Audio ARC DNF Review: Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim

Publication Date: September 27, 2022

Synopsis:

After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…

Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.

Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina’s swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister…all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.

Because one way or another, she’ll take Rui’s heart.

Even if it means giving up her own.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I was really looking forward to this one because it sounds amazing. I love reading books grounded in other cultures’ mythologies, and Korean mythology is one I haven’t really had much experience with. The cover is gorgeous and promises a magical fantasy adventure. The synopsis brings to mind stories like Six of Crows. Sadly, the execution fell far short.

The writing could use some polishing. Everything is described endlessly, using the biggest words possible and five where one would do. It’s sprinkled lavishly with curse words that just feel unnecessary. I’m all for cursing, just, it has to make sense. Our ‘living breathing weapon’ and skilled assassin of an mc just isn’t. She reads much younger than the stated 18, is constantly getting herself in trouble with her impulsive actions (partially forgiveable because of trauma), and never actually does any killing or shows any skill, only talks about how awesome she is at it or gives a brief overview of things she’s done in the past. The closest she gets to showing her skill is entering a building and opening a chest. And not even a human chest, before you ask. Like. That’s about as much effort as she puts into the ‘steal the priceless tapestry’ escapade. Walk in, notice the dust, info dump a bit, open the chest, walk out. Mission complete. (yawn.)

She doesn’t get along with any of the other women. An awfully lot of time is spent describing how she started / continued smoking. Yes, this leads into memories of her trauma from her family dying but… it’s still sort of weird and abrupt.

The first-person present tense is my least favorite to read but it can be done well. Sadly, I did not find that to be the case here. She just reads as annoying. Also the moment she described her “shit-eating grin” I knew it was not going to improve. And it didn’t.

The instant the eventual love interest enters the scene you can clock him as the love interest. He might as well come with a flashing neon sign proclaiming it. If the detailed description of his appearance wasn’t enough, there’s the bad boy sarcastic sense of humor and the enigmatic interaction and disappearance. Like what even was the point except to go ‘hey, love interest here!’?

The narrator was ok, although her male voices were not very believable and her reading of the main character made her seem younger than she was supposed to be. I maybe enjoyed her performance less than I would have enjoyed reading the text as I was unable to skim the info-dump-y bits or the places where the descriptions dragged on.

I do think that anyone who loves Sara J. Maas’ romances – ACOTAR especially – will probably love this. It seems to be much more focused on the romance with the fantasy used more as set dressing. It also gives major ACOTAR vibes which could be part of why I reacted so negatively to it – I enjoyed ACOTAR initially but hearing about it over and over in facebook book groups and spending some time reflecting on it lowered my enjoyment of the series dramatically.

After thinking some more about what it was that didn’t work for me here, I think I’ve figured out why I was so disappointed with this book. The cover, narrator’s voice, and initial writing of the main character all led me to believe this would be a middle-grade fantasy adventure with the narrator being around 11-12 years old. So the swearing and the smoking felt really jarring when I encountered them, because they definitely wouldn’t be in a middle-grade book. And then it took a hard turn into fantasy romance with some major ACOTAR vibes which my initial impression of middle-grade fantasy did NOT prepare me for.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audio arc for review.

Audio Arc Review: Fraternity by Andy Mientus

Publication Date: September 20, 2022

Synopsis:

A queer, dark academia YA about a mysterious boarding school, a brotherhood that must stay in the shadows, and an ancient evil that could tear it all apart.

In the fall of 1991, Zooey Orson transfers to the Blackfriars School for Boys hoping for a fresh start following a scandal at his last school. However, he quickly learns that he isn’t the only student keeping a secret. Before he knows it, he’s fallen in with a group of boys who all share the same secret, one which they can only express openly within the safety of the clandestine gatherings of the Vicious Circle––the covert club for gay students going back decades. But when the boys unwittingly happen upon the headmaster’s copy of an arcane occult text, they unleash an eldritch secret so terrible, it threatens to consume them all.

