July Wrap-Up

I’d say that July was a pretty good month, reading-wise. I finished 7 of the 12 books I put on my July & August TBR and in general I thoroughly enjoyed most of the books that I read. As of the end of this month, I’m about 15 books away from my goal to read 100 books this year. All in all, I really liked July.

Books I Read and Reviewed

The Will and the Wilds* by Charlie N. Holmberg- 3.3 Stars

Pines by Blake Crouch-2.3 Stars

Idriel’s Children by Hayley Reese Chow-4.5 Stars

Song of the Forever Rains* by E.J. Mellow-4.1 Stars

Books I Read, Only Reviewed on Goodreads

The Goblin Emperor* by Katherine Addison- 4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Enjoy the View* by Sarah Morgenthaler- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

Where It All Lands* by Jennie Wexler- 4 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Blade Itself* by Joe Abercrombie- 4 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Deep* by Rivers Solomon- 5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Lincoln in the Bardo* by George Saunders- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Age of Exploration: Totally Getting Lost* by Ben Thompson & Erik Slander- 3.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Genres Read

Fantasy: 5

Science Fiction: 2

Historical Fiction: 1

Romance: 1

Contemporary: 1

Non-Fiction: 1

Figures
Number of DNFs: 0

Total Books Read: 11

Pages Read: 3,606 (Please note: for audiobooks, I used the page count for the eBook version of the book)

Average Rating: 3.75 Stars

What did you read in July? Any recommendations? Did you read any of these books?

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Song of the Forever Rains

Song of the Forever Rains is a 2021 dark fantasy novel by E.J. Mellow. It is the first novel in the Mousai series and was published by Montlake. The second novel in the series, Dance of a Burning Sea, is scheduled for release in October 2021. The novel can be purchased here from Bookshop.org

The Thief Kingdom is a place hidden within the world of Aadlior. Many whisper of its existence, but few have found this place, where magic and pleasure abound. There, the mysterious Thief King reigns supreme with the help of the Mousai, a trio of revered and feared sorceresses. Larkyra Bassette may be the youngest of the Mousai, but when she sings her voice has the power to slay monsters. When it’s discovered the Duke of Lachlan is siphoning a poisonous drug from the Thief Kingdom and using it to abuse his tenants, Larkyra is offered her first solo mission to stop the duke. Eager to prove herself, Larkyra accepts by posing as the duke’s potential bride. But her plans grow complicated when she finds herself drawn to Lord Darius Mekenna, Lachlan’s rightful heir. Soon she suspects Darius has his own motivations for ridding Lachlan of the corrupt duke. Larkyra and Darius must learn to trust each other if there is to be any hope of saving the people of Lachlan—and themselves. Welcome to the world of Aadilor, where lords and ladies can be murderers and thieves, and the most alluring notes are often the deadliest. Dare to listen?

Before I get into the proper review, I feel like I should issue a content warning about some aspects of the book that stood out to me. There is a sex scene in this book that is graphic, but not gratuitous in my opinion. I didn’t see that scene as a “negative” of the book, but I know some readers prefer not to read graphic sex scenes. There are two scenes that depict abuse and self-harm, and a few other instances of such things being alluded to. I’d advise any readers sensitive to things like that to just be aware that this novel has scenes of that nature.

The thing that stands out to me most about Song of the Forever Rains is the characters. This was a book where I liked every single character that I was supposed to like, which is rare for me. Larkyra and Darius are both very relatable and sympathetic leads, and each of their motivations make sense. This story is Larkyra’s first opportunity to prove herself as a Mousai. Darius wants to save his people from further oppression. Both goals are equally admirable, and both are consistent with the characterization each one has been given up to that point in the narrative. They are both very strong, complex characters without it feeling like the tropes they play into are overdone. Most significantly for me, Darius was a very closed-off character, but he didn’t come off as a “broody jerk” stereotype which very easily could’ve happened. In addition to the two leads, Larkyra’s sisters were so entertaining to read and, second to the romance, their relationship was the most significant in the story and really held the story together in certain moments. The one character I didn’t enjoy was the villain, but he was not a character the reader was meant to enjoy. He was cruel, sadistic and no reader is meant to connect with a character of that type. There was an attempt to somewhat humanize him, when his reasons for his behavior was explored, but the attempt failed, as I believe it was meant to.

