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Book Review: The Vine Witch (The Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

Book Blurb:

A young witch emerges from a curse to find her world upended in this gripping fantasy of betrayal, vengeance, and self-discovery set in turn-of-the-century France.

For centuries, the vineyards at Château Renard have depended on the talent of their vine witches, whose spells help create the world-renowned wine of the Chanceaux Valley. Then the skill of divining harvests fell into ruin when sorcière Elena Boureanu was blindsided by a curse. Now, after breaking the spell that confined her to the shallows of a marshland and weakened her magic, Elena is struggling to return to her former life. And the vineyard she was destined to inherit is now in the possession of a handsome stranger.

Vigneron Jean-Paul Martel naively favors science over superstition, and he certainly doesn’t endorse the locals’ belief in witches. But Elena knows a hex when she sees one, and the vineyard is covered in them. To stay on and help the vines recover, she’ll have to hide her true identity, along with her plans for revenge against whoever stole seven winters of her life. And she won’t rest until she can defy the evil powers that are still a threat to herself, Jean-Paul, and the ancient vine-witch legacy in the rolling hills of the Chanceaux Valley.

Published October 1st 2019 by 47North

My Review:

Can we just take a moment to appreciate that cover? Gah, I think it’s so flipping gorgeous! I mean, just look at it! Earthy, mysterious, almost decadent in a way with those dark hued colors–whoever came up with that cover deserves a raise.

Anyway! On to the book itself!

The writing was masterfully done. Lyrical and elegant, in a way. It was definitely an instance of the form serving the narrative, because I’d go so far to say the writing was pastoral. And the celebration of earth–and of living simply with the earth, appreciating its beauty and gifts–was definitely a strong theme throughout. I’ll be honest, it made me long to get out and visit a vineyard, go hiking in the woods, spend the day at a lake–anything related to nature. So, mission accomplished, Vine Witch!

Elena’s character was such a delightful one to follow, thanks to her flaws. Her need for revenge clouded her judgement, which I could respect (after all, if I’d been cursed and spent seven years working to undo it, I wouldn’t be a happy camper either). And her recklessness contributed to some of the problems she encountered. Those mistakes made her feel like such a relatable person, drawing me deeper into her conflict and investing me in her story.

My only critique would be the romance plot. It could have, in my opinion, been fleshed out more. I couldn’t exactly see the sudden shift from awkward, to wary, to love that the narrative followed. It felt more like it was tossed in simply because a love subplot was needed. But I think the seeds were there, they just needed more attention to flourish.

Overall, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down until I finished, only taking a quick break to shoot of a text to one of my reader friends telling her to drop everything and get this book! It’s such a captivating read! 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Night of the Dragon (Shadow of the Fox #3) by Julie Kagawa

Book Blurb:

Master storyteller Julie Kagawa concludes the enthralling journey into the heart of the fantastical Empire of Iwagoto in the third book of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy. As darkness rises and chaos reigns, a fierce kitsune and her shadowy protector will face down the greatest evil of all. A captivating fantasy for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas and Marie Lu.

Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has given up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers in order to save everyone she loves from imminent death. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must journey to the wild sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate last-chance effort to stop the Master of Demons from calling upon the Great Kami dragon and making the wish that will plunge the empire into destruction and darkness.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil—the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko and their companions to stop a madman and separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that had trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this most unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed…until now.

Published March 31st 2020 by HQ Young Adult

My Review:

Let me just get the obligatory “I freaking loved this book and read it in a day” comment out of the way. If you’ve read my reviews of Books 1 & 2, you know how much I adore this series. Seriously, you need to go read it.

After you read this review, of course.

And now we can get onto the juicy parts.

Once again, the world building and the characters shine in this narrative. They are absolutely stellar, and hat’s off to Kagawa for such immaculately written and in-depth setting and people. *chef’s kiss*

But my absolute favorite part of this book is the end. I won’t dive too in depth in this review, and spoil it for anyone looking to read it afterward, but let me just say this book has consequences.