A queer paranormal story set during the still-raging AIDS crisis, Fraternity examines a time not so long ago when a secret brotherhood lurked in the shadows. What would Zooey and his friends do to protect their found family?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This started slowly but little by little it picked up steam until I was on the edge of my seat. It hits hard, blending magic and all-too-real topics in a way that feels wholly natural and right. This wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the witchcraft and black magic, and it wouldn’t be the same book if you removed the talk of AIDS and conversion therapy and queerness and race. It’s queer and it’s unapologetic and it’s set so specifically in time. I was too young in 1991 to pay attention to the news, but even growing up later in the 90s I felt a sense of kinship with these characters and a sense of recognition.

The characters are distinct and well-rounded. They can be summed up in a few descriptors, or so it seems, though they are revealed over the course of the book to be more than they first appear. I enjoyed the multiple POVs, which helped me feel closer to each boy.

The villains are monstrous (in more ways than one) and the monstrous future they were pushing toward felt all-too-real, especially in light of recent events. We may be a far cry from shadowy political cults and the AIDS epidemic… but in many ways we aren’t.

This is not a happy book, and it’s not an easy one to read. There is bullying and intolerance and bigotry and evil. But there is also friendship and queer joy and community and love.

I took a while to warm up to the characters and story, and I even questioned whether I wanted to continue a few times. But by about 40% in I was thoroughly hooked and for the last several hours of the audiobook I couldn’t tear myself away from the story.

The audiobook narrators were really excellent and delivered a gripping and emotional performance. The voices they used for each character were believable and felt right, and I was more invested in the story than I would have been if I were reading it to myself.

I’m not often a fan of an author narrating their own book because they so rarely deliver a riveting performance — it’s a different skillset, narrating a book rather than writing it. But in this case Andy Mientus did a fabulous job and I highly recommend getting the audiobook version.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audiobook arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She took one of us on each arm and, as we walked to our seats, I felt the kinds of looks I used to get at Blackfriars and had an unexpected pang of nostalgia. In a weird way, I’d missed feeling like a freak. Being a freak alone is tough, but being a freak arm-in-arm with your fellow freaks can feel pretty punk.

Fraternity by Andy Mientus

If we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that history lets us carry the work of those who came before us forward so that we might finish it.

Fraternity by Andy Mientus

Arc & Audio ARC Review: Aces Wild: A Heist by Amanda DeWitt

Publication Date: September 13, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens in Vegas when an all-asexual online friend group attempts to break into a high-stakes gambling club? Shenanigans ensue.

Some people join chess club, some people play football. Jack Shannon runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. What else is the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul supposed to do?

Everything starts falling apart when Jack’s mom is arrested for their family’s ties to organized crime. His sister Beth thinks this is the Shannon family’s chance to finally go straight, but Jack knows that something’s not right. His mom was sold out, and he knows by who. Peter Carlevaro: rival casino owner and jilted lover. Gross.

Jack hatches a plan to find out what Carlevaro’s holding over his mom’s head, but he can’t do it alone. He recruits his closest friends—the asexual support group he met through fandom forums. Now all he has to do is infiltrate a high-stakes gambling club and dodge dark family secrets, while hopelessly navigating what it means to be in love while asexual. Easy, right?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was so much fun! I was drawn into the story immediately and immediately sympathetic to the main character. He was sarcastic, self-deprecating, funny, and a very believable teenager — some of my favorite things in a protagonist. He made a lot of very realistic, very bad decisions, especially early on when he felt like he was alone and his world was falling apart. Sometimes he even knew they were bad decisions and he still made them. He was a very realistic teenager, in other words.

I LOVE that the entire crew he pulls together for his heist are ace. It’s such a fun detail, and so relatable – not having friends in your immediate surroundings but connecting with people all over the country on fanfiction forums and then forming a chat support group for ace people? Definitely felt familiar, which drew me in even more. I almost felt like I was a member of the group and in on their shenanigans.

The heist itself sometimes took a backseat to the family and friend group drama, but I’m ok with that. There was still plenty of heist action there, but I was there for the character interactions anyway as I generally prefer character driven to plot driven stories. I love love loved the characters. They were all such individuals, with unique characteristics and mannerisms that didn’t feel forced at all. They felt like real people you might find anywhere. Well, they felt like real teenagers that you might meet at the outskirts of the school social scene, which is where I’ve always been the most comfortable. In short – I wanted to be their friend too. They were very obviously my people.

