The Amber Isle

The Amber Isle is a 2016 fantasy novella by Ashley Capes. It was released in March of 2016 and was published by Close-Up Books. The novella is the first entry in the Book of Never series.

After years of running down dead-end clues, the rogue Never has nearly given up his quest for answers; his blood is cursed and his true name a mystery, yet no library, no healer and none who claim to know dark magics have ever been able to help. Until he steals a map to the mysterious Amber Isle, which might just hold the answers he needs. But Never isn’t the only one who wants the map – an old enemy, Commander Harstas, also seeks it and Harstas craves revenge for the deaths of his men. Forced to flee through a war zone, Never soon stumbles across a group of treasure-hunters hoping to discover the wonders of the Amber Isle for themselves. But the deeper they venture into the Isle, the more deadly it grows. Trapped between the greed of the treasure hunters, cunning traps in the Isle itself, the threat of Harstas’ fury and his own desperation to finally uncover answers, Never must find a way to unlock the Isle’s ancient secrets and escape – or perish without ever learning the truth.

The plot of this novella is very straight-forward. The story centers around Never’s journey to the Amber Isle and his experiences once he arrives. By having a pretty simple plot, the author is able to make the story more exciting and action-packed. There are a number of well-written and tense action scenes within the story. It’s a fun, exciting adventure story that’s a very quick read. It also works very well as the first book in a series. The reader is able to get a feel for the world itself and the characters, without also having to keep track of a convoluted plot or too much information that may or may not be important later. Some questions are answered, some are left unanswered for future installments. When I finished it, I felt like I had gotten a complete story, while also knowing it was part of a much larger story.

Something that this novella does very well is allow the reader to get to know the character of Never. The story might be light on plot but it more than delivers when it comes to fleshing out Never’s character and giving the reader a good idea of the kind of journey Never is going to be going on throughout the series. He’s a fun character. He’s snarky, he’s brash, he’s kind of funny but he’s also incredibly driven by his desire for answers. I do wish that some of the other characters were given a bit more life as well. Never is the protagonist, but it felt like he was the only one with more than one personality trait. Never is complex, but every other character feels flat.

I thought the novella was very well-written. The author struck the right balance of giving really detailed descriptions without going overboard and devolving into over-describing. The prose was good, without being too basic or too flowery. The pacing was good, with the story moving along quickly but not too quickly. The action scenes, as I previously mentioned, were exciting and kept the tension in the story high.

This is not a work that “wastes time” with world-building. The reader is told bits and pieces about the world, but the story doesn’t come to a stop to explain the history of the world or the conflicts happening in the background of Never’s current quest. It works very well in this instance, since this is one part of a larger story, and I imagine more details and information about the world will be revealed as the series progresses. It also avoids the story stagnating in favor of exposition. This is a book that doesn’t have much world-building, but it doesn’t necessarily need a lot of it to begin with. The teases of more detail are more than enough to make the world interesting to me.

The Amber Isle is a compelling and fun adventure story. The plot is action-packed and straight-forward. The story doesn’t waste time by making things too complicated. It’s a well-written work that’s easy to digest. While I liked the main character, I wish the other characters had a bit more development. It’s an entertaining read and a quick read. I’d say anyone interested by the premise should give it a try.

Rating: 3.75 Stars

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January Wrap-Up

January is over. As I do every month, I like to go over what I did in January, and discuss my reading throughout the month, as well as any bookish things I did. In January, in addition to reading, I talked about reading goals for the year, books I want to read this year and February releases to get excited about.

Let’s go over the books that I read this month.

Please note, any book with an asterisk next to it’s name contains an affiliate link. If you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

Books I Read and Reviewed

Dream to Me by Megan Paasch- 3.75 Stars

Darling Girl by Liz Michalski- 1.25 Stars

You Sexy Thing* by Cat Rambo-3.5 Stars

Light Years from Home by Mike Chen- 2.5 Stars

Time’s Orphan by Hayley Reese Chow- 4.75 Stars

Books I Read, Only Reviewed on Goodreads

Norse Mythology by Matt Clayton- 4 Stars (Goodreads review)

Swallowtail* by Brenna Twohy-5 Stars (Goodreads review)

Fault Lines* by Emily Itami- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

The Vessel by Taylor Stevens- 3 Stars (Goodreads review)

Genres Read

Fantasy: 3

Science Fiction: 2

Contemporary: 1

Thriller: 1

Poetry: 1

Non-Fiction: 1

Figures
Number of DNFs: 0

Total Books Read: 9

Pages Read: 2,264 (Please note: for audiobooks, I used the page count for the eBook version of the book)

Average Rating: 3.42 Stars

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

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Time’s Orphan

Time’s Orphan is a 2023 novel by Hayley Reese Chow. It’s the third entry in the Odriel’s Heirs series. It is scheduled for release on February 8, 2023. I have previously reviewed Odriel’s Heirs and Idriel’s Children the first two books in the series. I was provided with an advanced review copy by the author.