Which yeah, makes sense. Actions have consequences. And here, we see the consequences of the choices and paths of each character (both good and bad) play out. I deeply appreciated how Kagawa didn’t shy away from the full breadth of those consequences either. I think it’s so important, especially in YA fiction, to follow through with the consequences of actions. To see the decisions influence the outcome in literature, just as it does in life.

Endings tend to be the hardest thing to write. You’ve hooked the audience’s attention, you’ve given them characters to root for and against, and they’ve journeyed with your characters through thick and thin. Which makes delivering the emotional conclusion, the note of the crescendo you’ve been building toward, one of the hardest things imaginable. Because by that point, people have expectations. They have their own ideas about what they want they ending to be, how they want their own emotional payoff to manifest. Which, unfortunately, leaves the author in a pickle: it’s impossible to satisfy everyone.

And I appreciate the fact that Kagawa didn’t pander to the the most-loved book finish. She didn’t give everyone a squeaky clean ending, with Happily Ever After scrolling on the last scene. She stayed true to the world building she created, and the characters she made, to deliver an ending that I personally believe was the ending this series needed. She remained honorable in her convictions.

Which I found to be wonderful storytelling.

I heartily recommend this series, especially if you’re a fan of Japanese mythology and culture, or even just an anime fan. It won’t disappoint. My only caveat, and it’s such a minor thing, is that I would have liked more character relationship built into this book. I felt the second book skipped it (which it had to, given how the characters ended up at the conclusion of the first book), but this would have been the time to give those relationships center stage for a bit. To really let them shine. While I understand the word count restraints in place, I fell like the book lacked a smidge because it didn’t have that connection like the first one did. Still, it was an excellent book, and a wonderful ending to a stellar series. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

Book Blurb:

One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.

Now he has broken free.


Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.

Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.

Published June 25th 2019 by Inkyard Press (first published June 18th 2019)

My Review:

Like the first book in the series, I consumed this one like a man dying of thirst given a jug of water. I mean, let’s be real here: there are only two things I consume this quickly. The first is chocolate chip cookies. The second is this book.

Once again, I loved the interplay between the characters and the setting. It wasn’t just a setting and the characters just happened to be on that backdrop: they were connected. The setting influenced the characters, while in turn, the characters impacted the setting.

Take one of the primary themes for example. Honor is often discussed in this book, though it mostly gets its verbiage out through Daisuke’s conversations. He’s the one most aware of honor and its obligations (which makes Okame’s foil as the honor-less ronin just that much better) and he’s the one bringing that topic of conversation up more often than not. Because that’s the setting he was raised in. That was the culture he grew up in. He’s been molded by his duty and it shows, from his priorities to his actions.

That’s not to say he’s strictly fixated on it. Like most people, he sways under the weight of his duties and responsibilities. Primarily when it comes to his own wants and desires. And I think that’s what makes this book so compelling, what makes its characters so relatable: the conflict between desire and duty. Especially in this installment of the series.

It’s in those moments of conflict that a person’s character changes, that they’re forged into someone new. And we’re here for the challenges, right? To see these characters struggle and overcome. Kagawa’s writing does an expert job in highlighting the moral juggling act each character faces when it comes down to choosing what they want versus what is right. Which, in my opinion, makes for pretty powerful writing.

Again, like with Shadow of the Fox, I loved the world building. And the steady pacing hooked me, then reeled me in until I breezed through the novel. There really wasn’t an area I didn’t appreciate or some story component that left me aggravated or displeased. As a reader, I think this story did exactly what it was meant to: entertain while nudging me to think about my own sense of honor. And for that, I give it a solid 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Shadow of the Fox (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Book Blurb:

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.

Published October 2nd 2018 by Harlequin Teen

My Review:

This book sunk its teeth in and didn’t let go.

I’m hooked.

It blends Inuyasha with Lord of the Rings in a magnificent, ancient Japanese fantasy adventure. And I mean, both those franchises are utterly brilliant, so I don’t make the comparison lightly. But this is a truly remarkable story.

