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Book Review: Vampire on the Orient Express (Avery & Carter #1) by Shane Carrow

Book Blurb:

Paris, 1914. American adventurer Sam Carter boards the Orient Express, departing France in style after an impulsive decision to desert the Foreign Legion. British diplomat Lucas Avery is already nursing a drink in the smoking car, resenting his assignment to the distant Ottoman Empire. Neither man expects anything more from the next three days and three thousand miles than rich food, expensive champagne and fine cigars.

But something dangerous is lurking aboard the train, hiding in plain sight among French aristocrats and German businessmen. Through fire and darkness, through blood and ice, the Orient Express is bearing an ancient evil across the continent – and not all its passengers will live to see Constantinople…

Published June 26th 2019

My Review:

I loved Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Who didn’t? It’s a classic whodunit, written by the legendary murder goddess herself.

Shane Carrow takes that iconic murder mystery and adds vampires.

Proper, terrifying, vampires.

God, this book is gold.

Carrow comes to his writing in a spectacularly powerful way. His use of, and lack of, description was masterfully executed in the novel. He teases just the right amount of description, giving broad strokes to set the scene, but holds off on painstakingly explaining every detail, allowing readers to fill in the gaps themselves. I found this to be an exceptional way to come about it, as in the passages where horror and suspense are ratcheted up, the reader is left wondering which shadows house the monster stalking the train.

Building off that, the horror in this novel is superbly executed. My favorite element is the lack of knowing. There’s no conveniently placed folklorist on the train, ready to spout all the details known about vampires for our heroes. They use trial, error, luck, and observation to discover the best methods for dealing with the monster attacking the passengers. This lack of knowledge, then, lends itself to the tension of the plot: we know what harms vampires (well, I do, but I’ve been told that vampire slaying methods are not a suitable conversation topic for the dinner table before, so I might be in the minority in that regard), but Avery and Carter don’t. They have to tease out their battle strategy through observation and logic, relying on bedtime stories and half-remembered stories from the other passengers and past conversations to get to the truth. That brilliant inclusion really sold me on this novel, because for much (if not all) the novel, I felt like the vampire had the upper hand.

I devoured this book (sorry, not sorry for the vampire pun!) and I was so glad I stumbled upon this absolute gem. It captivated me from start to finish, which is high praise for any book. I definitely recommend sinking your teeth into it if you’re looking for a historical horror read. It won’t disappoint! 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

Book Blurb:

THE LESSON explores the nature of belief, the impact of colonialism, and asks how far are we willing to go for progress? Breaking ground as one of the first science fiction novels set in the Virgin Islands, THE LESSON is not only a thought-provoking literary work, delving deeply into allegorical themes of colonialism, but also vividly draws the community of Charlotte Amalie, wherefrom the author hails.

An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of super-advanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last. A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.

Published June 18th 2019 by Blackstone Publishing

My Review:

Even in the blurb, this book warns you that this is a commentary on colonialism. And the narrative doesn’t shy away from the topic. But what I most loved about the theme of colonialism in the narrative is that it isn’t just explored through the alien invasion. Sure, after the Ynna arrive, the reader sees the common tropes of colonialism in the Ynna’s haughty mannerisms and the locals reaction to their invaders or neighbors (depending on which Islander you ask). But what gets me about this book is Mera’s take on colonialism.

And watch out below, because I can’t talk about my favorite part of the novel without some heavy spoilers. So read at your own risk.

***

Still here?

Good.

Mera arrives earlier than the other Ynna, conducting her research in the shadows while pretending to live as a slave on the plantation. She witnesses colonialism-imposed slavery firsthand, interacting with her Dutch overseer and other slaves, especially ones who’d been in positions of power before their capture and subsequent domination. Mera lives through days in the fields, through slave rebellions, and through the subjugation of that rebellion. She feels the brunt of colonialism and then, in a clever twist, she becomes one of the people delivering that brunt to the people of St. Thomas.