Speak of pain, and I’ll tell you of the Time who stole it away…Besieged by war, ravaged by monsters, and crawling with the undead, the land of Okarria is dying. Seventeen-year-old Emara survives by using her modest healing gift to save as many as she can while eluding the invaders who thirst for her enchanted blood. So when a cursed cat saves her life and reveals Emara is the legendary Time Heir the necromancer king’s been searching for, she agrees to act as bait in a plot to destroy him. But when the plan goes horrifically awry, Emara must discover how deep her powers go, what she can change… And what she cannot. Unfortunately, Time Heirs have a history of getting killed, and with Okarria’s future on the line, Emara may have no choice but to follow in her ancestors’ footsteps.

Hayley Reese Chow has a very particular knack for writing really great complex and engaging protagonists, and Time’s Orphan‘s Emara is no exception. Emara is selfless and brave, but she’s also unsure of herself and a bit scared of her abilities. Her character arc is focused a bit more on her coming into her power and gaining confidence than the protagonists in the other books, but that fits the story very well. Watching as her fear and uncertainty blooms into confidence and strength was so great to read. This novel also had the return of characters from past books, including past protagonists and Shad, one of my favorite literary felines. Not only did I love seeing these characters again, but it was interesting to see them portrayed through someone else’s eyes.

The plot of this book does not waste time. The reader gets a chapter or two to set the scene, and to give returning readers an idea of the state of Okarria, and then the plot takes off from there. This could be a bit jarring for readers who haven’t read the first two books, or don’t remember the finer details, but it’s not too much of an issue. The plot is very well-constructed, with plenty of twists, turns and surprises. The author took the story in an unexpected direction on this book, which not only took me by surprise, but helped this novel feel unique. It also provided a very fitting way to explore the story of the Time Heir. To put it in a non-spoilery way, the amount of time Emara experiences isn’t the same as the diagetic amount the story takes place in, which makes for an intriguing story with much different stakes than I first expected. The climax of the story was very exciting and when the story wrapped up, it felt so satisfying. Chow found the perfect way to end both this novel, and the series as a whole. This book answered some long standing questions in the series, and was entertaining while it did so. Something I especially loved was that, while the series might be over, the epilogue left room for how to return to Okarria one day, with a new story, if she chooses.

I love the magic system in this book and the world-building. I wasn’t surprised that I loved both, since I loved them in the past books. The Time Heir was mentioned in past books, but little was known about them. This book allowed for a deep exploration not only of how the Time Heir’s powers worked, but also how they fit into the overall world and what their role is. The powers of the Heir, of any of the Heirs, are complicated, with benefits and drawbacks and the story doesn’t shy away from that. The magic system is strict, so there are rules and limitations, which keep things interesting. I loved that, even in the last book in the series, the author was able to introduce new ideas and facets of the world.

This is a book that I read in one sitting, because I was so engrossed in the story. The author’s writing makes it very easy for a reader to get lost in the story and become immersed in the world. As I previously said, this author writes compelling characters very well. She has really grown into her voice as an author and it’s so much fun to see what she did with this series. The pacing was great as well. While I liked the writing and story overall, I did notice a few weak points. Because of how the story unfolds, the narrative is sensitive to introducing potential plot holes. The author was clearly away of this issue, and put a lot of effort into avoiding the plot holes. In some case, this was handled well, but in others, it felt a bit clunky. It wasn’t distracting, but it was noticeable.

Time’s Orphan is not just a great book, but also a fantastic ending to its trilogy. The author told an engaging and exciting story that also gives the series a rewarding ending. The characters were all so well-written and so much fun to follow. The writing was fantastic. This novel works as either a standalone or an installment in a series, but my recommendation is to read the whole series. This is a great book, and Odriel’s Heirs is a great series. Anyone interested in it should read it.

Rating: 4.75 Stars

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February Releases to Get Excited About

It’s almost February, which means new book releases, which is always exciting. Some of these books have been on my radar for almost a year, while others I became aware of in the last few weeks. Without further ado, I’d like to talk about the February releases I’m excited about. I’ve listed the books in order by release date.

February 7th

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes / Goodreads

The national bestselling author of A Thousand Ships and Pandora’s Jar returns with a fresh and stunningly perceptive take on the story of Medusa, the original monstered woman.

They will fear you and flee you and call you a monster.

The only mortal in a family of gods, Medusa is the youngest of the Gorgon sisters. Unlike her siblings, Medusa grows older, experiences change, feels weakness. Her mortal lifespan gives her an urgency that her family will never know.

When the sea god Poseidon assaults Medusa in Athene’s temple, the goddess is enraged. Furious by the violation of her sacred space, Athene takes revenge–on the young woman. Punished for Poseidon’s actions, Medusa is forever transformed. Writhing snakes replace her hair and her gaze will turn any living creature to stone. Cursed with the power to destroy all she loves with one look, Medusa condemns herself to a life of solitude.

Until Perseus embarks upon a fateful quest to fetch the head of a Gorgon . . .

In Stone Blind, classicist and comedian Natalie Haynes turns our understanding of this legendary myth on its head, bringing empathy and nuance to one of the earliest stories in which a woman–injured by a powerful man–is blamed, punished, and monstered for the assault. Delving into the origins of this mythic tale, Haynes revitalizes and reconstructs Medusa’s story with her passion and fierce wit, offering a timely retelling of this classic myth that speaks to us today.