I don’t really know what to say about the magic system. I found the magic, and the different forms of magic fascinating, but the system wasn’t explained in much detail. The mystery surrounding the specifics adds an element of wonder to the story, and a bit of tension. I’m sure the magic system will also be explored a little further in future books. This is an intense story, taking place in a dark and mysterious world and I think keeping so much of the magic a mystery fit served the story well. The world-building is in a similar situation as the magic system, though it’s harder to justify. From the first page, its clear this story is different from the real world, however no much of it is explained. This is a magical, fantastical world, but aside from mentioning deities or mystical forces, the reader isn’t told much about the world, outside of the Thief Kingdom. I’m hoping in future novels, there will be more expansion on the world, and not just the magic system.

I found myself enjoying the romantic subplot of this book. It didn’t feel like “insta-love” since the attraction between the two leads was clear early on, and then was shown to develop into more. More importantly, to me at least, the romance worked in conjunction with the other plot, not against it. Larkyra comes to Lachlan with a plan, but as a result of the developing attraction, those plans are forced to change, the story itself changes as a result of the romance. I did feel like the action was a little lackluster, however. Larkyra gift of song, and its power, is mentioned more often than its used in anyway within the story. To some, it might seem like a red herring, but to me, it felt like a waste opportunity. I would’ve liked to see her gifts play a bigger role in the narrative, and not just in her backstory. I found the plot as a whole to be interesting, however the characters were what really made this story work for me.

E.J. Mellow is a new author to me as this is the first book of hers that I’ve read. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of her writing. I found the writing overall to be rather skilled. The descriptions were very lush and the prose she used made the world come alive. At the same time, there were some pacing issues, as the book starts out a bit slow in my opinion and there is a lag towards the middle as well.

Song of the Forever Rains was a book that took me by surprise. I loved the characters, I loved the plot and the magic system was mysterious and fascinating for me. E.J. Mellow’s writing also surprised me and the book as a whole kept me engaged. The novel did have some pacing issues, however, and the lack of world-building robbed the story of feeling as special as it could have. It felt like a few opportunities were wasted. I would definitely recommend the novel to anyone who enjoys dark fantasy.

Rating: 4.1 Stars

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Top 3 Books by New (To Me) Authors This Year

We’re over halfway through 2021. This is the point in the year when I think about what I’ve read so far this year, and what I want to read before the end of the year. Now seems like a good time for me to talk about my top three new authors, or at least authors that are new to me, that I’ve read so far this year. This list will not include any debut authors, because I think they deserve their own list.

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A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

I can’t say enough great things about this book. The characters were fantastic, and the book had a diverse cast of characters. The relationships were multifaceted and complex. The action was exciting and the plot kept me invested. I loved how modern issues played an important role in the story and were discussed, not just glossed over or existing for shallow (i.e. only important for background/setting) reasons. The ending was absolutely fantastic and I need to read the next book ASAP.

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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Overall, I found this book to be very entertaining. It was a different kind of fantasy story than I expected, with little magic and the inclusion of some steampunk-esque elements, not to mention court intrigue and a murder mystery. Maia was a fantastic character and his arc surrounding his role as emperor and coming to terms with his new power, and recovering from a traumatic past, was amazing. The setting of the story fascinating and opulent and the author put a great deal of effort into the world-building and having everything fit together beautifully. The prose was beautifully written. The one issue I had with the book was that the names of the characters are so long and so similar in some cases that it was hard to remember who exactly each character was. Since this was an audiobook, that made keeping characters straight even harder.

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Dear Girls by Ali Wong

This book was equal parts hilarious and heart-warming. Touching on a range of subject and covering different points in Ali Wong’s life, the book dropped more than a few truth bombs about life. Some of what’s discussed is rather heavy. but her way of finding humor even in hard times was admirable. The author’s famous, vulgar humor shines through for the whole book. All in all, Dear Girls is a funny, entertaining read. It was the perfect “light read” and a great palate cleanser when I needed a break for longer, more serious novels.

And that’s my list. I’ve discovered a lot of new authors so far this year, but these three books were my favorites. What are some of your favorite authors this year?

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Idriel’s Children

Idriel’s Children is a 2021 young adult fantasy novel by Hayley Reese Chow. It is the standalone sequel to Odriel’s Heirs, the author’s debut novel. It’s being released on July 20, 2021. My review for Odriel’s Heirs can be found here. I was provided with an advanced copy of the novel for review purposes.

Sixteen-year-old Aza inherited the power of shadow to rid the land of evil as Odriel’s cold-blooded assassin. With her growing strength, Aza discovers the Shadow Plane—a realm of wraiths where screams haunt the winds, calling to her. Although her father forbids her from entering the dark realm, Aza can’t ignore the beckoning whispers. When a dangerous new breed of monster attacks, Aza believes the Shadow Plane holds the answers they need to defeat them. With the unwanted help of a snarky cat and a cursed beast, Aza seeks out the monastic Wraith-Called for answers. But the deeper Aza delves into the dark realm, the further she drifts from the world she knows. As Aza uncovers evils new and old, she must decide if the ends really do justify the means… and how many lives she’s willing to pay.