My absolute favorite part of this story was the interplay between the cast of characters and the setting. I loved the diverse backgrounds of each, as each character works as a brushstroke in the painting that is worldbuilding. I won’t spoil it for you, as the crew Yumeko builds along the way to complete Master Isao’s dying request constitutes major spoilers, but I’ve got to give Kagawa props on how she fleshed out the world of Iwagoto through each character’s backstory, motive, and characterization. Each one fluffed out the world beautifully. Take Yumeko, for example. With her kitsune heritage, we come to better understand the yokai of the world (both the good and the bad) as she interacts with them. It creates a rounded, full-bodied effect, as we see the good, the bad, and the ugly (I’m looking at you, spider ladies).

The mythology runs deep in Iwagoto, and Kagawa does a masterful job of conveying that on the page. While the journey felt a tad meandering, I enjoyed the episodic nature of the encounters, as the group overcame various challenges on their quest. Kagawa used that to flesh out the world of Iwagoto and the Japanese myths which inspired the creatures in her book. It gave it a very anime feel to me, which I appreciated, and conveyed the dangers of Yumeko’s undertaking. The journey, after all, is what we’re here for. What kind of book would it be if she arrived at her destination, no troubles along the way? Sam and Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom left a lasting impression because it was a grand undertaking rife with danger, just like Kagome and Inuyasha’s with collecting the sacred jewel shards.

I even enjoyed the budding romantic tension between Tatsumi and Yumeko (come on, you had to have seen that coming in a YA fantasy book!). It wasn’t a surprise when they started drawing close, and it played hardcore into the emotionless warrior/naive girl tropes, but Kagawa did such a fantastic job expressing it, that I ate it up like a cat with catnip. Yes it felt a tad formulaic, and yes, it flirted with being too cliche. But the writing was solid, like rock-solid, and I found myself cheering for the duo.

Overall, I inhaled this book like I do when I spot chocolate cake. It pulled me in and I floundered with the MUST-READ-MORE and MAKE-IT-LAST thoughts only good books can give you. I’m giving it a solid 5 out of 5!

Book Review: Witch in the White City by Nick Wisseman

Book Blurb:

Thousands of exhibits. Millions of visitors. One supernatural killer.

Neva’s goals at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago are simple. Enjoy the spectacle—perhaps the greatest the United States has ever put on (the world’s fair to end all world’s fairs!). Perform in the exposition’s Algerian Theatre to the best of her abilities. And don’t be found out as a witch.

Easy enough … until the morning she looks up in the theatre and sees strangely marked insects swarming a severed hand in the rafters. Before she can scream, the bugs drop and swarm her.

And every one of them seems to have a stinger.

They strike fast—it only takes them a moment to inject her with so much venom that the same strange marks begin to rise on her skin. She’s horrified, but there’s worse to come: once the insects disperse, a Columbian Guard notices her rashes and warns that five people with similar sores have been murdered and dismembered. Before they died, the victims also seem to have lost their minds.

Neva considers fleeing the exposition. But that won’t stop her from going mad. So she marshals her powers and searches for the killer.

Within hours, it becomes clear he’s searching for her too.

Published January 7th 2021

My Review:

This book started off with a weird premise: a witch, who can bend her bones, is performing onstage when bugs fall from the ceiling and bite her.

I’ll admit, the weirdness of it drew me in. It’s not everyday you find a book that starts off with a magical insect swarm swallowing the heroine while she gyrates onstage for the masses. And as I got started, the visceral writing drew me in. I genuinely felt those shivers (which always seem to happen to me when bugs are either seen or mentioned) slither down my back as I dove into this book.

From there, I was off, and what an adventure it was! The powerful writing was superbly done, giving us a gorgeous cast of characters with quirks and flaws that made them well rounded. And the setting itself, *chef’s kiss*, was divine.

The setting definitely solidified itself as my favorite part of this story (but learning that Nick ran this as a D&D campaign before putting it in book format is a very, very close second!). Wisseman took careful planning and effort in setting the scene, and as such, the scene became a character in itself. The majesty and allure of the Fair was on full display, but Wisseman also tackled the veneer of that allure too: the working conditions and the unemployed droves displaced by the Fair’s construction. That rich layer greatly added to the story, giving the characters a strong backdrop as their tale unfolded.