Maureen by Rachel Joyce / Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry comes a moving novel told from the point of view of Harold’s wife Maureen. Now undertaking her own journey, Maureen will discover a way to reconnect with the world she’s closed a door on.

Maureen Fry has settled into the quiet life she shares with her husband after his iconic walk across England ten years ago. When an unexpected message from the North disturbs her equilibrium again, it is now her turn to make a journey. But Maureen is not like Harold. By turns outspoken, then vulnerable, she struggles to form bonds with the people she meets, and the landscape she crosses has radically changed. And Maureen has no sense of what she will find at the end of the road. All she knows is that she has to get there.

Maureen is a deeply felt, lyrical, and powerful novel, full of warmth and kindness, about love, loss, and how we come to terms with the past in order to understand ourselves and our lives a little better. While it stands alone, it is also the extraordinarily moving finale to a trilogy that began with the phenomenal bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and continued in The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. What was started by Harold, only Maureen can complete.

Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood / Goodreads

A thrilling new fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blackwood!

Eighteen-year-old Victoria is a Wildblood. Since she was kidnapped at the age of six and manipulated by the Exotic Lands Touring Company, she’s worked as a tour guide ever since with a team of fellow Wildbloods who take turns using their magic to protect travelers in a Jamaican jungle teeming with ghostly monsters.

When the boss denies Victoria an earned promotion to team leader in favor of Dean, her backstabbing ex, she’s determined to prove herself. Her magic may be the most powerful on the team, but she’s not the image the boss wants to send their new client, Thorn, a renowned goldminer determined to reach an untouched gold supply deep in the jungle.

Thorn is everything Victoria isn’t – confident, impossibly kind, and so handsome he leaves her speechless. And when he entrusts the mission to her, kindness turns to mutual respect, turns to affection, turns to love. But the jungle is treacherous, and between hypnotic river spirits, soul-devouring women that shed their skin like snakes, and her ex out for revenge, Victoria has to decide – is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants?

A fierce, lush fantasy by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Blackwood, Wildblood tells the story of a girl who must find the strength to defeat the demons of the jungle as well as her own to find where she truly belongs.

February 14th

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi / Goodreads

A sumptuous, gothic-infused story about a marriage that is unraveled by dark secrets, a friendship cursed to end in tragedy, and the danger of believing in fairy tales–the breathtaking adult debut from New York Times bestselling author Roshani Chokshi.

Once upon a time, a man who believed in fairy tales married a beautiful, mysterious woman named Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada. He was a scholar of myths. She was heiress to a fortune. They exchanged gifts and stories and believed they would live happily ever after–and in exchange for her love, Indigo extracted a promise: that her bridegroom would never pry into her past.

But when Indigo learns that her estranged aunt is dying and the couple is forced to return to her childhood home, the House of Dreams, the bridegroom will soon find himself unable to resist. For within the crumbling manor’s extravagant rooms and musty halls, there lurks the shadow of another girl: Azure, Indigo’s dearest childhood friend who suddenly disappeared. As the house slowly reveals his wife’s secrets, the bridegroom will be forced to choose between reality and fantasy, even if doing so threatens to destroy their marriage . . . or their lives.

Combining the lush, haunting atmosphere of Mexican Gothic with the dreamy enchantment of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a spellbinding and darkly romantic page-turner about love and lies, secrets and betrayal, and the stories we tell ourselves to survive.

Death of A Traitor by M.C. Beaton / Goodreads

Sergeant Hamish Macbeth—Scotland’s most quick witted but unambitious policeman—is back to investigate the disappearance of a local woman who is more than she seems, in this new mystery in M.C. Beaton’s beloved, New York Times bestselling series. 

Kate Hibbert is all too eager to lend a hand to her neighbors. Although she has been a resident of the sleepy village of Lochdubh for only a year, in that time Kate has alienated one too many of its residents with her interfering—and not entirely well-intentioned—ways. When Kate’s neighbor sees her lugging a heavy suitcase to the bus stop, he hopes that the prying woman is leaving for good. But two weeks later, Kate’s cousin arrives in town with the news that Kate has gone missing—and she demands that the local police step in.                                   

Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is called in to investigate the disappearance, and soon he is befuddled by a storm of lies, intrigue, and scandal . . . and the sneaking suspicion that Kate was someone much more sinister than she claimed. Torn between loyalty to Lochdubh and his job, Hamish begins threading his way through a maze of deceit, quickly finding himself on the trail of a ruthless, treacherous murderer. If he catches the killer, peace can return to the village. If he fails, he will lose everything: his job, his home, and the life he so loves in Lochdubh.

February 21st

The Librarian of Burned Books by Briana Labuskes / Goodreads

For fans of The Rose Code and The Paris Library, The Librarian of Burned Books is a captivating WWII-era novel about the intertwined fates of three women who believe in the power of books to triumph over the very darkest moments of war.