This allows her to form her own Lesson, one different from what the rest of the Ynna believe when they arrive centuries later. I loved watching her character on both sides of that interaction: both as the oppressed and the oppressor. It gives her Lesson weight, making it more impactful to the reader.

The humans, likewise, all have their role to play when it comes to their reaction to the invading/arriving Ynna. Some (most, actually) view their arrival as hostile, the Ynna customs barbaric and cruel, while scant others welcome the Ynna and yearn for the opportunity to connect, learn, and grow. The Ynna, for their part, don’t come as beneficial or tyrannical forces. Instead, they come to finish their research, sticking to the island as they do so, and leaving the rest of the world alone. With such vague motives, the rest of the world isn’t sure how to respond. And thus, nothing happens. And for five years, the island stagnates, the rising tension between the Ynna simmering until it reaches a boil.

The book is a remarkable exploration of colonialism, from both sides. I loved the part where the author recounts previous human colonialism, with tribes conquering and displacing other tribes. Even with human-on-human subjugation, the feelings triggered are the same ones stirred by the Ynna. Which goes to show, in my opinion, that it doesn’t so much matter where the oppressor is coming from: all that matters is the power displacement. That, I believe, is what Turnbull is trying to show, using speculative science fiction as his vehicle to do it.

For the most part, this book lacks the explosions and adrenaline most people would come to associate an alien arrival narrative with. Instead of the action-packed blockbuster, Turnbull uses a common alien trope to instead explore and evaluate a very human reaction to oppression and colonialism. It’s a literary novel, to be sure, meant to be examined with an open mind and a close eye. Definitely worth the read if you’re at all interested in exploring humanity. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Mixtape for the End of the World by Andrew J. Brandt

Book Blurb:

It’s August 1999 and the world will end in less than four months.

At least, that’s what high school sophomore Derrick Townsend hears on the television as the coming Y2K apocalypse grows nearer every day. On top of that, he’s now the new kid in town, having moved to Mount Vernon a week before school starts for the next semester. Music-obsessed, he creates mixtapes of his favorite songs to help him cope with—and escape—this new, unfamiliar world.

As Derrick navigates music, love and the end of the world, he and newfound friend AJ start a band in order to compete in the school’s talent show. Derrick, however, also wants to impress Haley, the beautiful girl next door who is also reeling from her own personal drama.

With Y2K approaching, the teenagers, contemplating the future and what it may hold, also cope with changing family dynamics and the drama of small-town life.

My Review:

I don’t remember much about Y2K except that my dad loaded up on firewood and all the adults at school liked to talk smack about the impending apocalypse out loud, but privately, they shared in the fear. As the kid of the school secretary, I got to hear things most kids didn’t hear after school. And that fear festered, though the adults pretended like they were too smart to fall victim to it.

I was too young to remember much else, my life spinning along in much the same way Derrick’s did. The Y2K fear crowded in on the periphery, but as a kid, it didn’t play much of a role in the day-to-day. And for Derrick, his focus was spent more on moving to a new school, making new friends, starting fresh, and pursing his passion of rock music.

This novel hit a lot of notes in the coming of age story. Derrick questions his identity, wondering at who he wants to be, feeling the influences of those around him nudging him in their own little ways. First loves, image issues, friendships, bullying, the future–all of them spiral around in the narrative. And Brandt does an exceptional job wading through them all, navigating Derrick the way many kids did at the time. Those themes play a central role in the plot, as Derrick’s coming-of-age largely drives the plot of the narrative.

That said, I’m not sure I enjoyed how easy things came for Derrick. To be fair, most of my reads deal with more mayhem (chosen ones, dismal prophecies, harrowing quests) so I could just be searching for something that shouldn’t be there. But while Derrick did feel uncertainty and confusion about many aspects of his identity, I thought he received little, if any, push back. Things worked out well for Derrick, in my opinion, as if the world treated him with kid gloves.

