Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between UsThe Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

OK. I'm going to come at this from the angle that everyone (except Rhoda, Hestia, and Leandros' two friends) were absolutely abominable people and therefore it was a bit like watching a fantasy mystery romance with characters from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

That doesn't really make sense, but that's how I felt. Maybe the Gang could be considered Slytherins.

Alessandra and Kallias are some pretty terrible people. As the author herself said, these characters have "questionable" morals and aren't exactly heroes. However, watching these two awful people fall in love and kind of learn to be a teensy bit "better" was fun. I enjoyed the ride, and found myself rooting for Alessandra and Kallias despite the shitty things they had planned for other people. Frankly, I thought it was hilarious when (view spoiler)

So overall this was a good read. Nothing mind-blowing, and honestly for all the talk about sex and being liberated it seriously missed the opportunity to put in a couple hot sex scenes, but I guess we can't win all the time.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book. My opinions are my own.

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Review: Nameless Queen by Rebecca McLaughlin

Nameless QueenNameless Queen by Rebecca McLaughlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a severe lack of worldbuilding in this book, and I had absolutely no sense of place no matter where the characters went. I also had no idea what *anyone* looked like. BUT, despite those things (which are usually a big factor in whether I like a book or not), I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. I saw the "twist" coming a mile away, so it wasn't a surprise to be told why Coin was named queen. But I enjoyed seeing her building relationships with the people around her, learning about her powers, and figuring out who she really was and how she could help heal her country.

Overall, a good read and recommended for fantasy readers even though it was more action than place.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. My opinions are my own.

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Review: Song of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao

Song of the Crimson FlowerSong of the Crimson Flower by Julie C. Dao
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this late at night in bed and did not want to get out of bed to write my review. So I let it sit and roll around in my head and I think I can get out what I took away from it. There are some spoilers in this review.

First, to see where exactly I stood on the matter of Lan's behavior, I read a few reviews, positive and negative. These were both pretty great reviews, and I guess I find myself right in the middle of them! The positive one I read after I finished, and I think it says a lot about how I felt about the book so I'm just linking to it instead of trying to rewrite all that in my own words.

I had skimmed the negative one before going into the book (sometimes I like to read negative reviews before I read something just to get a feel for what I want to look for), and was waiting the entire time for Lan to be the horrible person that this reviewer read. The moments that were brought up in the review are definitely pretty bad ones for Lan - she's selfish and stuck-up, and demanding that Bao apologize to her for being rude to her after she shattered his heart is pretty damn rude itself. I get it. I did not like these parts of Lan's character, so in that respect I completely agree with the reviewer! But I think that, while that reviewer couldn't get over their dislike for Lan for how she treated Bao after he was cursed, I think I had a different interpretation of Lan's behavior. Hear me out.

Bao had built Lan up in his mind to be perfect. He put her on a pedestal. This never ever turns out well for anyone, especially for the person put on said pedestal. When Bao confessed his role in the duplicity to her and then offered her his heart at the same time, she proved herself only human by lashing out at him and saying the most hurtful things she could. I understood this compulsion, and I did not hate Lan for it. But Bao could not reconcile what had happened with the woman he had built in his mind, and he was so shattered by it that he ran away. Also understandable. I felt horrible for both of them.

Once Lan finds Bao after he's been cursed, she is still thinking only of redeeming herself because she doesn't want the guilt. Bao points this out, she dismisses it, but it's obviously right there in the forefront of her mind. We also need to consider that Lan was brought up wealthy, spoiled, and prepared to marry into another wealthy family and never have to worry about anything ever again. As a young child she was adventurous and excitable because of her grandmother, but her grandmother had died and Lan had put aside that part of her to become a wife. So she was still in "proper lady mode" when she set out with Bao. Her rudeness to him is a direct result of her upbringing, because he is being rude to her (well within his rights after her behavior, of course), and she feels affronted. But if you keep going and keep following Lan, you see that she does still have the trickster adventurous side that her grandmother nurtured. Lan picks up parts of that personality she laid aside, and realizes how much she has hurt Bao, and really how much Bao means to her. How much he has meant to her.