Berlin 1933. Following the success of her debut novel, American writer Althea James receives an invitation from Joseph Goebbels himself to participate in a culture exchange program in Germany. For a girl from a small town in Maine, 1933 Berlin seems to be sparklingly cosmopolitan, blossoming in the midst of a great change with the charismatic new chancellor at the helm. Then Althea meets a beautiful woman who promises to show her the real Berlin, and soon she’s drawn into a group of resisters who make her question everything she knows about her hosts—and herself.

Paris 1936. She may have escaped Berlin for Paris, but Hannah Brecht discovers the City of Light is no refuge from the anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathizers she thought she left behind. Heartbroken and tormented by the role she played in the betrayal that destroyed her family, Hannah throws herself into her work at the German Library of Burned Books. Through the quiet power of books, she believes she can help counter the tide of fascism she sees rising across Europe and atone for her mistakes. But when a dear friend decides actions will speak louder than words, Hannah must decide what stories she is willing to live—or die—for.

New York 1944. Since her husband Edward was killed fighting the Nazis, Vivian Childs has been waging her own war: preventing a powerful senator’s attempts to censor the Armed Service Editions, portable paperbacks that are shipped by the millions to soldiers overseas. Viv knows just how much they mean to the men through the letters she receives—including the last one she got from Edward. She also knows the only way to win this battle is to counter the senator’s propaganda with a story of her own—at the heart of which lies the reclusive and mysterious woman tending the American Library of Nazi-Banned Books in Brooklyn.

As Viv unknowingly brings her censorship fight crashing into the secrets of the recent past, the fates of these three women will converge, changing all of them forever.

Inspired by the true story of the Council of Books in Wartime—the WWII organization founded by booksellers, publishers, librarians, and authors to use books as “weapons in the war of ideas”—The Librarian of Burned Books is an unforgettable historical novel, a haunting love story, and a testament to the beauty, power, and goodness of the written word.

Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth / Goodreads

In this gripping and atmospheric reimagining of Antigone, #1 New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth reaches back to the root of legend and delivers a world of tomorrow both timeless and unexpected.

“I’m cursed, haven’t you heard?”

Outside the last city on Earth, the planet is a wasteland. Without the Archive, where the genes of the dead are stored, humanity will end.

Antigone’s parents – Oedipus and Jocasta – are dead. Passing into the Archive should be cause for celebration, but with her militant uncle Kreon rising to claim her father’s vacant throne, all Antigone feels is rage.

When he welcomes her and her siblings into his mansion, Antigone sees it for what it really is: a gilded cage, where she is a captive as well as a guest.

But her uncle will soon learn that no cage is unbreakable. And neither is he.

February 28th

A Day of Fallen Night by Samantha Shannon / Goodreads

The stunning, standalone prequel to the New York Times bestselling The Priory of the Orange Tree.

Tunuva Melim is a sister of the Priory. For fifty years, she has trained to slay wyrms – but none have appeared since the Nameless One, and the younger generation is starting to question the Priory’s purpose.

To the north, in the Queendom of Inys, Sabran the Ambitious has married the new King of Hróth, narrowly saving both realms from ruin. Their daughter, Glorian, trails in their shadow – exactly where she wants to be.

The dragons of the East have slept for centuries. Dumai has spent her life in a Seiikinese mountain temple, trying to wake the gods from their long slumber. Now someone from her mother’s past is coming to upend her fate.

When the Dreadmount erupts, bringing with it an age of terror and violence, these women must find the strength to protect humankind from a devastating threat.

Intricate and epic, Samantha Shannon sweeps readers back to the world of A Priory of the Orange Tree, showing us a course of events that shaped it for generations to come.

Chaos Theory by Nic Stone / Goodreads

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin, delivers a gripping romance about two teens: a certified genius living with bipolar disorder and a politician’s son who is running from his own addiction and grief. Don’t miss this gut punch of a novel about mental illness, loss, and discovering you are worthy of love.

Scars exist to remind us of what we’ve survived.

DETACHED
Since Shelbi enrolled at Windward Academy as a senior and won’t be there very long, she hasn’t bothered making friends. What her classmates don’t know about her can’t be used to hurt her–you know, like it did at her last school.

WASTED
Andy Criddle is not okay. At all.
He’s had far too much to drink.
Again. Which is bad.
And things are about to get worse.

When Shelbi sees Andy at his lowest, she can relate. So she doesn’t resist reaching out. And there’s no doubt their connection has them both seeing stars . . . but the closer they get, the more the past threatens to pull their universes apart.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone delivers a tour de force about living with grief, prioritizing mental health, and finding love amid the chaos.

She Is A Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran / Goodreads

A house with a terrifying appetite haunts a broken family in this atmospheric horror, perfect for fans of Mexican Gothic.

When Jade Nguyen arrives in Vietnam for a visit with her estranged father, she has one goal: survive five weeks pretending to be a happy family in the French colonial house Ba is restoring. She’s always lied to fit in, so if she’s straight enough, Vietnamese enough, American enough, she can get out with the college money he promised.