Aza is the Shadow Heir and the main character of the novel. I loved her as a character because she felt unique to me and she was written in a very convincing way. Given her abilities, she’s become a loner and feels like she has to do everything herself and can’t, or shouldn’t, rely on the help of others to fulfill her duty. Underneath, however, it’s clear that she keeps people at a distance because she feels like she has to protect them and she’s really struggling to live up to the legends her parents have set. Her character journey is not only about learning to accept herself for who she is and become comfortable in her own abilities, but in also learning how to not be completely self-reliant. I say she’s written very convincingly, because she acts like a sixteen-year-old. Some of the decisions she makes, and the way she acts at key moments, seems short-sighted and immature, but that’s how teenagers act sometimes. Teenagers are impulsive and that’s how she comes off on occasion, and it works perfectly. Alongside Aza, there are her three traveling companions. They fit together as a team really well and I loved all three characters. I was excited to see Shad, a character first shown in Odriel’s Heirs, again.

While this book can be read as a standalone, I do feel like it works best if the reader has read Odriel’s Heirs. Idriel’s Children is a next-generation sequel to the first novel, so it can stand on its own, but I feel like you get more out of the story if you’ve read the first book. I’ll admit that I am somewhat biased in this regard, however, because I reread Odriel’s Heirs right before reading this novel so the story was fresh in my mind.

I appreciated that this story focused on a different aspect of the world than the first novel. While there are some similarities that can be drawn about the plot, the Shadow Plane, which wasn’t really mentioned in Odriel’s Heirs, is a huge part of the story for this book. Not only did it expand the world and magic system a little more, but it allowed the story to unfold in a unique way. Books in a series will inevitably compared to one another, but the inclusion of the Shadow Plane and having it play a crucial role within the story allowed the story to feel fresh and new, and not like Aza was undergoing the same journey that Kaia did in the first book. The Shadow Plane, its depiction and the way it plays into the final conflict were handled perfectly in this story, in my opinion. The story also did a lot to raise the tension on the series overall. The novel doesn’t end with things returning to some kind of status quo, but with a major change to the world happening. The conclusion makes it very clear that the author is building towards something big in a third installment and I, for one, can’t wait.

This novel is definitely what I would consider a slow burn. While there are battles, action and excitement throughout the story, the real action and the real plot doesn’t become apparent right away. I like that kind of storytelling when it’s intentional, and it was clearly intentional here. While it takes some time for the story to pick up, along the way hints of important information are given away and tidbits of foreshadowing are shown. By the climax, all of those pieces start to come together for an exciting showdown between Aza and her foes. The author did use one trope within the story that I’m generally not a fan of, and I wasn’t a fan of it here, but it’s a major plot point, so I can’t say anything besides that. The trope wasn’t bad, but I’ve just seen it too many times for it to have same effect that it once did.

I thought the writing in this novel was excellent. Hayley Reese Chow has improved as an author between her debut and this novel, and I thought her debut novel was very good from a writing perspective. She did an excellent job foreshadowing certain things, and in showing the reader things, as opposed to telling them. I enjoyed the way she handled one particular plot twist specifically because, while I suspected a twist coming, I wasn’t convinced of what the twist would be. The build-up and foreshadowing made it clear that something wasn’t right, but it didn’t give away the truth immediately. I love it when foreshadowing tells me “don’t trust this” or “this isn’t what you think” but takes me by surprise in the reveal. The book does have a slight pacing issue, as a result of the slow-burn nature of the plot, but the excitement and later revelations make that pacing issue worth it.

Idriel’s Children is a fantastic addition to the Odriel’s Heirs series. It told a compelling new story in a familiar world while also continuing the main plot of the series. The characters were wonderful and complex. The world was made so much richer through the introduction of new story elements.  The plot was exciting, action-packed and fun. The writing was great, though the pacing was a little off and the author used a trope or two I don’t personally enjoy. The plot twists and climax were handled wonderfully and I found myself surprised at several different points. All in all, a fantastic sequel and I’m eagerly anticipating the next book by Hayley Reese Chow.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

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July and August TBR

I’ve decided that monthly TBRs simply aren’t for me. The issue is that when I sit down to create a list of books I want to read, I either overshoot my mark and plan for too many books, or more often, I underestimate myself, get through the month’s TBR and then have no idea where to go next. I think people who set quarterly or seasonal TBRs have the right idea, because three months is enough time to justify a longer list, while still have some kind of guide as to what books to prioritize. Of course, I came to this decision midway through summer, so I guess I’m going to have to do an awkward “TBR for the next six weeks or so”. In any case, this is my TBR for July and August.