My only problem (and let me just preface this by saying it’s more a personal preference of mine, rather than a full-blown problem) was the lack of an emotional connection with Augie at the beginning of the tale. I won’t dive too deep and spoil the story, but in the opening chapters, Neva rushes to her brother, Augie, for assistance after she’s been bitten. He disappears soon afterward, and her search for him drives a large chunk of the story, but the emotional connection between the two felt stilted.

In writing, authors often harp on the “Show, don’t Tell” mentality and it’s actually a good one: you’re supposed to show your readers scenes where they pull the emotional undercurrents out themselves, rather than telling them. For example, take a woman who’s parents both die in a terrible car wreck. And in the months afterward, every night after she comes home from work, she sits on the couch and flips through a photo album her mother had made of all of them smiling, together, and happy. One night, she comes home, and the house is on fire. Which of these two scenarios do you think has the most emotional pull for the reader? Number one, the woman narrating how depressed she is that her photo album, the last remnant of comfort her parents left her, is burning while she gazes on sadly. Or number two, where she rushes into the house, coughing, the fire hot on her skin, as she frantically makes her way to that photo album. It’s Number Two, isn’t it? Because we, the readers, saw the lengths she was willing to go to and we understood the emotional motivation behind it. That always, without fail, hits harder than the narration telling the feelings. It’s a showing, not a telling.

With Augie and Neva, their relationship tends to be more telling, less showing. Understandable, considering Augie disappearances in the first act of the story. But still, I would have loved a chapter showing the depth of their relationship beforehand. Granted, while searching, Neva does recount instances in their past that show the relationship, but it’s still hard for me to establish that emotional connection at the beginning, when Neva realizes he’s gone. I don’t feel that same frantic need to find him, because I didn’t see how much she cared for him. She told me through her narration, but it’s not the same.

Overall, this book is stellar. My nit-picky preference aside, I loved this book. The setting, the magic, the characters all created a compelling and irresistible story. 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Book Blurb:

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Published October 6th 2020 by Tor Books

My Review:

Let’s talk Addie LaRue for a second.

I’m a massive fan of Victoria Schwab. Like, huge. She’s a phenomenal writer, an excellent story-teller, and she manages to captivate me completely when I crack open one of her books. Gah, I want to be able to write like that!

Addie LaRue is an excellent story. Strong writing, beautiful depths, imaginative characters. And she tackles an issue I’m sure many people have struggled with at some point in their lives: the fear of not living and the knowledge of limited time.

For that, I appreciated this book. Truly, I did. And I loved it for that reason because that’s a theme that speaks to me right now: the fear that I’m wasting time.

I wanted to love this book. I truly, genuinely did.

But I’m not sure that I do.

Now don’t confuse me not liking a book for it being a bad book–those are two completely different things here. Writing is art, and art makes you think. This book accomplished that (boy howdy, did it accomplish that) but at the end of the day, it didn’t leave me with the sense of wonder that I come to expect from Schwab’s stories.

Maybe that’s the point, though?

Wonder doesn’t come from friends-turned-rivals finding the secret of superpowers or a man in a fabulous coat traveling through parallel worlds. It’s supposed to come from the simple things: waking up next to a person you love each morning or being able to pick up a pen and leave a mark on a page. The wonder comes from simply being alive, being able to connect with others, to have the chance to live.

And this book works as an alarm, a reminder, that you’re supposed to be grateful? That you’re supposed to appreciate what you have because it could be gone in the next second? That you fight for what you want, rather than look for shortcuts, but don’t get so caught up in dreams that you forget what truly matters. So lost in the nebulous what-if of daydreams and miss out on the magic you already have: friends, family, loved ones.

I’m sorry that this review has become less me gushing over the writing and more an existential book-induced crisis, but I think that just speaks to the power of this book.

It’s a thought-provoking, lyrical story about love and loss.