I like how the ‘being ace’ aspect was handled, as well as the tentative love story. It was sweet and realistic and believable… and familiar. Aside from the whole heist thing, it could have been me and my friends in high school and college.

That sense of familiarity, of belonging, made me love this book 1000x more than I would have based solely on the plot. Obviously not everyone is going to feel this sentimental about the book and characters, but I think a lot of people will really see themselves here and feel seen.

Las Vegas was an excellent choice of setting because the glitter and glamour made an excellent contrast to the seriousness of the beginning and then an excellent background and distraction during the plotting and executing of the heist itself. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, but after reading this I feel like I was there. The descriptions didn’t ever try to take over the story like in some books, but I still felt like everything was very grounded in a specific place and could even almost see it playing out in my head. in fact I did see it that way – I have very specific visual memories of events in the book. It was like watching a movie. Ocean’s 11, but with teenagers.

The audiobook was narrated flawlessly and I love the narrator and the choices he made for the different voices and the way he told the story. Just perfect all around. I bumped the speed up to 2x because he spoke a little slowly for my taste – many people do – and it was still perfectly clear and easy to understand and all the emotion came through easily.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Peachtree Teen, and Recorded Books for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Audio ARC Review: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: No Guts, No Glory by M.K. England

Publication Date: November 2, 2021

Synopsis:

The official prequel novel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the hotly anticipated action-adventure game developed by Eidos-Montréal and published by Square Enix.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Racoon and Groot. They’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, turning a tidy profit as heroes for hire—or, they will be if Peter Quill can get his act together. After he botches the most critical part of their latest mission—getting paid—his newly assembled crew is close to ditching him for good. Now he needs a big payday, fast.

When an old acquaintance shows up offering a whole lot of units for a field trip to Peter’s past, it’s a no-brainer. Thirteen years ago, Peter fought the Chitauri alongside the Resistance on Mercury to prevent an invasion of Earth. Now it’s time to go back. The old Resistance base has a squatter, and it’s up to the Guardians to ‘gently escort’ them off the premises… and unmask a wartime traitor while they’re at it.

But war is heavy, man, and the Galactic War screwed up each of the Guardians in their own special ways. The brand-new team is barely hanging together, and the mission brings up all kinds of bad memories. It’s make or break time for the Guardians, and they do so love breaking things…

Just hopefully not each other.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I somehow missed the “official prequel to the blockbuster video game” on the cover of this. As I haven’t played the game, I think I am missing key details that would make me care more about the events within the book. Additionally, I haven’t seen the Guardians of the Galaxy and related Marvel movies (just the trailers) — which means I’m missing a LOT of key details and most importantly, the characters’ canon personalities and interactions. I requested this solely because I have loved everything MK England has written and I assumed I would love this as well, despite not being familiar with the franchise. I have read other books and fanfictions of franchises I am unfamiliar with and loved them in the past. However this… missed the mark for me.

I liked the plot all right, but I didn’t really care about any of the characters. Additionally, it was confusing with the way it was structured. It is divided into sections that alternate between the present and the past, 12 years earlier. I listened to the audio, which made it very difficult to flip back and check whether I was in the present or the past. I think the confusion stemmed mostly mostly from the fact that both feature Peter getting into scrapes, fighting for his life, etc but with a different set of crewmates each time. The characters weren’t distinct enough for me to easily tell which scenario I was in sometimes, especially with similar battle scenes and running from the enemy scenes in each. Also they were all — especially Peter AKA Star Lord — a little annoying. He was very much a bumbling fool who is eternally optimistic and somehow always comes out on top while everything and everyone around him falls to pieces and I’m not really a fan of that character type.