Lan still has her bratty moments. At one point after a major upset, she's mad at Bao for not thanking her enough for saving his life. I think that, while we're watching the two of them actually fall in love, the author is reminding us that no one is perfect. I found myself slipping into the pedestal-placing myself while reading, because Lan had started to change her behavior and her thinking. Having these little moments of imperfection and rudeness brought me back to earth, and to the fact that Lan is not perfect. Neither is Bao. And at the end, when he finally sees her as she is, he realizes that even though he found out she's not perfect, he wouldn't want that perfect Lan anyway. They are both human, imperfect, and in love. I thought it was pretty damn beautiful.

So in sum, loved the story, loved the characters, loved the development, and want to read more in this world. I see there are two books before this one, so I hope that I can get around to reading them someday. I'd like to read about Empress Jade and Xifeng, who were brought up (and one met) in this book, but there wasn't a ton of information about them. I'm looking forward to seeing more from this author.

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book. I received a free copy, but my opinions are my own.

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Review: All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

All the Stars and Teeth (All the Stars and Teeth, #1)All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title of this book is...interesting. I don't love it. I don't quite connect it to anything besides teeth being what Amora uses for her soul magic. But teeth aren't the only things she uses, and stars are only really mentioned when they are sailing, so the title doesn't make much sense with what the story was about. Anyway.

I was pretty ambivalent about everyone except maybe Vataea, who was bad-ass but still a bit not quite there as a character for me. I frequently forgot she existed. From the first chapter I absolutely hated Amora (I just finished the book and I actually had to go back to the last page and look up her name because for some reason I could not keep it in my head), her arrogance and surety was obviously a set-up for her to fail and it was too blatant for me. And the only thing I could think of when reading Bastian was Captain Hook from Once Upon A Time. He exudes sexy-pirate vibes with swagger and confidence, and it felt like that was the character Bastian was modeled after. While not a horrible thing, I still wish I'd been able to see him in my head as his own person.

The story itself was interesting. I think that was what really kept me going. I was curious to see how the different islands worked, how Kaven was gaining hold, and who and what he really was. It was pretty clear from the moment Bastian broke Amora out of prison that they were going to fall for each other, but the romance wasn't too in-your-face. I thought the twist at the end was good, although I still don't understand (view spoiler)

Poor Ferrick was just dead weight the whole time - the only thing he was good for was healing people and literally chopping off his own limbs so that Amora could kill other people. His shining moment at the end was a nice way to give him something to do, but I really wish he had been given that chance much earlier and wasn't such a bumbling idiot throughout the first half of the book. He seemed like a decent enough person, who wasn't all that stupid actually, but who was trying to help someone he cared about and was only treated with frustration and disdain (yet another reason I didn't like Amora).

I'll still probably seek out book two because I want to know whether Amora can break her own curse, save soul magic, and save the kingdom. Hopefully the characters are a bit less unlike-able the next time around.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book. My opinions are my own.

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Review: A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood (A River of Royal Blood, #1)A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I seriously blew through the last third of this book at 1am and was dying for more. I did not like how this book ended, but can't wait to read book 2!

Eva has some good character development - at the beginning of the book she's pretty much resigned to the fact that her sister is going to murder her, and by the end she wants to fight for life and the Queendom and boy does she ever. Isa was hard to deal with - there were moments where I thought she'd crack and have some sisterly feelings for Eva again, but then her hard shell would close around her and she essentially made herself irredeemable. I'm hopeful for book 2 that there will be a way to end the Rival Heir system, because I really want Isa and Eva to have a happy ending together as sisters. Although if the author chooses not to go that way, I think that would be fine too.

Baccha was interesting and I didn't quite understand his love for/loyalty to Eva. And I wasn't so keen on Aketo either, just because he's so perfect. Falun's presence by about the midpoint, once Baccha and Aketo show up, becomes just as Eva's attendant and he's no longer an important presence in her life. I thought that was a shame, because he showed some real promise in the beginning as an important character.

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for the review copy of this book. My opinions are my own. And I'll be looking out for book 2!

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Review: Weathernose by Maram Taibah

WeathernoseWeathernose by Maram Taibah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Admittedly I didn't realize this was actually a novella, so I was a bit disconcerted when I looked down after a while and saw that I was 65% of the way through the book and it was going up with every page. There were some good points to this, I enjoyed seeing Tart and Cypress becoming friends, but I think it was a bit too easy to get there. Then again, I guess that's the point of it being a novella, eh? But I wish there had been more to it.