And actually, you guys, I think maybe I do love this book after all. 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Book Blurb:

Aiden Bishop knows the rules. Evelyn Hardcastle will die every day until he can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest at Blackheath Manor. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others. With a locked room mystery that Agatha Christie would envy, Stuart Turton unfurls a breakneck novel of intrigue and suspense.

For fans of Claire North, and Kate Atkinson, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a breathlessly addictive mystery that follows one man’s race against time to find a killer, with an astonishing time-turning twist that means nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Published May 7th 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark (first published February 8th 2018)

My Review:

“Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day . . . quite unlike anything I’ve ever read, and altogether triumphant.” – A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

I’m not sure who A. J. Finn is but, but he’s absolutely correct. This book definitely blends together the precise whodunit of an Agatha Christie novel with the frustrated repetition of Groundhog Day. And their lovely little baby is an excellent read, no doubt about it!

This novel opens brilliantly with a very confusing in medias res introduction. Which, added with the confusion our poor protagonist has because he can’t remember anything about where he was or how he came to be there, gives this mystery an extra layer of depth. Not only are we attempting to uncover the murderer of Evelyn Hardcastle, but we’re attempting to uncover the mystery of Aiden too. Layers upon layers of mystery, wrapped up in one of the most atmospheric settings imaginable: a near-dilapidated mansion cut off from the outside world by thick forests and swirling fog.

Excuse me while I squeal delightedly in the corner.

For me, atmosphere is half the battle when you have a thriller/mystery combo on your hands. And this one delivers handily. The characters are entertaining, well-written, and complex (each one has their fair share of secrets and flaws) but the house–THE HOUSE–sets the scene perfectly with its fading glamour. This house was the equivalent of those past-prime prima donna characters–the ones pouring on makeup and jewels to hide the truth: that age and time effect everything. Still grasping to youth and beauty, still trying to look as it did fifty years ago, the owners of the house desperately clutch to the veneer of past splendor. Gah, it was so good! And then as Aiden went through his rigmarole of solving the murder, more and more of the house was explored. He went into rooms he hadn’t previously entered before in each iteration, and learned more of it’s history, pulling away the mask until he saw the truth of it exposed. To me, the house had the most character of all. And I appreciated that on a deep level.

I also loved the pacing. It kept me hooked from start to finish, granting small discoveries and answers while tacking on more and more until we reached the climax of the book and the whodunit reveal ensued. Those last few pages dropped bombshell after bombshell, which left me winded after I finished. But the best part was after I finished, I leafed through the pages to see the breadcrumbs Turton had left along the way. It delighted me to no end to find the little clues sprinkled throughout the narrative, pointing the way to the murderer and the truth.

This was an absolute gem of a book. Great pacing, excellent mysteries, and a phenomenal setting kept me riveted from start to finish. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an atmospheric mystery, complete with twists and turns that will leave you breathless long after the story’s finished. 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert

Book Blurb:

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

Published August 2nd 2005 by Ace Books (first published June 1965)

My Review:

Holy Hera.

If you haven’t read this book, drop everything AND READ IT.

The setting, the characters, the themes, the intrigue, the revenge–my dudes, this book has it all. And then some. Oh my Lanta, does it sing. Just…just hear some of these lines:

“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”

“Hope clouds observation.”

“It is so shocking to find out how many people do not believe that they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.”

“The mind commands the body and it obeys. The mind orders itself and meets resistance.”

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

I mean, the depth and poetic style of writing just haunts you throughout this book. There’s a reason this book remains one of the most well-beloved and critically-acclaimed science fiction stories of all time. Paul’s arrival on Dune and his navigation of the Fremen world captivates whoever ventures within this story’s pages. There is so much wisdom, so much experience, tied into the ebb and flow of the story.

I would call it a masterpiece.

And what makes it truly iconic is how well it remains relevant. Revenge, finding your purpose, familial obligations, fear of the future–all these themes persist. Regardless of the age we find ourselves in, they remain.

It definitely deserves 5 out of 5 stars. Easily. If you enjoy sci-fi, and haven’t read Dune yet, then what are you waiting for?