I was into it, but not really, I guess? Like I cared enough to keep listening, but not enough to choose to listen over doing/reading other things. I actually listened to half of this and then put it down for eight months and by the time I decided to give it a second chance, I’d forgotten enough details that I had to start over from the beginning. This should have made it easier to tell whether I was in the present or past in any given scene, but they still blurred together for me. I realized eventually that I was having trouble distinguishing between Gamora (present) and Ko-Rel (past) in their interactions with Peter. At 80% in I can’t really tell you the point of it all. Things keep happening but they don’t make any impact on me. I’m in the midst of the plot twist / confrontation with the enemy and I think I’m going to put it down again because I have other things to read that will hopefully hold my attention more.

I think this would go over well with fans of the movies and games franchises as well as those who like an emphasis on space action/battle scenes and not so much character development.

The narrator was fairly good and did a decent job giving the characters different voices (except for some of his female voices which were difficult to tell apart, possibly contributing to my confusion.) I found his voice a bit on the annoying side, though I don’t know how much of it was his voice and how much of it was his voicing of Peter as the POV character (who I also found annoying). He also tended toward the dramatic, but that’s understandable given the amount of battles and narrow escapes and arguments between the (very dysfunctional) characters.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dreamscape Media (Marvel) for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC Review: The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones (e-ARC and audiobook ARC)

Publication Date: August 16, 2022

Synopsis:

Once upon a time, the kingdoms of Wales were rife with magic and conflict, and eighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is well-acquainted with both. She is the last living water diviner and has spent years running from the prince who bound her into his service. Under the prince’s orders, she located the wells of his enemies, and he poisoned them without her knowledge, causing hundreds of deaths. After discovering what he had done, Mer went to great lengths to disappear from his reach. Then Mer’s old handler returns with a proposition: use her powers to bring down the very prince that abused them both.

The best way to do that is to destroy the magical well that keeps the prince’s lands safe. With a motley crew of allies, including a fae-cursed young man, the lady of thieves, and a corgi that may or may not be a spy, Mer may finally be able to steal precious freedom and peace for herself. After all, a person with a knife is one thing… but a person with a cause can topple kingdoms.

The Drowned Woods—set in the same world as The Bone Houses but with a whole new, unforgettable cast of characters—is part heist novel, part dark fairy tale.

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I wanted to love this one. In fact, I expected to love it like I loved the Bone Houses. But I just…. didn’t.

It *should* be everything I like. Set in the same world as Bone Houses, a heist with magic, characters with mysterious pasts… But it just felt flat.

I tried reading the book and listening to the audiobook and neither one could keep my interest. In fact, it sent me into a bit of a slump where I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up any book because I dreaded returning to this one. It just felt like a slog?

I’m finally calling it and DNFing at 60% of the way through. I mean, if you’re 60% into a standalone heist novel and you’re still slooooowly introducing characters / gathering the crew and none of them have been fleshed out enough to have personalities (and you can barely remember their names and certainly not what they look like) and you have almost no idea about the bigger picture or more than the sketchiest details about the characters’ pasts or the heist itself then that’s a problem.

The one thing I did like was the relationship between Mer and her former mentor. There is obviously fondness there on both sides, mixed with quite a bit of mistrust on Mer’s and a tendency for her mentor to go into teacher mode and/or fail to disclose critical pieces of his plot so that Mer has to follow him with a dose of blind faith.

In the end, too much is kept a mystery both from the characters themselves and from the reader. Mysterious pasts and gifts and magic and plans can intrigue the reader. But if so much is kept in the dark that all you can do is stumble around hoping to figure out what the heck is going on, it does not make for a pleasant reading experience.

The audiobook narrator, Moira Quirk, is one of my favorites. She has a great range of character voices and a good grasp of the pronounciation of the various Welsh names. However, even her excellent narration can’t make up for the foggy vagueness that encompasses this novel.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

The third time a customer grabbed her, Mer considered drowning him.

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

“Cities like these, with all the people and the iron — both in their blood and all around them —it pushes back the old ways. Makes me wonder how things will fare in the future.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Fane said, “that humanity has a tendency to push into every corner of a place. And with their iron and their armies, it may be only a matter of time until someone like Garanhir turns his attention on Annwvyn.”

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones

ARC and Audio ARC DNF Review: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

Publication Date: August 23, 2022

Synopsis:

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?

My Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This was… underwhelming.

I requested it because I love fantasy, romance, grump/sunshine, epistolary romance, enemies-to-lovers, and You’ve Got Mail. So it really *should* have ticked ALL the boxes for me.

Instead I found myself feeling lukewarm about the characters at best and the story just didn’t hold my interest. Also the whole dealing with zombies and dead bodies (with associated fluids and scrabbling through intestines for appendixes) thing was … gross.

The first stumbling block for me was worldbuilding. A quarter of the way through the book I know very little about the world it takes place in. A few terms tossed in but never explained, a vague hand-wavey ‘super complicated portals thing that no one understands except that one guy who invented them’, references to old gods and new gods and demigods, and a brief ‘lesson recitation’ for background on the zombies themselves. (I forget the in-book term for them, which tells you a lot about how invested I am.)

I don’t understand *why* everyone thinks Hart is such a jerk. I don’t understand the beef he and Mercy have with each other. I don’t understand… basically anything.

Also, the physical descriptions and fantasies Mercy and Hart (unknowingly) have about one another are far too graphic and lewd for my taste. And I’m still at the ‘we can’t stand each other’ stage before they get physical. (disclaimer: I’m ace and very much don’t like extended on-page sex. Yes, there technically hasn’t been any yet but it’s clear that there *will be* and based on the vibes I’m getting so far it will not be my cup of tea AT ALL.)

The story is also … very much a You’ve Got Mail retelling with zombies. I knew there were similarities and that it was perhaps inspired by the movie but parts of it are way too close to the original for it to feel fresh or new or anything but heavily inspired (only grosser because that’s apparently what the original needed?).

There *are* some things that the story does well. The day-to-day lives of Hart and Mercy and their relationships to their families / friends / coworkers are really well done. Hart’s apprentice he’s forced to take on is endearing and I like that he brings out the softer side of Hart. The animal couriers are amusing. Parts of it are really funny.

But. That’s not enough to make up for the parts I found dull, boring, confusing, or distasteful. I feel like this will miss the mark for many fantasy and romance readers. For romance readers, the world is too confusing. For fantasy readers, there aren’t enough details about the world and it’s too romance-heavy.

The narration was all right. Nothing stood out, and a few of the voices used for the characters felt off to me. It certainly wasn’t terrible, however, and if I’d liked the book more I would have found it to be perfectly fine. I’d definitely try a different book read by the same narrators.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Orbit Books, and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Audio ARC Review: What Souls Are Made Of: A Wuthering Heights Remix by Tasha Suri

Just look at this *gorgeous* cover!

Publication Date: July 5, 2022

Synopsis:

What Souls Are Made Of, British Fantasy Award-winning author Tasha Suri’s masterful new take on Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, will leave readers breathless.

As the abandoned son of a Lascar—a sailor from India—Heathcliff has spent most of his young life maligned as an “outsider.” Now he’s been flung into an alien life in the Yorkshire moors, where he clings to his birth father’s language even though it makes the children of the house call him an animal, and the maids claim he speaks gibberish.

Catherine is the younger child of the estate’s owner, a daughter with light skin and brown curls and a mother that nobody talks about. Her father is grooming her for a place in proper society, and that’s all that matters. Catherine knows she must mold herself into someone pretty and good and marriageable, even though it might destroy her spirit.

As they occasionally flee into the moors to escape judgment and share the half-remembered language of their unknown kin, Catherine and Heathcliff come to find solace in each other. Deep down in their souls, they can feel they are the same.

But when Catherine’s father dies and the household’s treatment of Heathcliff only grows more cruel, their relationship becomes strained and threatens to unravel. For how can they ever be together, when loving each other—and indeed, loving themselves—is as good as throwing themselves into poverty and death?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

My favorite of the Remixed Classics series thus far!

I wasn’t a fan of Wuthering Heights when I read it some years ago. There was too much tragedy, and the characters were all awful people. But I still jumped at the chance to read this because Tasha Suri is a fantastic writer, the synopsis is intriguing, the cover is stunning, and I have absolutely loved every installment of the Remixed Classics series thus far.