He often talked about fearing to share his love for rock with others, and being branded weird because of it, but nearly everyone responded positively to that admission. He loved to play guitar, and in two different instances, guitars were given to him with no strings attached (sorry, not sorry for the guitar pun!). He wanted to connect with the girl next door, and he did. He wanted to become part of the popular clique, and he did. He wanted to jam out with like-minded musicians, a band was formed around him. He gets along well with his new stepdad. In almost all of these instances, in situations that should have been obstacles, Derrick’s desired outcomes fell into his lap while he passively stood by.

Now, there were some instances where Derrick did have to strive for what he wanted, but those felt few and far between. In my opinion, too many good things happened to Derrick (which sounds so terrible when you say it out loud) but I wanted to see more conflict. More adversity, more drive. Stories, in my opinion, aren’t fun when the character has everything handed to them on a silver platter. I like to Frodo second-guess himself because of Gollum’s scheming, Harry mourning Cedric because he couldn’t save him, the Avengers lose to Thanos as he gathered the jewels. Those are the moments that stay with you and I just didn’t see them here.

This is still a solid book. I would definitely recommend it if someone was looking for a bit of YA 90s nostalgia. And again, this is just my opinion on the matter: you might think Derrick suffers greatly. I encourage you to check it out! 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Book Blurb:

Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed… But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…

Published June 24th 2008 by Anchor (first published April 5th 1974)

My Review:

This was one of those stories where I knew what happened, the plot absorbed via osmosis throughout my life somehow, but I’d never read it before. I hadn’t even seen a movie of it, though I do remember all the trailers for the 2013 version with Chloë Grace Moretz and thinking at the time that I should read the book.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

And it might have taken a while, but I got around to it eventually (you know, eight years later), and I’m so grateful that I did. The writing is solid, though after reading some of his later work, I can see his evolution as an author. But what sold it for me–and what usually does in Stephen King novels–are the characters.

They are incredibly in-depth, complex, real people. Take Sue Snell, for example. She sets Carrie up to go to the Senior Prom with Tommy, her boyfriend. And it isn’t just one thing that motivates her to do this: it’s a whole bunch of little thoughts and actions snowballing until this becomes her course. She’s worried about becoming nothing more than the same-old wife, living in the same-old town, just another of the thousands destined to be Prom Queen, marry their high school sweat-heart, and fall into the rut so many others have carved out before her. She’s also simultaneously pitying and disgusted by Carrie, with the titular character drawing out these emotions and thoughts Sue doesn’t particularly like seeing in herself. In a way, she uses Carrie like everyone else uses her. Maybe not as the butt of practical and cruel jokes (though she doesn’t stop them either), but she uses Carrie as a medium and a tool to convince herself that she’s a good person (regardless of whether or not she actually is).

See? Complex.

Nearly all the main characters display this level of sophistication, which is what makes King’s writing so powerful. It reaches people, and they can see facets of themselves in the characters on the page.

That said, I do enjoy the themes inherent in the story. Alienation, obviously, being chief among them. Carrie is ostracized because she does not conform into the mold: she’s unusual, strange, and therefore, she’s bullied. Sue Snell, likewise, comes to feel that same distance after Carrie’s rampage: we can see it during the White Commission’s interaction with Sue during their investigation. Like Carrie was the butt of all the kids jokes, Sue becomes a scapegoat for the reasons behind Carrie’s rampage (in the eyes of the Commission, at least). Just like Carrie dreamed of leaving everything behind, Sue admits that she wrote the book to paint a human version of Carrie and to raise funds to go somewhere else, somewhere people don’t know her.

This solid, masterful style of writing is what solidified King’s place as a master storyteller. His characters, themes, and precise word choice make him one of the best authors of our age. Carrie, his first novel, shows that. If you’re in the mood for something creepy, unsettling, and well, horrific, you can’t go wrong with Stephen King. Carrie, especially. 5 out of 5 stars!

What does “New Adult” fiction actually mean?

If you’ve seen the term floating around in genre discussions, then you’ve probably wondered at some point the meaning of New Adult fiction. And you wouldn’t be alone. It’s a relatively new term, coming about at the end of the 2000s, and at its core, it essentially follows protagonists in the 18-30 age range bracket.

But isn’t that what Adult means?