But the house has other plans. Night after night, Jade wakes up paralyzed. The walls exude a thrumming sound, while bugs leave their legs and feelers in places they don’t belong. She finds curious traces of her ancestors in the gardens they once tended. And at night Jade can’t ignore the ghost of the beautiful bride who leaves her cryptic warnings: Don’t eat.

Neither Ba nor her sweet sister Lily believe that there is anything strange happening. With help from a delinquent girl, Jade will prove this house—the home her family has always wanted—will not rest until it destroys them. Maybe, this time, she can keep her family together. As she roots out the house’s rot, she must also face the truth of who she is and who she must become to save them all.

Are you excited for any of these books as well? What’s your most anticipated release of February?

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Light Years from Home

Light Years from Home is a 2022 science fiction novel by Mike Chen. It was published by Mira Books and released in January 2022.

Every family has issues. Most can’t blame them on extraterrestrials. Evie Shao and her sister, Kass, aren’t on speaking terms. Fifteen years ago on a family camping trip, their father and brother vanished. Their dad turned up days later, dehydrated and confused—and convinced he’d been abducted by aliens. Their brother, Jakob, remained missing. The women dealt with it very differently. Kass, suspecting her college-dropout twin simply ran off, became the rock of the family. Evie traded academics to pursue alien conspiracy theories, always looking for Jakob. When Evie’s UFO network uncovers a new event, she goes to investigate. And discovers Jakob is back. He’s different—older, stranger, and talking of an intergalactic war—but the tensions between the siblings haven’t changed at all. If the family is going to come together to help Jakob, then Kass and Evie are going to have to fix their issues, and fast. Because the FBI is after Jakob, and if their brother is telling the truth, possibly an entire space armada, too.

This novel is not your typical science fiction story. While the blurb might promise, or at least hint at, space battles and adventure, the sci-fi elements are not the focus of the story. There is very little action or excitement overall, aside from a few scenes towards the end. The story is about the relationship amongst the Shao family and how Jakob’s disappearance led to alienation, and the exploration of repairing those relationships. The plot does a good job exploring those relationships and discussing themes such as love, loss and belonging. I was initially frustrated by the plot of this book, since I expected the story to focus a little more on the science fiction elements, and less on family drama. The family drama, however, got me invested past a point and I continued reading. I didn’t completely like the plot, but I likewise didn’t completely dislike it. I wish there had been a bit more focus on the science fiction parts, as those play an important role in the climax, but that’s just me. I just had wildly different, and incorrect, expectations about where the story was headed when I picked up the book.

Writing complex characters is something I feel that the author did very well. Evie, Kass and Jakob are all very complicated characters and the author did a good job making that clear to the reader. Since this story is told via alternating POV between the three of them, the reader is given a look inside their head at various points in the story. The warring emotions they feel get put on display. The push-and-pull between doing what they want and trying to resolve the conflict within the family makes for an interesting dynamic. It also helps that none of these characters are perfect people. Kass can be very dismissive, Evie seems unwilling to accept anything that might prove her own theories wrong and Jakob comes across as uncaring about how his disappearance altered everyone’s lives. This works for the story because it gives the characters something to conflict over, and cements why the family drama is so important.

There is very little world-building in this story, since the science fiction elements are not the main focus. The reader is told just enough about the alien army Jakob is part of, and the enemies they face, to understand the stakes of his mission. There are bits and pieces shared about what the galactic war is about and how fighting it has shaped him. Next to nothing is shared about what the war is about or how long it has been fought. Since the story isn’t focused on that, it’s fine that the novel is light on exposition, but I wish there was a bit more depth to the world.

Light Years from Home is a different book than I expected it to be. I went into the novel expecting a science fiction adventure, but the plot focuses less on that and more on family dynamics between the main characters. The author handles the family drama very well, but it wasn’t what I was looking for in this book. The characters were complex and made for interesting interactions, however. At the end of the day, this book will appeal to a certain type of reader, but I’m not that kind of reader.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

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You Sexy Thing

You Sexy Thing is a 2021 space opera science fiction novel by Cat Rambo. It was released by Tor and was published in November 2021. The novel can be purchased here from Bookshop.org.

Just when they thought they were out… TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive.

This novel has a great cast of characters. Niko’s backstory and character arc is compelling, but what really sold this book for me was the dynamics between the characters. The staff of The Last Chance are intriguing characters on their own, but the found family dynamic between them really helps build out the story and each characters individual strengths. The author did an excellent job making those relationships feel authentic and realistic, even while telling a story in the far future. I can’t say that I was able to understand each character fully, as this novel shows only a glimpse of who they truly are, but they were fascinating to read about.