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Song of the Forever Rains by E.J. Mellow

Genre: Fantasy

The Thief Kingdom is a place hidden within the world of Aadlior. Many whisper of its existence, but few have found this place, where magic and pleasure abound. There, the mysterious Thief King reigns supreme with the help of the Mousai, a trio of revered and feared sorceresses.

Larkyra Bassette may be the youngest of the Mousai, but when she sings her voice has the power to slay monsters. When it’s discovered the Duke of Lachlan is siphoning a poisonous drug from the Thief Kingdom and using it to abuse his tenants, Larkyra is offered her first solo mission to stop the duke. Eager to prove herself, Larkyra accepts by posing as the duke’s potential bride. But her plans grow complicated when she finds herself drawn to Lord Darius Mekenna, Lachlan’s rightful heir. Soon she suspects Darius has his own motivations for ridding Lachlan of the corrupt duke. Larkyra and Darius must learn to trust each other if there is to be any hope of saving the people of Lachlan—and themselves.

Welcome to the world of Aadilor, where lords and ladies can be murderers and thieves, and the most alluring notes are often the deadliest. Dare to listen?

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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Genre: Fantasy

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

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The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Genre: Science Fiction

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

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Where It All Lands by Jennifer Wexler

Genre: Contemporary

A Sliding Doors-esque novel that reveals how our choices define us and how no matter the road, love can find its way.

Stevie Rosenstein has never made a true friend. Never fallen in love. Moved from city to city by her father’s unrelenting job, it’s too hard to care for someone. Trust in anything. The pain of leaving always hurts too much. But she’ll soon learn to trust, to love.

Twice.

Drew and Shane have been best friends through everything. The painful death of Shane’s dad. The bitter separation of Drew’s parents. Through sleepaway camps and family heartache, basketball games and immeasurable loss, they’ve always been there for each other.

When Stevie meets Drew and Shane, life should go on as normal.

But a simple coin toss alters the course of their year in profound and unexpected ways.

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Enjoy the View by Sarah Morgenthaler

Genre: Contemporary Romance

A grouchy mountaineer, a Hollywood starlet
And miles of untamed wilderness…
What could possibly go wrong?


Former Hollywood darling River Lane’s acting career is tanking fast. Determined to start fresh behind the camera, she agrees to film a documentary about the picturesque small town of Moose Springs, Alaska. The assignment should have been easy, but the quirky locals want nothing to do with River. Well, too bad: River’s going to make this film and prove herself, no matter what it takes.

Or what (literal) mountain she has to climb.

Easton Lockett may be a gentle giant, but he knows a thing or two about survival. If he can keep everyone in line, he should be able to get River and her crew up and down Mount Veil in one piece. Turns out that’s a big if. The wildlife’s wilder than usual, the camera crew’s determined to wander off a cliff, and the gorgeous actress is fearless. Falling for River only makes Easton’s job tougher, but there’s only so long he can hold out against her brilliant smile. When bad weather strikes, putting everyone at risk, it’ll take all of Easton’s skill to get them back home safely…and convince River she should stay in his arms for good.

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Idriel’s Children by Hayley Reese Chow

Genre: Fantasy

Reaping darkness, the Shadow slicked steel with judgment and danced with death…

Sixteen-year-old Aza inherited the power of shadow to rid the land of evil as Odriel’s cold-blooded assassin. With her growing strength, Aza discovers the Shadow Plane—a realm of wraiths where screams haunt the winds, calling to her. Although her father forbids her from entering the dark realm, Aza can’t ignore the beckoning whispers.

When a dangerous new breed of monster attacks, Aza believes the Shadow Plane holds the answers they need to defeat them. With the unwanted help of a snarky cat and a cursed beast, Aza seeks out the monastic Wraith-Called for answers. But the deeper Aza delves into the dark realm, the further she drifts from the world she knows.

As Aza uncovers evils new and old, she must decide if the ends really do justify the means… and how many lives she’s willing to pay.

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The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Genre: Fantasy

Logen Ninefingers, infamous barbarian, has finally run out of luck. Caught in one feud too many, he’s on the verge of becoming a dead barbarian – leaving nothing behind him but bad songs, dead friends, and a lot of happy enemies.

Nobleman Captain Jezal dan Luthar, dashing officer, and paragon of selfishness, has nothing more dangerous in mind than fleecing his friends at cards and dreaming of glory in the fencing circle. But war is brewing, and on the battlefields of the frozen North they fight by altogether bloodier rules.

Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer, would like nothing better than to see Jezal come home in a box. But then Glokta hates everyone: cutting treason out of the Union one confession at a time leaves little room for friendship. His latest trail of corpses may lead him right to the rotten heart of government, if he can stay alive long enough to follow it.

Enter the wizard, Bayaz. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Logen, Jezal, and Glotka a whole lot more difficult.

Murderous conspiracies rise to the surface, old scores are ready to be settled, and the line between hero and villain is sharp enough to draw blood.

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Mark of the Wicked by Georgie Bowers

Genre: Fantasy

Magic always leaves its mark.

All her life, Matilda has been told one thing about her magic: You use only when necessary. But Matilda isn’t interested in being a good witch. She wants revenge and popularity, and to live her life free of consequences, free of the scars that dark magic leaves on her face as a reminder of her misdeeds.

When a spell goes awry and the new boy at school catches her in the act, Matilda thinks her secret might be out. But far from being afraid, Oliver already knows about her magic – and he wants to learn more. As Oliver and Matilda grow closer, bizarre things begin to happen: Animals show up with their throats slashed and odd markings carved into their bodies, a young girl dies mysteriously, and everyone blames Matilda. But she isn’t responsible — at least, not that she can remember. As her magic begins to spin out of control, Matilda must decide for herself what makes a good witch, and discover the truth…before anyone else turns up dead.

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Half Sick of Shadows by Laura Sebastian

Genre: Fantasy

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

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Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Genre: Science Fiction

A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers?

WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

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The Other Side of the Sky by Amie Kaufman and Megan Spooner

Genre: Science Fiction

Prince North’s home is in the sky, in a gleaming city held aloft by intricate engines powered by technology. Nimh is the living goddess of her people on the surface, responsible for providing answers, direction—hope.

Linked by a terrifying prophecy and caught between duty and fate, they must choose between saving their people or succumbing to the bond that is forbidden between them.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Genre: Science Fiction

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space-and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe-in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

That’s twelve books in total, to be read in the next six to seven weeks. It seems like a manageable goal, since most of these books are between 200 and 450 pages, with only two being more than 500 pages. It also allows for some wiggle room or for books to be added to the list. This list skews heavier on the fantasy side in terms of genre, but mt reading preferences in general tend to skew that way.

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Pines

Pines is a 2012 science fiction novel by Blake Crouch. It’s the first novel in the Wayward Pines trilogy. The trilogy was adapted into a television series on Fox which ran from 2015 to 2016. The novel itself was nominated for the 2013 ITW Thriller Award. It can be purchased here from Bookshop.org

Wayward Pines, Idaho, is quintessential small-town America–or so it seems. Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrives in search of two missing federal agents, yet soon is facing much more than he bargained for. After a violent accident lands him in the hospital, Ethan comes to with no ID and no cell phone. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but sometimes feels…off. As days pass, Ethan’s investigation into his colleagues’ disappearance turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he make contact with his family in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what’s the purpose of the electrified fences encircling the town? Are they keeping the residents in? Or something else out? Each step toward the truth takes Ethan further from the world he knows, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

The only character in this book that I can safely talk about is the main character of Ethan Burke. Talking about other characters would veer into spoiler territory and Pines is one of those books where the less you know before starting the book, the better. Burke was a hard character to connect with, in many ways. While I should’ve sympathized with him initially, being lost in an unfamiliar place and not knowing what happened, he came off as incredibly arrogant and unlikable. Before the plot really gets going, when he’s just trying to figure out what happened before the book starts, the way he interacts with people came off as unnecessarily hostile and rude. As the story unfolds, that changes somewhat and he becomes slightly more sympathetic, but overall, he wasn’t easy to relate to. He had no real character development either, as he didn’t change, his understanding of the situation changed. I liked other characters in the book more than Burke because they came across as a lot more likable or, in the case of some of the antagonists, their characterizations made more sense and they were fun characters to read.

The mystery and thriller elements of the story truly carry the plot. The more of the book I read, the more invested I was in learning what exactly was going on and trying to figure out why Wayward Pines was so strange. The plot of this book is pretty much centered around Burke looking for an explanation of how he got to the town and why he can’t leave. However, this is a double-edged sword. Since so much of the plot was centered around the mystery and the search for answers, the explanation needs to live up to the build-up and I don’t feel like that happened here. The reveal felt clunky, for lack of a better term. Rather than things slowly being revealed, once one weird thing is explained, every other mystery is then answered, which felt unearned. The suspense in the story is fantastic but the payoff needs a little bit of work. On top of that, the reveal doesn’t totally make sense. The truth about Wayward Pines has some dark and troubling implications about the rest of the global population. Again, I don’t want to spoil the book, so I can’t go further into specifics, but after reading the full explanation, I found myself wondering “what about everyone/everywhere else” and “why was this your solution” and many more questions. I suppose the issue is that the answer doesn’t quite live up to the excitement of the question, which isn’t an uncommon problem for thrillers. Still, it felt like a letdown. I do think the story is based around a great idea, but the execution didn’t quite work.