Not necessarily. For the New Adult protagonist, there’s a bit of blending between the Young Adult and the Adult. While Young Adult characters deal with issues such as friendship, self-identity, independence, or family life as they come of age, Adult characters have already navigated through those areas and instead deal with issues such as parenthood, sex, careers.

Take the Harry Potter series and the Dresden Files for example. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry gets whisked away to Hogwarts, where he finds enemies and friends, makes choices that guide his identity, and comes to a point where he’s made his own family with the people he’s met in the wizarding world. He faces Voldemort, and sure, there’s tension, but the reader understands on some level that JK Rowling isn’t going to have the 11 year old boy eviscerated by the Dark Lord. While in the Dresden Files’ first novel, Storm Front, Harry Dresden is a magician, but has to contend with crime scenes where people have had their hearts ripped out by magic and a corrupt magician using orgies to power magical drugs, all to edge out mob bosses, with the final fight involving a nasty demon. This isn’t Dresden’s first rodeo and you get the sense that he’s a tried hand at these sorts of problems.

See the differences?

New Adult straddles the line between these two. It’s about fledgling adults, those people whom society will view as an adult but who, internally, might still not feel like they’re ready to be viewed that way. There’s a great line that Eric from That 70s Show says during a Halloween episode: “It’s like we’re too old to trick or treat and too young to die.” New Adults means there’s still some growing pains, still some uncertainty and that these main characters still have some defining to accomplish in their infant stages of adulthood.

New Adult stories also have themes generally common to the genre.

  • Finding career paths or deciding on future career goals
  • Marriage or starting new families
  • Friendships beyond school
  • Financial independence and supporting yourself
  • Living away from home for the first time
  • Failure and the fear of it

These are just some examples, and not a comprehensive list in the slightest, but it’s to give you an idea of the problems New Adults are facing. I, personally, remembered the pressure of finding and finalizing a degree choice in college. My future would be based on that decision and I wanted to make sure it was the right one. As a New Adult, I was expected to succeed in whatever I chose, so the weight of making the right decision set heavily on my shoulders. A Young Adult protagonist might have some vague idea, but it would still be a distant choice, with time left to change their minds. Whereas with an Adult protagonist, that choice had already been made, and they were living with the consequences of their decision.

New Adult fiction can also be combined with other genres. A New Adult Fantasy, for example, might see the angst of deciding on a career path taking place in a realm like Middle Earth. New Adult can be mixed in with nearly everything: from mystery to horror, from romance to science fiction. Because as long as stories have people, they’re going to have problems. And these problems just happen to be universal for people in the 18-30 age range, making them the definition of New Adult fiction.

Book Review: Bird Box (Bird Box #1) by Josh Malerman

Book Blurb:

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

Published May 13th 2014 by Ecco (first published March 27th 2014)

My Review:

I started and stopped a lot when it came to this book. It just couldn’t draw me in, and one reason for it, I think, was how it flip-flopped back and forth between the past and the present.

I’m still undecided on how I feel about that. On the one hand, I felt like it sacrificed story-telling to build suspense. We already knew the outcome: Malorie ended up in the house with only two children. The question of why pervaded the past chapters of the story, making it the driving force. All the characterization, all the scares, all the suspense drove to answer the one question: why is she now all alone in this house?

It might be a spoiler (or if you’ve seen the trailer for the Netflix movie, then it might not be) but she originally arrives to a house full of people. They run the gauntlet for how well they’re handling the situation, and at first, their is cohesiveness in the fact that they’re survivors. But that begins to breakdown. Not surprising, given that it’s a horror novel (and what’s more terrifying than humans going bonkers) but I’m not sure that I appreciated knowing the end before I got there.

To me, it tainted the past chapters. All the characters felt flat because I knew there wasn’t anything for them. And sure, that might be a nihilistic viewpoint to take on it, but it still stifled my emotional connection to the characters. Why become invested in a person when I knew they won’t be alive in a few hours? (I’m a fast reader and this book didn’t take me too long to work through!)