An issue that I had with this novel is that the plot has a bit too much going on, while not having a good balance between plot lines. I’d say this novel has two big subplots, one related to the identity of Atlanta, a newcomer, and a second regarding getting You Sexy Thing, the ship, to its owner, in addition to the main plot involving the pirate king mentioned in the blurb. The plot lines are all connected, but they don’t feed into each other. The plot involving Atlanta, for instance, progresses and is resolved completely separately from the main plot or the other subplot. This means that, once the main plot has concluded, it feels like the book should have ended, but it doesn’t. The plot also stagnates for a good section of the book. Aside from the inciting incident, where the characters wind up aboard the ship, there isn’t much action or plot-progression for a sizeable chunk of the book. The characters aren’t doing anything to advance the plot, and have no control over what is happening in those moments. It felt like I was waiting for half of the book for story to truly start. The conflict, once it does become a focus, creates a compelling story, but the wait makes reading this book a bit frustrating. The ending was somewhat satisfying. I didn’t dislike how it concluded, or how the main conflict was resolved, but as previously mentioned, it felt like the ending took a bit too long because of subplots that needed to be wrapped up. It also gave enough room for a sequel, without making a sequel needed for a complete story.

The world-building in this novel was impressive. It was clear that the author put a great deal of thought into the world she was creating. The story in an intriguing look into the future, with interstellar travel and the way certain kinds of conflict might change the way society develops. The novel doesn’t just introduce a number of different worlds and cultures, but also a diversity of alien species. There was a lot of detail and depth thrown at the reader about the different species and groups within the universe, and there’s a lot to remember. The author introduced a lot of the world-building in a subtle way, where it was clear she was giving exposition, but it didn’t feel obtrusive to the story.

I liked the writing in this novel overall. I felt the author did a very good job setting each scene and giving the reader a good amount of detail. It was easy to become immersed in the story, even though the plot had some pacing issues. As previously stated, the author put a lot of creativity into this story, from each individual character to the government and society the story exists in. The novel does, unfortunately, have a tone problem. At some points, the novel has a funny, irreverent tone, but in other parts, the tone becomes much more serious as deeper themes are explored. The tone is inconsistent and the flip-flopping between funny and serious and back again is jarring. The darker, more serious moments aren’t given room to breathe or the reader time to react. It makes it difficult to determine what tone the author was going for or how the reader is supposed to see certain events in the book.

You Sexy Thing is a fun space adventure. It introduces some compelling and fun characters, with great dynamics. The plot has some issues, especially involving pacing, but the overall story is a fun ride. The world-building is fascinating and complex. The writing overall is good, but there is a tone problem. All in all, this was a book that I enjoyed, but it doesn’t really stand out to me for any deep message it sends. It’s a fun story, and I’d recommend it to readers looking for an amusing distraction.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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7 Books I Plan to Read in 2023

Like many readers, I’m a lot better at adding books to my TBR than I am at moving books from my “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads to the “Read” shelf. I’ve decided that one of my goals for 2023 is to clear out some of my backlist and read books that I already own before I buy new ones. There are plenty of books on my selves that I already own and everyone keeps telling me I “have to read”. With that in mind, here are seven books I plan to read this year.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

The Omehi people have been fighting an unwinnable fight for almost two hundred years. Their society has been built around war and only war. The lucky ones are born gifted. One in every two thousand women has the power to call down dragons. One in every hundred men is able to magically transform himself into a bigger, stronger, faster killing machine.

Everyone else is fodder, destined to fight and die in the endless war. Young, gift-less Tau knows all this, but he has a plan of escape. He’s going to get himself injured, get out early, and settle down to marriage, children, and land. Only, he doesn’t get the chance. Those closest to him are brutally murdered, and his grief swiftly turns to anger. Fixated on revenge, Tau dedicates himself to an unthinkable path. He’ll become the greatest swordsman to ever live, a man willing to die a hundred thousand times for the chance to kill the three who betrayed him.

I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones

An NAACP Image Award Nominee, I’m Not Dying with You Tonight follows two teen girls—one black, one white—who have to confront their own assumptions about racial inequality as they rely on each other to get through the violent race riot that has set their city on fire with civil unrest.

Lena has her killer style, her awesome boyfriend, and a plan. She knows she’s going to make it big. Campbell, on the other hand, is just trying to keep her head down and get through the year at her new school.

When both girls attend the Friday-night football game, what neither expects is for everything to descend into sudden mass chaos. Chaos born from violence and hate. Chaos that unexpectedly throws them together.

They aren’t friends. They hardly understand the other’s point of view. But none of that matters when the city is up in flames, and they only have each other to rely on if they’re going to survive the night.

Peace and Turmoil by Elliot Brooks

Thirty years of peace have graced the lands of Abra’am. The waning bloodshed from the War of Fire has ended, and the new generations have only the horrid tales of their forefathers to remind them of their countries’ pasts. Poverty no longer prevails, the sights and palms of men have grown soft, yet four nations dictate more power than they know. Civil unrest stirs amongst the first, the heir to the throne of Mesidia and the Guardian to its Dagger questioned by a growing rebellion. To its south lies a country of scholars, the mighty nation of Xenith, liberators of the War of Fire and Guardians of the Amulet. Over the Dividing Wall lives the newly freed Sadie, a kingdom with an assassin for a prince and an insurgence at its heels. The fourth is the ancient realm of Eve, the Land Across the Sea, gifted and cursed with the Sight as it shows them what’s to come. 

Only one knows the fate of the world, but all will be pawns in its reckoning. 

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor; of crystal pillars and fossil seas, where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.

Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

Back in high school, Lily Wang wanted to be popular, but she considered herself lucky to be part of a tight group of oddballs and honors students called the Nerd Herd. Now, at twenty-eight, she feels like she’s finally on the cusp of succeeding as a beauty influencer—if she can hit five million subscribers, brands will take notice and she could get her own makeup line.

Fellow Nerd Herd alum Tobin Bui has had a lot of success as a YouTube gamer. But the road to online stardom has been rocky. First, he disappointed his parents by dropping out of college, and now, after years of pranks, skits, and playthroughs, he’s struggling to come up with new content to satisfy his ever-growing fan base. His agents say he needs cross-audience appeal, a new twist.

When Nerd Herd frenemy Lily approaches Tobin about teaming up to do a video to bolster her brand and reinvigorate his, he agrees. But when their first collab video goes viral, their relationship heats up too. With the whole internet watching, will these two former misfits finally realize they’re perfect together?

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

So, those are the seven books I want to read this year. There are plenty of other books I want to read, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to read these seven in particular.

Are there any books you want to read this year? Have you read any of the books on this list?

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Darling Girl

Darling Girl is a 2022 fantasy novel by Liz Michalski. The novel is a modern-day re-imagining of Peter Pan. It was released by Dutton Books in May of 2022.

Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy–yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine. Eden’s disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly–ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up–which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It’s a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden’s half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to–her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she’s always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it’s too late . . . or she may lose both her children.

Holly Darling is a great example of an extremely dislikeable character who is still compelling. From almost the beginning of the story, it’s clear that the reader shouldn’t like Holly as a person. Her actions vary from being somewhat questionable at best, to downright contemptible, and that’s evident before the story even really starts. The compelling thing about her is not what she does, but her reasoning behind the questionable actions. Holly is a mother willing to protect her children at any cost, regardless of morality or what harm it may cause her children themselves. The average person wouldn’t do half of the things that she does, but it would be disingenuous to say they couldn’t understand why she did them. She’s a dislikeable character, who is still compelling, and that’s what made her character arc a bit frustrating. Despite being the protagonist, she doesn’t do much to further the actual plot. Memories, past actions and throwaway lines tell us that Holly will do “whatever it takes” to save her children, but the story doesn’t really show that. Other characters move the plot along, other characters take risks and try to find answers, but she just kind of coasts her way through the story.

The plot of this novel is a bit of a mess. Despite being described as a retelling of Peter Pan, the character of Peter Pan doesn’t factor into the story as much as one would expect. At the beginning, it seems like he would be a looming threat, a character Holly is going to have an extended conflict with, but that’s not the case. A great deal of this book is Holly making phone calls or avoiding tell characters the truth of what’s going on, which means the plot completely stagnates. It’s hard to piece together the main plot, because at several points, a character stumbles onto a piece of information to further the plot, with no explanation. The story might get from Point A to Point B and then to Point C, but it seems like random chance drives that, rather than any action taken by the characters. A big source of frustration for me was with the climax of the story. Peter Pan first appears, outside of a flashback, pretty late into the book and sets up the final confrontation. This confrontation, the resolution of the entire novel, then takes place completely off-screen. I’d prefer a bad resolution that I actually got to read about, than what happened in this book, where the reader doesn’t see the resolution at all, but is instead told what happened.

I can understand the sentiment of writing a Peter Pan retelling. The motif of “what if the hero is really the villain” in a classic story is a compelling angle to pursue. This novel is a mixed bag when it comes to achieving the things I think the author wanted to achieve with that idea. On its surface, the story does an acceptable job of making Peter Pan into a darker character. It paints him as childish and self-centered, with no interest in how his actions impact others. He is a character that only cares about himself, and that can easily translate into making him an antagonist. The problems arise when you look deeper. The changes made to Peter’s character, particularly in connection with the Darling family, stand out as unnecessary. He’s made to be too dark, too intentionally malicious, to the point that it feels completely disconnected to the original work. There’s a disconnect between the way the character is talked about by others, the portrayal of the character on the page and the actions the character does. There are also changes made to Neverland that don’t really connect in the story. The reader is told that Neverland is not what the stories say, but that’s not really explained, the narrative never gives examples of how its different. None of the changes, to either the “real” story or Peter Pan himself, make this retelling more interesting or feel unique.

I wasn’t a fan of the writing in this story. The prose itself is fine. There was nothing that drew me to it, but also nothing that made me turn away from the writing. An issue I had was that the author didn’t really explain things. Any event that happened that couldn’t be explained was waved away with the idea of magic. The limitations of the magic changed, as the author needed them to, which makes it difficult to enjoy the overall story. The author didn’t really describe anything. I had next to now idea what the characters looked like. I can’t tell you a single thing about any of the locations in this novel. It makes it difficult to become immersed in the story, if the setting for a given scene begins and ends with “large house” or “park” or “private school”.

Darling Girl was a miss for me. The novel introduces a compelling main character, but does nothing with her. The plot is kind of a mess, with no real impact from the characters. The author made changes to the Peter Pan story, but the changes add very little to the retelling. I also wasn’t a fan of the writing overall. The author tried to do something interesting with the story, tried to create a dark, gritty retelling, but she didn’t succeed in my opinion. I don’t know who I would recommend this novel to, simply because it was so off-base from what my expectations were.