Book Review: In the Hall with the Knife (Clue Mystery #1) by Diane Peterfreund

Book Blurb:

A murderer could be around every corner in this thrilling YA trilogy based on the board game CLUE!
 
When a storm strikes at Blackbrook Academy, an elite prep school nestled in the woods of Maine, a motley crew of students—including Beth “Peacock” Picach, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, and Scarlet Mistry—are left stranded on campus with their headmaster. Hours later, his body is found in the conservatory and it’s very clear his death was no accident. With this group of students who are all hiding something, nothing is as it seems, and everyone has a motive for murder. Fans of the CLUE board game and cult classic film will delight in Diana Peterfreund’s modern reimagining of the brand, its characters, and the dark, magnificent old mansion with secrets hidden within its walls.

Published October 8th 2019 by Harry N. Abrams

My Review:

Did anyone have a serious obsession with the game CLUE when they were younger? I used to beg my family to play it with me constantly. I’d even let them pick which version we’d play: the VHS, the classic, the one with the cell phones, etc.

There’s just something about solving a murder in a prestigous mansion that draws me in.

The faded glamour of the scene, the cast of suspicious characters, the secret passages and even more secretive motives–I love it all. It’s like putting together a puzzle, except you don’t have to sit there staring at your card table for hours upon end. It’s dynamic, constantly evolving and changing, plus you never know what you’ll find when you peek into the next room.

This book mirrored that CLUE feeling nearly perfectly. I loved seeing the new spaces, meeting the new characters, watching them interact as they solved the mystery. The atmospheric pull had me in its clutches and I loved every second of it. I especially applauded the crisp writing and brisk pacing that transported me so easily to Blackbrook Academy. I couldn’t put this book down, which in my opinion, constitutes high praise for any book.

That being said, it is a CLUE story. There’s a pattern, a rhythm, an algorithm of characters and places that you come to expect from anything CLUE-related. Not to say that it’s a bad thing–when I go to eat a chocolate chip cookie, I want it to be a chocolate chip cookie (and not a cleverly disguised oatmeal raisin imposter). I appreciated the predictability inherent in a CLUE novel. But if you’re hoping for something a bit more uncertain or up-in-the-air, look somewhere else.

Also, keep in mind this is a YA novel. While there is a murder that takes place, the characters’ motives and secrets are a bit tame when compared to the more hard-boiled adult murder mystery novels out there. Again, it’s what I signed up for after reading the blurb, but keep that in mind if you crack this book open and keep expecting the dark and depraved to emerge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel! If you love CLUE games and YA mysteries, you can’t go wrong with this choice. 4.5 out of 5 stars (only because I figured out the bad guy based on narrative form rather than plot–but that’s such a small detail).

Book Review: Twinned Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Candice Bundy

Book Blurb:

A Foothold In Two Different Worlds, And No Safety In Either…

I, Becka Rowan, live in a time of uneasy peace. A fragile truce stands between humans, shifters, and the fae-touched—those who turn inward to their Houses for loyalty and protection and live in isolation from the outside world.

For an ungifted like me, that’s impossible to do.

Born of the fae but not blessed with their powers, I’ve grown up as an outcast within the human world. Humans don’t trust people like me with fae heritage, and the fae don’t bother with the ungifted. I said screw it and embraced college, determined to make my own fate.

Just when I thought I could start a prestigious internship and continue my quest to address interspecies conflict, someone murdered my twin sister, an adept illusionist and heir to our family lineage.

So, I’m going back home to say goodbye. Back to House Rowan. I take a deep breath, knowing after a short few days I’ll return to the city, free again from the melodrama of the House I was raised in.

There’s just one hitch in my plan—Quinn, a fae-touched member of the Enforcer’s Guild assigned to investigate the killing. Quinn doesn’t let the typical fae prejudices against the ungifted prevent him from staying close to me. Uncomfortably close. Besides, he needs my help to figure out what happened to my sister.

How can I refuse?