Also, I wasn’t sure the purpose behind naming her children Girl and Boy. Was it to limit her emotional connection with them? Was it to teach them what a girl and a boy were? I haven’t a clue, other than it tried to hide from the readers the events in the past. But then, if that was Malerman’s intent, why waffle back and forth in a horror novel, when most people can already guess that something bad happened to everyone?

Overall, the writing was solid and the story (once I managed to get into the thick of it) was compelling. I did enjoy it. But by playing with the past versus present in the chapters, by giving away the ending to one half the story, I felt as if I didn’t connect with this book as well as I could have. I give it 4 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Austin Wyrd (Austin Wyrd #1) by Steve Curry

Book Blurb:

Has his past finally caught up with Magnus? All he wanted was to spend the remainder of his time on this earth in a nice, quiet, safe job, like being a bouncer for a Goth and Heavy Metal bar in Austin, Texas. But that proves difficult once police start investigating a ritualistic looking murder behind the bar. Can Magnus clear his boss of any connection to the crime, while avoiding the attention of Police, overly curious government agents, and the wife and bandmates of the victim. That doesn’t even count his psychotic ex-girlfriend with potent mystical powers and an immortal and vengeful ex-employer. Even with the help of his wealthy, powerful, or conniving friends, his own “alt-natural” abilities, and the dubious help of his pets, can Magnus maintain his freedom and remain hidden? Can he stay unentangled with the handful of exciting and alluring women around the case? And can someone please explain how the Raven is learning to speak Norse?

Published July 25th 2019 by Steve Curry

My Review:

This book wasn’t for me. And before I go further, I just want to point out one crucial fact about this review: this is my opinion. These are my thoughts on the book. I always encourage readers to try something out for themselves, rather than rely on reviews. I mean, you still go see movies even if Rotten Tomatoes gives them a low score, right? Don’t let anyone’s opinions (even mine!) outweigh your own.

That said, I genuinely believe that I am not the target demographic for the book. There were a couple of elements of it that I enjoyed, though. I loved Eachlan and his bizarrely charming way of speaking. The whole character, actually, drew me in…more than Magnus did, actually. I also loved the Metal bar setting where a large chunk of the story takes place. It felt refreshingly different from the typical coffee shops and book stores my preferred genre typically employs. Plus those pets were awesome!

But I just couldn’t jive with the story. On the one hand, I wasn’t much of a fan of Curry’s interpretation of Valhalla. Again, this is just a matter of opinion, but I have this idea in my head of sportsmanship and revelry associated with the mythical resting place of Odin’s chosen Einherjar (as you could probably guess, since I wrote a duology called The Einherjar Games and all). I just didn’t take to Curry’s version of Valhalla, which is totally fine. To each their own. But another issue I had with the narrative was the portrayal of women. All of them, down to the last, were reduced to their attractiveness and sexuality. The women (from the Valkyries all the way down to the band singer’s sister) were gorgeous in a fan-service kind of way. Even the monsters, though grotesque, had their entire identities revolve around men harming women sexually. As a woman reader, it just didn’t do it for me.

Overall though, the creativity (especially in the runes) worked well in my opinion. But I don’t think this book was written for me as the target audience in mind. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Dinner on Primrose Hill (Honey Creek #3) by Jodi Thomas

Book Blurb:

Benjamin Monroe is pretty sure how his life will play out. He’ll continue teaching chemistry in his small college, and spend his free time biking through the valley. Eventually, he’ll retire to putter around in his garden and greenhouse.

His colleague, Virginia Clark, is not one for routines. She’s chatty, spontaneous, and bubbly, and before Benjamin realizes what happened, she’s talked him into collaborating on a research project—studying the mating habits of college students. Virginia knows her desire to work with Benjamin is motivated by more than the potential prize money . . . and hopes he might not be quite as indifferent as he seems to be.

Ketch Kincaid, one of Benjamin’s star students, returned to college after serving in the army. He needs something to get his mind off his recent breakup and collecting research data might do it. And there’s another distraction on the horizon—a woman who looks like she, too, knows about heartache.