And it absolutely lived up to and exceeded every one of my hopes and expectations. I loved the split narration between Cathy and Heathcliffe. I loved their distinct voices and the way the narrators performed their chapters. I loved how, though they were distinct, their childhood belief that they shared one soul felt true. I especially loved how this story deviated from the original.

The character growth of both Cathy and Heathcliffe is immense. They do not start the book as ‘likeable’ people, either of them, but I was rooting for each of them to find themself from the beginning, and by the end I loved them.

The ending is a satisfying conclusion and very obviously a new beginning and I would happily read more books exploring where Cathy and Heathcliffe go and how they choose to pay the debts Cathy’s father owed as they set their ghosts to rest.

Speaking of ghosts, I loved the fantastical elements to the story. They were at once jarring and a natural extension of the plot. They felt right and true.

The discussion of the East India Company’s atrocities in India, colonialism in general, the way rich white men viewed all non-white foreigners, expecting them to be grateful to serve them, was sickening. The revelations about Cathy’s father were blows to Cathy and to the reader.

This story was hard-hitting and the language was gorgeous and kept the haunting gothic atmosphere of the original. I was riveted and couldn’t stop listening. I loved that I never knew what was going to happen. There were points where one of the characters would face a choice, and I could see where one choice would lead – to something like the plot of the original Wuthering Heights – and I would desperately hope they would choose the other path, even though it wasn’t clear what lay at the end of it.

I loved the element of found family that Heathcliffe stumbles into — I’m a sucker for a found family plot — and I really wish there could be a sequel where Cathy gets to meet them. I would love to see what she would make of Heathcliffe’s life and choices in Liverpool. At the same time I love where Tasha Suri chose to end the story. It felt… right.

This is my favorite of the Remixed Classics series thus far. Highly recommend.

I also highly recommend the audiobook because it is absolutely gorgeous and the narrators really bring the story to life. It is emotional and haunting and gothic and perfectly matches that gorgeous cover.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Feiwel & Friends, and Macmillan Audio for providing an audio arc for review.

Audio ARC Review: Valiant Ladies by Melissa Grey

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

**This Review can also be found on my tumblr book review and fandom blog (also called Whimsical Dragonette) here.

Synopsis:

Two teen vigilantes set off on an action-packed investigation to expose corruption and deliver justice in Valiant Ladies, Melissa Grey’s YA historical fiction novel inspired by real seventeenth century Latinx teenagers known as the Valiant Ladies of Potosí.

By day Eustaquia “Kiki” de Sonza and Ana Lezama de Urinza are proper young seventeeth century ladies. But when night falls, they trade in their silks and lace for swords and muskets, venturing out into the vibrant, bustling, crime-ridden streets of Potosí, in the Spanish Empire’s Viceroyalty of Peru. They pass their time fighting, gambling, and falling desperately in love with one another.

Then, on the night Kiki’s engagement to the Viceroy’s son is announced, her older brother―heir to her family’s fortune―is murdered. The girls immediately embark on a whirlwind investigation that takes them from the lowliest brothels of Potosí to the highest echelons of the Spanish aristocracy.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I LOVED this book so much. I have had high hopes for it ever since I first heard it announced — seventeenth century teenage Latinx vigilante sword lesbians? sold! — and it vastly exceeded my expectations.

Kiki and Ana were such great characters, and I loved their dynamic and their escapades. It was clear from the first pages that they meant everything to each other and loved each other very much. I loved their bond and the way their relationship and friendship strengthened as the events of the story unfolded. I also really appreciated their love of weaponry. The other characters were also very well-fleshed out and I came to feel strongly about all of them.

The villains were villainous (but not always obvious, which was nice). It was very satisfying to see Kiki and Ana stand up to them, especially when others didn’t always do so — for social or political or monetary reasons.

It was also really refreshing to see sex workers treated as regular people who are just as worthy of being rescued as anyone else? There was never any judgement or negativity toward them, which I loved.

The setting felt very real and… immersive, I guess? Like I totally believed I was there in 17th century Peru while reading.