The writing in Pines was a bit weak in my opinion. Aside from injecting the feeling of suspense, I wasn’t impressed with it at all. The writing is simplistic, which stands out when compared to the author’s other works that I’ve read. The action scenes were exciting at first, but then became pretty tedious. Parts of the book are also very trope heavy, such as the amnesia trope, which I was annoyed by. Some of the characters fit their intended archetype so well that they’re almost caricatures. The story does get dark and bloody at times, which felt appropriate, but there was also a hopelessness to the story that I hadn’t expected and felt out of place.

Pines is a book I couldn’t help but feel let down by. The novel has a great idea at its core and the author did an excellent job building some great tension. The thriller aspects of the story kept me invested and he did a fantastic job making me want to keep reading. At the same time, the reveal felt like a letdown. The main character was incredibly unlikeable and the writing was weak and felt tropey. This book is a case of “great idea, average execution”. I haven’t made a decision about reading the rest of the series yet, but it’s not completely off the table. I was just expecting more than what I ended up getting from this book, I guess.

Rating: 2.3 Stars

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July Book Haul

I’ve come to the conclusion that buying books and reading books are two different hobbies. I enjoy both, but for obvious reasons, one is less time-consuming than the other. After a solid three months of trying to cut down on my backlist, I went on a shopping spree again and came back with 10 new books. Let’s talk about the newest books in my collection.

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The Fires of Vengeance by Evan Winter

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: Desperate to delay an impending attack by the indigenous people of Xidda, Tau and his queen craft a dangerous plan. If Tau succeeds, the queen will have the time she needs to assemble her forces and launch an all-out assault on her own capital city, where her sister is being propped up as the ‘true’ Queen of the Omehi.

If the city can be taken, if Tsiora can reclaim her throne and reunite her people, then the Omehi might have a chance to survive the coming onslaught.

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When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun


In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

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The Burning God by R.F. Kuang

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: After saving her nation of Nikan from foreign invaders and battling the evil Empress Su Daji in a brutal civil war, Fang Runin was betrayed by allies and left for dead. 

Despite her losses, Rin hasn’t given up on those for whom she has sacrificed so much—the people of the southern provinces and especially Tikany, the village that is her home. Returning to her roots, Rin meets difficult challenges—and unexpected opportunities. While her new allies in the Southern Coalition leadership are sly and untrustworthy, Rin quickly realizes that the real power in Nikan lies with the millions of common people who thirst for vengeance and revere her as a goddess of salvation. 

Backed by the masses and her Southern Army, Rin will use every weapon to defeat the Dragon Republic, the colonizing Hesperians, and all who threaten the shamanic arts and their practitioners. As her power and influence grows, though, will she be strong enough to resist the Phoenix’s intoxicating voice urging her to burn the world and everything in it?

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The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: Tea can raise the dead, but resurrection comes at a price…

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother, Fox, from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha—one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

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The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

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Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe—witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin… desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost—even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked Princes of Hell that she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…

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Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Genre: Fantasy

Blurb: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

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The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Genre: Science Fiction

Blurb: Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space-and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe-in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

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Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor

Genre: Science Fiction

Blurb: A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog — donning the moniker Technician — to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost — even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic — before the Commissioner ends them first.

And now we come to the end of the book haul. Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

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The Will and the Wilds

The Will and the Wilds is a 2020 young adult fantasy novel by Charlie N. Holmberg. It was released in January 2020 and was published by 47North. The novel is a standalone story. It can be purchased here from Bookshop.org

Enna knows to fear the mystings that roam the wildwood near her home. When one tries to kill her to obtain an enchanted stone, Enna takes a huge risk: fighting back with a mysting of her own. Maekallus’s help isn’t free. His price? A kiss. One with the power to steal her soul. But their deal leaves Maekallus bound to the mortal realm, which begins eating him alive. Only Enna’s kiss, given willingly, can save him from immediate destruction. It’s a temporary salvation for Maekallus and a lingering doom for Enna. Part of her soul now burns bright inside Maekallus, making him feel for the first time. Enna shares Maekallus’s suffering, but her small sacrifice won’t last long. If she and Maekallus can’t break the spell binding him to the mortal realm, Maekallus will be consumed completely—and Enna’s soul with him.