The character development is interesting. I had a serious dislike for Tart from the moment he was fired, and it only got worse until the last bit of the book. Even then, though, I didn't love him. I didn't really connect to any of the characters to be honest. But I did like that there were a few changes of heart as things went on, and I liked seeing Cypress express the desire to be "just a kid" at one point.

A cute little novella, good story, but really wish there was more to it.

Thank you to Book Sirens for the opportunity to read and review this book. My opinions are my own.

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Review: War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

War Girls (War Girls, #1)War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I feel like the star fairy here, I want to give all the stars for this book.

Having been, up until this book, completely ignorant of the fact that there was a Nigerian civil war in the 1960s, I don't feel qualified to address the commentary this book is absolutely steeped in. I will, however, say that I *get* it. Even not knowing a damn thing about the war, I completely *get* what the author was arguing, what he was condemning, and what he was honoring.

The story was engrossing. I read 400+ pages in the span of two and a half days. I was surprised and not surprised yesterday when I looked down at the page number I was reading and realized I'd just read 200 pages. I was sucked in immediately by Onyii and Ify, by the attack on their compound, and by everything they suffered in the years after. The relationship between them and everything that worked to tear them apart, it was exciting and horrible and absolutely devastating. The idea that maybe everything they went through later could have been avoided if Onyii had made a different decision as a child, or maybe it would have been just as bad but in a different way... There are so many ways the story could have gone, and I'm blown away by the direction it did take.

Everyone do yourselves a favor and read this book. If you love science fiction, if you love a gripping story, if you love fantastic writing, then go read this book.

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

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Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

The DeepThe Deep by Rivers Solomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can I give this 10 stars? Because I really want to give it 10 stars.

There is so much to unpack in this novel(la?) that I honestly don't really know where to start. There is an afterword explaining where the idea came from and how it was transformed, and I had read in a few reviews about the song by clipping., The Deep, that inspired the book. I went and listened to the song and really absorbed the lyrics (you can find it on YT here and the lyrics here).

The afterword explained how the gender and first-person narratives were stripped away in the song and "y'all" was used instead. In the book, many characters have a distinctly male or female gender, but several are referred to as "they." The characters we see in flashbacks, Zoti and Basha, are both non-gendered as "we." And Yetu explains to Oori at one point that the wajinru (the mer-folk) aren't truly gendered, as they can mate as male or female with anyone, and anyone can carry a child. I thought this was an interesting way to present the information, because we aren't focused on whether we're reading about a male or female mermaid, but rather that they are something different. These creatures were born of violence and necessity, and a little magic. What does gender matter?

The question of identity outside of the self is explored quite well. The wajinru give up most of their memories to the Historian, who carries the memory of all wajinru since the beginning. They are then left as empty shells, who don't form meaningful memories, and don't carry their history with them. Then Yetu meets and becomes close to a "two-legs," Oori, whose sense of self is destroyed because she doesn't have a home anymore, she's the last of her people. Yetu can't understand how that kills a person, because she sees it every day with her people. The two come to an understanding after a lot of struggle and discussion.

Yetu's adventure away from the wajinru gives her the inspiration and strength she needs to be part of her people and yet still maintain her sense of self. I loved how at the end she learns to harness her own power and use it to make an entirely new creature, and it's left a bit open for anything that may evolve from these artists in the future.

Seriously meaningful stuff, and I'm not even scratching the surface here. I am not a POC, and I don't carry their history inside me, so I don't want to impose my own meaning on something that may mean something entirely different. But I did appreciate and connect with the material and even if you're looking at it as pure fantasy, it is a spectacular read.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

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Review: If Darkness Takes Us by Brenda Marie Smith

If Darkness Takes UsIf Darkness Takes Us by Brenda Marie Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book frustrated me so much. There was so much that could have been done with this story, but it really just ended up as the inner monologue from a self-loathing bitter old woman. The one thing I thought the book got right was that there was mention at one point about all the post-apocalyptic stories that Bea had read, and how none of them really covered the grieving process for losing your entire life and having to start over. This book certainly focused on that aspect of the point that nothing *really* happens. Sure, a few people die, someone gets knocked up, vagrants start coming to town trying to steal stuff, the usual perils when the world goes off the rails. But the vast majority of the book was about Bea painting herself as the town's savior, trying to fix everything, and screwing it all up horribly.