Published January 13th 2020 by Lusios Publishing LLC

My Review:

The premise of this book was an excellent hook. An outcast diving back into the world she’d been banished from to find her twin sister’s murderer? I’m down for supernatural mysteries and this one promised to deliver.

Especially after the first few chapters, when we get to meet Becka. I loved her fierce independence and adoption of human culture. Denounced by the fae-touched, she embraced the Other, which was humanity in this case (humans and the fae-touched had a war a while back and the hostilities and prejudices are still trickling down to Becka’s time). While I loved that refusal to associate with anything tied to the people that banished her, I would have loved to see more bitterness come as a result of it. Or even bitterness toward humans, who might have tolerated her living among them, but still didn’t truly accept her. Candice Bundy goes to great pains to express how limbo-locked Becka is, not belonging to either group, but her personality doesn’t seem to reflect it truly. Sure, she has a few mean things to say to her family, but at the end of the day, it felt like she wasn’t truly messed up by their abandonment. She played nice (even though her family treated her horribly because of her ungifted status), slid back into the role of a dutiful daughter, and only made a few snappy retorts.

Quinn was similarly another character I had a few issues with. He seemed to be on the ball with everything. A revelation in the case was made to Becka, but then we had Quinn in the background, admitting that he knew that revelation already. It made him seem too perfect. Aside from his dark reputation (which actually wasn’t that dark as his reputation was as someone who seemed to value fairness over bigotry) he was the perfect book boyfriend: attentive, hot, mysterious, and charming.

The plot itself, at the beginning, was very engrossing. I followed along with the mystery, eager to uncover the clues and meet with the suspects. But when the culprit was announced, I felt disappointed. I won’t go into too many specifics, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the stereotypical motivation and lackluster climax didn’t live up to the expectation I’d set from the stellar beginning of the book.

With all that said, I definitely encourage reading this book! I enjoyed it immensely and the only reason I’m drawing attention to these points is because after reading the author’s work, I feel like she can do better. I see great potential in her and I’m excited to see her skills progress as she keeps writing! 4 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Demon Magic and a Martini (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #4) by Annette Marie

Book Blurb:

When I first landed a bartending job at the local guild, I didn’t know a thing about magic. These days, I’m practically an expert on the different magical classes, but there’s one nobody ever talks about: Demonica.

Turns out they have a good reason for that. My guild is strictly hellion-free, because who wants to risk life and limb to control the biggest bullies on the mythic playground?

Well, some people do, and now a demon has been loosed in the city. My three best friends are determined to slay it, but even badass combat mages are critically out-magicked. And that’s not all. The monster they’re tracking—it’s not hiding. It’s not fleeing. It’s not leaving a trail of corpses everywhere it goes.

The demon is hunting too. And in a city full of mythics, it’s searching for deadlier prey.

If we can’t unravel the demon’s sinister motivations, more innocent people will die, but finding the answers means digging into dark secrets … and learning truths I never wanted to know.

Published April 12th 2019 by Dark Owl Fantasy Inc.

My Review:

How on earth does Annette Marie write books that I simply can’t put down? It’s the darndest thing really. I start one of her books and all too soon, hours have skated by without me realizing and I’m flipping that last page.

She hits it out of the park once again in her fourth installment of her Guild Codex: Spellbound series. The plot hits the ground running, thrusting Tori and the Crow and Hammer Guild into the center of a demon hunt. Scary stuff, given the expert world-building and characterizations both in this novel and leading up to it in previous books.

The world-building, once again, is one of my favorite parts. I love how magic doesn’t always make things easier for the characters occupying this world. It’s a love-and-hate relationship, just like with social media for example, that has it’s good parts and it’s bad ones. The complexity of guild interactions, how the laws are set up by the MagiPol, and the prejudices and taboos all give this novel a very real feel.

That level of detail and imagination bleeds over to the characters as well. We learn more about our favorite Crow and Hammer mythic trio, the elements teased out expertly in the narrative. And, in the center of it all, we have Tori’s spunk, sass, and flaws prevalent as she tries to navigate this demon hunt.

What can I say? 5 out of 5 stars!