This novel is what I call a cozy fantasy. Taking place in and around a small village near some woods where the veil between the human world and a fae-like world, called The Deep, is thin, the story as a whole has a very cozy atmosphere. The magic system fits very well with the cozy atmosphere of the story. The novel has a soft magic system which centers around mystings, fae-like beings, and their abilities. The story has very strong fairytale vibes, between the enchanted forest, strange creatures and very minimal actual magic. These might seem like complaints, but I think these elements work in the story’s favor. The setting and feel of the story add a sense of wonder to the events that are taking place. I also feel like the story wouldn’t work as well, at all, if it wasn’t as fairytale-esque because the whimsical nature of the story wouldn’t translate well. The character’s personalities wouldn’t translate as well either if there was a different tone or feel to the story. The soft magic system means the story doesn’t have much world-building, and I wish there had been a little more of that in the story. It would’ve fleshed out the story a little more and made the world feel more real and easier to envision.

I’m not really sure how I feel about the characters of The Will and the Wilds. The two main characters are Enna and Maekallus. There are a handful of side characters, however the actions of the side characters don’t really factor into the plot in any way. Enna’s father is a barrier to her leaving the area when things get difficult, but that’s about it. Another minor character is a potential love interest and shows what Enna could have, if she wasn’t involved with mystings. Like Enna’s father, the potential love interest’s actions or desires don’t have any impact on the story beyond causing Enna to question her choices for a few moments. Enna was a character that I sympathized with at the start of the novel. She was curious about the mystings, proactive about getting answers and seemed like a very relatable character. As the story went on, however, I was less sympathetic. She was impulsive to the point of foolishness and entirely too self-sacrificing. Maekallus was a more complex and interesting character. As a mysting, he begins the novel being very cold and calculating, since its in his nature to trick humans. He has the most satisfying character development of the two leads, and his development makes a lot of sense, given the things he undergoes within the narrative.

Romance is a pretty substantial part of the plot of this book, but the romance didn’t really work for me when I was reading it. I didn’t see or feel the chemistry between the pair. Considering how short the period of time between the beginning of the book and the end is, the romance felt a little rushed to me. The romance also caused the overall plot to be put on pause, which I’ve never been a fan of.

I mentioned before that this novel feels a lot like a fairytale and that’s also true when it comes to the overall plot. The plot is reminiscent of a fairytale, and since fairytales tend to have predictable plots, the plot for this novel plays out almost exactly how you’d expect. For me, the tension is the story wasn’t centered around whether Enna and Maekallus would be able to break the spell keeping Maekallus in the human world, but instead around the information he was keeping from her. Likewise, I wasn’t concerned about the threat of the main antagonist, but rather how Enna’s soul would fare as the story reached its end. While the plot was predictable, I did find the way that the author resolved the issue of Enna’s soul to be very creative. It was a solution I didn’t expect and I like being surprised, even if it isn’t a huge surprise that completely turns the story on its head. I found the very end of the story to be a bit underwhelming, but I understand why the final few scenes were needed to bring closure to some parts of the story.

I like Charlie Holmberg’s writing and writing style. I’ve liked it since the first time I read one of her works. It does a very good job of telling the story with the right kind of mood and feeling. Her prose isn’t too flowery, but she has a very lyrical way of describing the setting and the world of the story that draws me in. I love her writing on its face, but I struggle with the way she writes characters in the case of this book, as well as some of the plot decisions that were made. One thing I think she did very well in this novel was shifting the perspective between Enna and Maekallus, though it doesn’t happen frequently. The majority of the story is told in first-person POV by Enna, but there are some sections told from Maekallus’s third-person perspective. It allows the reader to know certain things the characters don’t, and that lets the story come together in an interesting way when the climax occurs.

The Will and the Wilds is a book I felt slightly let down by. I thought that the writing itself was good. I enjoyed the cozy, fairytale-esque atmosphere of the story. There were parts of the story that I really loved. I really liked the character arc Maekallus had. At the same time, Enna’s character development wasn’t nearly as satisfying, nor was the romance particularly interesting. The plot was a bit predictable and the world didn’t feel as fully realized as some of the author’s other works. The book overall just felt very underwhelming. It’s a good read for a quiet Saturday, though. I’d recommend it to someone looking for a cozy, calm fantasy read.