I'm sure there was something in here that was supposed to make me feel like Bea redeemed herself by the end, but I really just did not feel that way at all. There was no conclusion, there was no progress, it was just (view spoiler)

Sorry, this seems dismissive. I know that there must have been some deep research into what it would take to grow food after the apocalypse, and how long batteries would last, and how to put bees into the walls of a house, and dig a cistern that would hold thousands of gallons of water, etc. It's just that...beyond the few upheavals, that's *all* that happened. They learned to live without refrigeration and electricity. They taught themselves how to build sheds and other things they'd need. They planted crops and harvested them. They screwed and buried and fought and that's it. I guess I'm just not sure where the actual story was supposed to be. And I really couldn't stand any of the people in it, especially Bea and her insufferable husband and children. (The grandkids, especially Keno, were ok.)

There are a lot of 4- and 5-star reviews out there, so it looks like I'm in the minority. I just found it a bit of a bore and not interesting. Thank you to Book Sirens for the opportunity to read and review this book for free. My opinions are my own.

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Review: The Unicorn Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle

The Unicorn AnthologyThe Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a lifetime fan of Peter Beagle, I jumped at the chance to read this (even though only one of the stories was his, and I had read it before). It turned out that I had actually read the last few - My Son Heydari and the Unicorn, The Unicorn Triangle, and The Transfigured Hart. Admittedly I'm not much of a fan of these three, they were good when I first read them but I don't love them as much as some of the other unicorn stories and books I've read.

But there were a few gems in here. I liked Ghost Town, The Highest Justice, and A Thousand Flowers. The rest were kind of meh. I especially disliked the one about the unicorn horn dildo (gross - that one was up there for me with the story in another collection about a woman who sculpts dicks and has sex with the devil), and the one where the guy who buys his bait as a child then ends up with her, "taking her" against the side of a dead and bleeding unicorn (also gross). And I agree with most other reviewers who say that the stories all adhere to the tropes (virgins, etc.), nothing new is done here, and most of them barely feature unicorns at all.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this collection. Overall it's a meh dud for me. I'd much rather read actual books about unicorns, or at least something new and interesting done with the idea of unicorns.

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Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time WarThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The first "chapter" of this was so promising, interesting, and confusing, that I was really excited to get the book. The very first letter from Blue to Red was surprising, a mystery, I wanted to know what happened next. Unfortunately, it was not the book I expected, and I just really did not understand what the heck was happening here. I'm sure there's a lot of praise to be had for these two writers, but it will not be coming from me. The letters were so damn flowery, I couldn't get a single sense of place out of any of it, the characters were essentially blank slates, and nothing made any sense.

I guess this kind of sci-fi is just not for me.

Thanks to Bookish First and the publisher for the free review copy of this book. My opinions are my own.

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Review: The Absinthe Earl by Sharon Lynn Fisher

The Absinthe Earl (The Faery Rehistory, #1)The Absinthe Earl by Sharon Lynn Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whooooo *fans self* If the cover hadn't given away that this was a bodice-ripper, there was no doubt in my mind pretty early on when there was so much tension between the two main characters that it was oozing into every aspect of the book. I don't normally request these things because I have so many other things to read but this sounded interesting at least.

Overall, this is a fantasy book tangled up in Irish fairy folklore. Honestly, I'm not a scholar of Irish fairy stuff, but I've read a lot of different fey stories so I wasn't completely out of my depth here. We briefly meet WB Yeats (which frankly, I didn't see the point of, but I get the little homage there), we read about different folk heroes and fairy kings and queens, and all the while we're on a (sexy) adventure with two pretty attractive people ;) The naughty bits are definitely graphic, so if you're not up for that then steer clear. But if you are, have fun!

4/5 stars because even though it was something I'd consider "fluff," even if you take out the bedroom romps it was still a great story with plot and character development.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

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Review: The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

The Good Luck Girls (The Good Luck Girls, #1)The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've typed and erased and typed and erased and I just can't express how good this book was besides that it was soooooooo GOOOOOOOOOOOD. And since it's a debut, I'm doubly surprised and in love! Also, that cover - fierce Aster!

There's so much to unpack with the nature of trauma, reactions to it, and the differences between the two girls who actually experienced being prostitutes and the three who were about to but escaped before it happened. Aster shrinks back from men, and Clementine is drawn immediately to one. Violet is cold and closed-off because she feels that's what she needs to be to survive. Take care of yourself first, is her motto. I really enjoyed watching her character progression as she got further away from the Welcome House. I wish we could have seen a little more into her head too.