Soon enough, their project, “The Chemistry of Mating,” is gaining notoriety. Friends, neighbors . . . the whole town has become involved. But no matter what the data determines, one conclusion seems inescapable: love follows its own rules . . .

Published October 26, 2021

My Review:

Let me just preface this review with a quick disclaimer: this isn’t my typical read. As such, I might miss out on subtle genre tropes or elements, or maybe even story beats. After all, this is the third book in this series. And while they can absolutely be read as stand-alones (I just did it and I guarantee you won’t be lost if that’s what you do!) I might miss some of the world-building and Easter eggs that readers of the whole series, the romance genre, or fans of Jodi Thomas might pick up on.

But that didn’t stop me from reading this book because 1) Jodi gave it to me and it’s not even available until October 26, 2021, 2) she was the loveliest booth neighbor at the Lubbock Book Festival, 3) she bought an indie-published Dungeons & Dragons adventure guide from my boyfriend, 4) she might be the nicest lady alive.

If you take nothing else away from this review, take those 4 pieces. And if, for some unholy reason, you can’t take all 4 of them, then for the love of all that is good in this world, hold tight to #3.

Because yes, that did happen. And now all I can think about is Jodi Thomas playing Dungeons & Dragons.

And guys, I think she might be phenomenal at it. If she ever decides to DM, I call dibs on playing in her first campaign.

Good? Ok, preface over.

While this isn’t what I usually go for in a story, I have to say, I did enjoy it. Sure, I missed the magic and the monsters of your typical YA fantasy, but this was solid story-telling. I especially loved how interwoven it was, with 3 sets of couples living in the same space (that would be Honey Creek). They’re interacting with each other, their story-lines woven beautifully into the tapestry that is this novel. And as a West Texan, born and raised, I’ve got to say that I loved seeing the meandering country charm alive and well in this book.

Even though I haven’t read much by her, I could tell that Jodi knows how to pen a novel. All the story beats were there. All the characters went through solid emotional arcs, ending up as better people for their troubles. The romance was Goldilocks sweet–not too sugary and not too bland–with that specific kind of Hallmark movie charm.

I mean, even I wanted to visit the house on Primrose Hill.

All in all, this was a solid foray into the romance genre for me. And I’ve definitely become a fan of Jodi Thomas (seriously, my dudes, she is the most delightful human being ever). Though I’m thinking I might skip into her historical romances next, to check out them cowboys. Overall, 5 out of 5 stars!

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Book Blurb:

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Published October 8th 2019 by Flatiron Books

My Review:

Holy crap I loved this book. It was one of those all-consuming reads, where you have that twitch to get back to it if you’re doing something else, and even when you are doing something else, all you can think about is the story. Where you find yourself wondering about the characters, the magic, the setting. And you can’t help but think what you would do if you knew about the world Alex Stern lives in.

One of my favorite elements of this story was the magic. It wasn’t simple, wasn’t easy. They didn’t have magic wands they flicked around or incantations they said to make impossible things happen. Instead, there were rules. Components were needed. Precise timings with precise ingredients and precise words spoken aloud. None of it came easily. It was truly a practice to be studied and mastered.

I absolutely eat up any magic systems like that.

There’s just something about it being difficult to do, and close to impossible to master, that makes it feel realer for me. After all, it’s difficult to learn how to design a website or diagnose a human body’s ailments. Why should magic be simple?

Pairing that dedicated study of magic with undergrads was absolutely brilliant. There’s nothing like a college kid, old enough to not be seen as a child but still too young to have any kind of meaningful experiences (most of the time, at least). Giving them the keys to some of the most dangerous and powerful magical houses and abilities was a recipe for disaster from the start–but a necessary one. Youth has stamina and resiliency, making them the best ones to practice magic in Bardugo’s imagining of Yale.

Even the characters drew me in, their flaws and needs defining and driving their actions. I loved that Alex wasn’t your cookie-cutter heroine, or that any of the players on this particular stage were given one dimensional roles. There was depth in each person, in each interaction, and that rounded out a truly wonderful story. I give this book a solid 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.