screwing up at the end, she's still struggling with everything she has done. There is development there, progress, and a shift in perspective for her.

So by the end, I had grown to love Teddy and all of her flaws, despite all her mistakes, or maybe because of them.

Also, I just need to talk about Jillian for a second. Does anyone watch The Good Place? The entire book, all I could picture whenever Jillian was speaking or mentioned was Tahani. For reference:



I think my one major complaint about this book, hence only 4 stars, is that all the characters acted and spoke like teenagers, not people in their mid-20s. I also couldn't get a read on how old Nick was, which confused me a little later on in the book. So I had a hard time not reading these kids as high-schoolers in a military setting, which has obviously been done before, but it didn't read right for me. Also, there seemed to be some jumping around in time that wasn't clearly noted, so I would be reading something about the characters being one place, and then shortly after they were somewhere else with no indication that they had moved. That may have been the ARC, or it may have been that I was missing the written shift for some reason, or it may have just been that way.

Overall, a great book and satisfying read. I'm glad I read that review, I'm glad I requested it, and I'm glad I read it. Psychics are hard to do well. I think K.C. Archer did a good job, and I look forward to reading book 2 when it comes out.

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Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of OrĂ¯sha, #1)Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK. So. This book was amazing. I loved it. This is the first time in a LOOOOOOOONG time that a super-hyped-up book has actually met (and exceeded) my expectations. I am super impressed by the writing style, the inventiveness of the story, and how freaking awesome all the characters are (and not necessarily in a good way - Saran was a goddamn monster). Everyone (except maybe Inan, I had some issues with him) was completely fleshed out. They were living breathing human beings with pasts and lives and expectations. That is what so much modern fantasy is missing. I'm so tired of the Mary Sue protagonist. Zelie is as flawed as they come, and she is brilliant for it.

Two things took away from it for me, so that's why I'm knocking off a star:

1. Guh, the romance. I could suspend my disbelief about the magic because of course this is fantasy. I could not suspend my disbelief enough to believe that in the span of like two chapters, two hostile murderous enemies suddenly are making out like horny teenagers.

2. Zelie had a "sea-salt soul." I was reminded of it in *every single* Inan chapter. The repetition drove me nuts.

But this is love, so now I sit and wait for #2 to come out so I can figure out WTH happened at the end!

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Review: Furyborn by Claire Legrand

Furyborn (Empirium, #1)Furyborn by Claire Legrand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

I am pissed that I wasted however many pages this book has to find out what the f was happening in the very first scene, and we don't even get that much. I hated everyone in this book except Remy and Simon. I think Eliana was probably the worst. One star, would not recommend, boring AF. Even the sex scene was absolutely ridiculous.

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Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road (Ghost Roads, #1)Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

I have only discovered Seanan McGuire in the last year, but boy howdy has she quickly become one of my favorites. I am not usually into ghost stories because, well, they freak me out. But this sounded so interesting, I couldn't help myself.

The notes at the end mention that this book was originally a series of short stories and then turned into the novel it is now. Which makes the book make a little more sense in my head. Instead of a linear narrative, it moves around in history through Rose's time as a ghost, and tells what seem to be unrelated stories (but which connect, somehow, in the end). Rose is an interesting character. She died at age 16, and has never aged, but when I read her voice she sounds much older. Much harder. Of course, she would have to be to survive as a road ghost, a hitcher.

Rose's path is fascinating, not only to see how she will help those she's sent to help, but also how she may fail them. Even for a ghost there are still dangers, and if she doesn't want to be wiped away, she needs to abide by the rules and keep an eye out for Bobby Cross. And there are a lot of rules, which show up at different points. The narrative takes the form almost as a field guide to being a hitcher, which kept me reading even when it got a little creepy. I liked some of the vignettes more than others, but the one that really got to me was at the end, with Gary.

Knowing that this is book 1 of 2, I can forgive the ending not being a complete wrap-up. There are loose ends left, which I was hoping meant there would be a sequel. I wasn't quite ready to put Rose down, even though the book was very packed and dense. I'm looking forward to reading The Girl in the Green Silk Gown when it's released later this year.

Highly recommended to fantasy and ghost fanatics alike. I loved Rose and her story, and can't wait to dive deeper into her "life" as a ghost.

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Review: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To Kill a KingdomTo Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

Waffling between 3 and 4 stars, but giving 4 because I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

*****SEMI-SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT*****

Despite being completely predictable, it still managed to have enough action and suspense to carry it. I do think that too much time was spent in the various stops along the way and not enough time actually on the mountain, but if there had been more pages devoted to the mountain then the book would have ended up too long for my liking.

There is a lot to like here - a reworking of siren mythology; two protagonists who learn enough through their journeys that they realize they don't want to be who they were anymore; an interesting same-sex marriage of royals; and pirates. I wasn't surprised by much, but it was fun all the same.

If I were to criticize this book in any significant way, it would be the chapters. They were written from either Lira's or Elian's perspective. Most of the time you don't know who is speaking for a few sentences or even paragraphs. One chapter it took an entire page before it was revealed which perspective it was from. It would have been much more helpful (and left me much less confused) if the narrator's name were in the heading of the chapter. I also thought that some of the action was a bit too drawn out - it felt like I was reading and watching it in slow motion, when it was supposed to be moving along a lot faster.

Overall, a pretty good book. Predictable but interesting. I liked the way we get to watch redemption progress. And I'm a sucker for a happy ending.

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Review of Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Wintersong (Wintersong, #1)Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

I enjoyed this enough to want to read the sequel, but not enough to buy copies of my own. I'll probably pick it up from the library so that I can at least get some closure.

This book was well-written, lyrical, and emotional. I loved how the story unfolded, but I do wish there had been a little more ... explanation? It seems like everything is still a mystery to me, but it was still a good read.

My only qualm is that the Goblin King essentially kidnapped Elisabeth. He kidnaps her sister first, then manipulates her into staying in the Underground with him as his wife. She loves him but she doesn't, but she does? I felt like she was manipulated into loving him, like Stockholm syndrome. It kind of bothered me and got in the way of my liking the romance.

There were also a few passages that were lifted directly from Labyrinth. And yes, the book was heavily inspired by Christina Rosetti's The Goblin Market (which I just read for the first time today). I minded but I didn't. If that makes sense.

Overall an interesting romantic fantasy. I wish I could have pictured the Goblin King as someone other than David Bowie, but oh well.

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Review: Dance of Thieves by Mary Pearson

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson My rating: 5 of 5 stars I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes. ...