A couple characters fell flat (I felt like by the end Clementine was just kind of shrinking back into a tropey maiden in distress, and Tansy and Mallow seemed, admittedly, a bit superfluous after a while), and the ending happened to quickly after everything we've been through. So those were the downsides for me. But everything else was really really good. Like, the raveners are the only ones who can use magic, and it's all evil and used to torture people (or track people). They are mortals who eventually lose their souls because the work is so evil. And then there are the different types of "ghosts," some that are harmless and others that will rip you to shreds. And the setting itself - we're talking Wild Wild West saloon stuff, and even the cover gives off that vibe. I got very entrenched in the environment, hearing the voices in my head, seeing what was happening. The whole thing was very visual for me, very cinematic. I wasn't just reading it, I was experiencing a lot of it with the characters.

I wish we had gotten a little closure on one of the characters, but since I see that it's book #1 of a series, I guess book #2 is going on my TBR list.

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for a free ARC for review purposes. My opinions are my own.

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Review: The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

The Harp of KingsThe Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be honest, I'm surprised I enjoyed this one so much. At the beginning of the Kindle edition is a list of names and their pronunciations, which threw me (I have no idea why but it sort of made me feel a little overwhelmed with all the different names and I knew approximately how they were pronounced anyway but there were SO MANY), and the opening few lines did not grab me at all. But I came on Goodreads to check out other reviews, and there were so many positive ones (that actually had some good info) that I decided to keep going. Good choice on my part.

The story is interesting, although not one that we haven't seen before. The main characters start off on an island where they're training to be secretive fighters who apparently also do spy duties. There is a little tension set up in the beginning between Liobhan and Dau, and a bit of apprehension on the part of Brocc, but otherwise not much is gained through such a brief look at their training.

I appreciated beyond belief that this was NOT a love story! There were no real hook-ups (outside of the ending, which made sense and I'm not going to spoil it), there was a little bit of attraction here and there but nothing overt. Instead we got an actual story free from the angsty teenage pining that tends to take over a lot of the fantasy I've read lately.

The magic was subtle and explained well. I liked how some of it was a tad bit unpredictable (although I did guess at just about all of the "twists" and was not usually wrong). The relationships between the characters were done thoughtfully, with definite character evolution throughout. I think Brocc was the most wet-noodle character, though. He just sort of goes with the flow, although that can sort of be explained by his back story which is revealed as we go along.

My favorite character though was Dau. He goes through such an emotional transformation that I was left feeling happy for him while still sad at all he had to endure to get there. He is definitely someone that I would like to read more about, maybe in book 2.

Speaking of book 2, it's already on my TBR list even though it doesn't have a title or plot yet. So I definitely recommend this book for all lovers of fantasy. Like I said, it's nothing new or revolutionary, but it is a great tale and I enjoyed reading it a lot.

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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Review: There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

There Will Come a Darkness (Age of Darkness, #1)There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you are a habitual fantasy reader, there is a lot in this book you've read before. Magic ("Graces") which can only be wielded by certain people and in certain ways; prophecies that people are trying to make come true or prevent from happening; "the chosen one," who is supposed to save the world; mystical warriors who are out to help the chosen one; and a couple of unsuspecting kids trying to survive who inadvertently bring about the end of the world.

It also was not unpredictable, in that I knew that the person who was supposed to be "chosen" wasn't actually the person people thought. And I also figured out that there would be a betrayal (and was not surprised in the least by who it was). There were a few surprises which I did appreciate (what Beru actually was, Mrs. Tappan's interest in the girls).

The story-telling was good, not great. I felt like there was way too much teenage angst going on in these characters (a lot of whom are actual teenagers, but who read as older people acting like teenagers). At times we veered into purple prose territory. The whole thing with Hassan and Khepri threw me because he's only 16, and I'm pretty sure she's older - early 20s? Anton is also only 16, but when his age was revealed late in the book I was a bit startled because he read like someone in his early 20s as well. I did not connect with any of the characters - I couldn't picture any of them, their ages were confusing, and they didn't jump off the page as "real."

Overall an interesting enough story to keep me reading, but I was not interested enough to pick up the next book.

Many thanks to NetGalley for the e-copy to review.

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Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller My rating: 3 of 5 stars OK. I'm going to come at this from the angle that everyone (exc...