Rating: 3.3 Stars

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June Wrap-Up


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June was overall a pretty good month for me in terms of reading. I DNF’d one book, but aside from the one DNF, every book I read I either really enjoyed or loved. June was also when I started my re-read of Lord of the Rings and I’m now 2/3 of the way done with my re-read.

Books I Read and Reviewed

Recursion* by Blake Crouch- 4.2 Stars

Labyrinth Lost* by Zoriada Cordova- 4.1 Stars

Song of the Crimson Flower* by Julie C. Dao- 3.7 Stars

One Second Per Second by S.D. Unwin-3.5 Stars

Books I Read, Only Reviewed on Goodreads

The Fellowship of the Ring* by J.R.R. Tolkien- 5 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Two Towers* by J.R.R. Tolkien-4.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Marie Curie: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History- 4 Stars (Goodreads review)

Every Heart A Doorway* by Seanan Maguire- 3.5 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune* by Nghi Vo- 4 Stars (Goodreads review)

Ariadne* by Jennifer Saint-3 Stars (Goodreads review)

Tiny T. Rex and the Very Dark Dark* by Jonathan Stutzman- 4 Stars (Goodreads review)

Rose the CatDog* by Todd Albert-5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Genres Read

Fantasy: 6

Science Fiction: 3

Non-Fiction: 1

Children’s Book: 2

Figures
Number of DNFs: 1

Total Books Read: 12

Pages Read: 2,876 (Please note: for audiobooks, I used the page count for the eBook version of the book)

Average Rating: 4.04 Stars

What did you read in June? Any recommendations? Did you read any of these books?

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One Second Per Second

One Second Per Second is a 2021 science fiction novel by S.D. Unwin. It is a time travel sci-fi novel. The novel is the author’s debut and was self-published by the author in April 2021.

The blurb for the novel reads as follows: The greatest scientific challenge of our age wasn’t to enable time travel, it was to prevent it. The laws of physics had turned out to be imbecilic, erecting no barriers to hopping time. In fact, they make it hard to avoid. I’m in the business of preserving the timeline – making sure the world sticks to the sacred rule of One Second per Second, and that history unfolds according to plan. The problem is, there is no plan until I make it.

This novel is told from the first-person perspective of Joad Bevan, a scientist who works for the TMA, or Time Management Authority. I’ll be honest, first-person POVs are very hit or miss for me, and in the case of this novel, it was a miss. Nothing about Joad really stood out to me and his character was hard for me to relate to. Spending the entirety of the book in Joad’s head, as a result, made me a little less invested in the story overall. In terms of characters in general, I didn’t feel like any characters were particularly well-crafted or complex. They’re rather one dimensional and nothing about these characters made them feel distinct from each other.

While I was disappointed by the characters within the novel, I wasn’t disappointed by the plot. The blurb mentioned above tells the reader about the world of the story, but not the plot itself. The main plot revolves around Joad trying to prevent someone from changing the outcome of certain events in early American history. I would put the novel solidly in the “time-travel adventure” category, because that’s the main appeal of this book. Joad and a handful of others travel through time and try to keep the existing timeline intact, with increased stakes as the story progresses. It’s a fun, fast-paced adventure through time and doesn’t get bogged down with the implications of time-travel too much. The time-travel itself and how it works is explained in a very hand-wavy manner, but that style fits with the story being told. This isn’t a book about creating time-travel, so there isn’t a need to go too in-depth or get too technical in how it all works. That being said, there are sections of the book where Joad explains how the TMA’s policies came to be and the procedures they follow that felt a little unnecessary. I felt like those moments slowed the story down and could’ve been removed or shortened without changing the novel very much.

I found the writing in the novel to be fairly average. The author’s writing style didn’t really stand out to me. The prose was acceptable, but a little too simplistic at times. The writing didn’t really grab me and the author didn’t try to get too fancy with the wording. I couldn’t really get a sense of the author’s voice when I was reading. The beginning of the novel is a little slower than I would’ve liked. This is a time-travel adventure, but it takes a bit for the adventure and action to get started. Once the action starts, however, the story is a fun adventure through time.

I’m a big believer in reviewing books for what they’re meant to be. Some books just want to tell a fun, entertaining story, while others are intended to make the reader more introspective. One Second Per Second reads to me like a book that’s meant to be a fun time-travel adventure, so that’s how I engage with it. I think it succeeds on that front. The time-travel fits well within the story, the adventure was interesting and it had quite a few interesting twists and turns. The writing itself isn’t phenomenal and I felt no real connection to the characters, but it was a fun story. It entertained me and reading the book was a good way for me to spend part of a Saturday. If anyone’s looking for a quick, entertaining time-travel tale, I’d say give this book a shot.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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