Rating: 1.25 Stars

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2023 Reading Goals

2023 is now here! Since it is a new year, that means it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, except I never set those. Instead, I’ve come up with reading goals for myself. Yes, I know goals and resolutions are similar, but for me, it’s different. I read somewhere that writing your goals down, or telling others about them, make you more likely to work on them, so I decided to share my goals with you.

Anyway, here are the reading goals I’ve decided to set for myself in 2023.

  • Read 100 books– I make 100 books my reading goal every year. I think that’s a pretty manageable number, so I don’t see a reason to change my overall reading goal this year.
  • Read more romance books– I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. I plan to keep reading quite a bit of that, but I also want to expand my tastes. I’ve been trying to get into the romance genre for a few years, but want to make it more of a priority this year.
  • Read Lightbringer– Every year, I pick a series that’s on my “Book Series Bucket List” and try to commit to finishing the whole series in that year. 2023 sounds like a good year to try and get through Lightbringer.
  • Read more self-published books or books from small presses- I made this same goal last year for myself. I’m aiming to have at least 1/3 of the books I read come from either self-published authors or small presses.

And there you have it. For 2023, I’ve set four reading goals for myself. We’ll see how successful I am at completing these goals and maybe even surpassing them.

What are your 2023 reading goals? What other goals do you have for the new year?

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Dream to Me

Dream to Me is a 2023 young adult fantasy novel by Megan Paasch. The novel is scheduled for release on January 31, 2023. It is the author’s debut novel. I was provided with an advanced review copy, courtesy of Netgalley.

Eva Sylvan didn’t ask for any of this. Not the cross-country move with her sister to a town in the middle of nowhere, not the family estate, inherited from a late great-aunt, that’s falling apart at the hinges, and definitely not the sudden death of her beloved father. So when the locals react with hostility to the very mention of her last name, Eva’s pretty sure things can’t get any worse. Until she has a dream about a gas station employee and the next day, he’s in a coma. And then it happens again. Something sinister is lurking in the corners of Eva’s dreams, something that’s having devastating effects on the waking world. People are dropping left and right, and Eva finds herself squarely in the town’s crosshairs. In order to defeat the shadows of her unconscious, Eva must not only unearth the magic tied to her family history, but she must confront the guilt that has been haunting her since her father’s death. Only she can save the town from the dark power in her dreams – if the threat is truly even her dreams at all.

Grief is a central aspect of this novel. A great deal of the plot is about dealing with grief and regrets. It’s so prevalent that it’s practically a character in and of itself. It intrigued me that the author was using intangible and surreal fantasy elements to talk about the very real and often painful process of mourning. This exploration of grief is something that made me enjoy the story as a whole. It increases the tension at certain points and adds a layer of depth to specific characters. It really elevated the novel in my mind.

The plot of the novel starts off a bit slow. It takes a little bit of time for the story to truly start or for the mystery at the center of the story to present itself. The stakes then raise at a pretty even pace as the story progresses and Eva attempts to get to the bottom of what is happening in the town. The central mystery is a creepy and compelling one. The author did a good job of teasing certain information without ruining the surprise, especially when it comes to the central twist, the identity of who or what is causing people to fall comatose. It was always clear to me that Eva was not the source, but the revelation of who it was ended up feeling like a twist, but not as if it came out of nowhere. While I loved the story overall, I had some issues with the climax and how the conflict was resolved. The climax itself was beautifully written, it was a very inventive scene, filled with lots of great imagery. It felt as if the author was repeating a point she had already made, though. The novel is about grief, the climax centers around grief as well, and the author didn’t seem to trust the readers to pick up on that. She kept reinforcing something that didn’t need to be, which made it hard to find the moment satisfying.

I don’t really have much to say about the characters in this novel. I didn’t dislike them, but this is a book that felt more about the plot and themes than the characters. Eva was a good protagonist. She had complexity to her that felt authentic without being unrealistic. She may not have been fully fleshed out as a character, but she wasn’t one-dimensional either. The same is true for other characters including her sister Rhonda, her love interest Cal and the friends Eva makes. The characters all have some depth, but don’t exactly stand out to me. The dynamic between characters has a bigger impact on the plot than any one character themselves.

I loved the writing in this book. The author did a phenomenal job when it came to setting a scene and giving the town where it takes place a creepy, ominous atmosphere as the story progressed. The prose made the story very easy to follow and digest. It was easy to become immersed in the story with the way it is written. The writing style itself didn’t stand out to me as especially unique, but it served the story perfectly. This is Megan’ Paasch’s first novel, but I seriously hope it will not be her last.

Dream to Me was a book that took me by surprise. The premise seemed interesting enough, but the story blew me away, despite some issues with the conclusion. The characters were interesting and helped make an intriguing story. The writing was amazing and I look forward to seeing where the author’s career goes from here. This is not a book for every reader, but it’s a great read overall and is the perfect choice for someone looking for a fantasy with deeper themes.

Rating: 3.75 Stars

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