Most of all, I had the best time while reading this. It was so fun and adventurous and it was like I was there alongside Kiki and Ana as the events of the plot unfolded. They were totally kick-ass and there was never any doubt in their minds about that fact. I will definitely be reading this one again.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC Review: Not Good for Maidens by Tori Bovalino

Publication Date: June 14, 2022

Synopsis:

Salem’s Lot meets The Darkest Part of the Forest in this horror-fantasy retelling of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”

Lou never believed in superstitions or magic–until her teenage aunt Neela is kidnapped to the goblin market.

The market is a place Lou has only read about–twisted streets, offerings of sweet fruits and incredible jewels. Everything–from the food and wares, to the goblins themselves–is a haunting temptation for any human who manages to find their way in.

Determined to save Neela, Lou learns songs and spells and tricks that will help her navigate this dangerous world and slip past a goblin’s defenses–but she only has three days to find Neela before the market disappears and her aunt becomes one of them forever.

If she isn’t careful, the market might just end up claiming her too.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I really liked it. The story (parts of it at least) was compelling and some of the characters really drew me in. And I am 100% here for May and Atra’s star-crossed sapphic love story. On the other, it was closer to horror than I normally choose to read and was bloodier and more grotesque than I usually like. And some of the characters were like blank walls.

I’m a sucker for goblin market stories, and this was probably the most horror-adjacent one I’ve read. In that regard, it shaded towards being a bit too much for me. I was barely able to handle the body horror, though I put the book aside several times while reading because I kept thinking it would get to be just that tiny bit more and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. It also focused on the grotesque and bloody side of the goblin market, rather than the glittery tempting side you usually see in stories. There again, it was almost (but not quite) too much for me.

I was immediately sucked in to May and Atra’s story. They were compelling and intriguing and I would have loved the book more if it had been solely about them. The problem was that their chapters (18 years in the past) alternated with present-day Lou’s chapters, and Lou just wasn’t compelling as a protagonist. I never got a sense of her personality at all. I know that she’s asexual and that she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere, but when I try to picture her I draw a complete blank. Laura (her mother), too, is a mystery, even though we see her both in present-day and 18 years in the past. But in the present we see her though Lou’s eyes, and in the past we see her through May’s, and that could be why she doesn’t feel complete. Neela isn’t on page enough to really get a sense of her.

In the end I stuck around through Lou’s chapters just to get back to May and Atra. If the book had been solely May and Atra’s story, I probably would have devoured it rather than putting it down over and over.

Also, mind those trigger warnings. There is a LOT of blood, gore, and body horror. Like, a lot.

The narration is really well done and the character voices are consistent and believable. I also really enjoyed the narrator’s voice. It made for an excellent listening experience.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Recorded Books for providing an audio arc for review.

ARC & Audiobook Review: A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

Publication Date: March 8, 2022

Synopsis:

When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.

In A Far Wilder Magic, Allison Saft has written an achingly tender love story set against a deadly hunt in an atmospheric, rich fantasy world that will sweep you away.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I can see why one of the comp titles for this book is the Scorpio Races. This has a similar sense of place and magic, and a slowburn love story (though it’s a bit more physical). It slowly pulled me in until I was thoroughly hooked.

The writing is gorgeous and I highlighted several quotes. I also was able to listen to an advance copy of the audiobook and the performance was really excellent. The narrator was able to give each character a unique and recognizable (and believable) voice, and really brought the text to life.

Margaret, the main character, is cold and prickly and closed-off, trapped alone in her silent manor and barely alive. Wes burns with ambition, is impulsive, and has a large, loud family. It seems like they would never get along — and at first they don’t — but their gradual coming together is believable and romantic.

This book addresses religious prejudice well, making Margaret and Wes outsiders because of their family’s religion. They are bullied and tormented but they bear it and overcome it with empathy and grace.

The pace is glacial at first, and while it never gets anything like fast, it does gradually increase. I recommend giving it longer than normal to hook you because once it draws you in it really is a magical read.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and Macmillan Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc of this book.

Favorite Quotes:

“A little tragedy is good for the constitution.”

Beneath his fear, there’s a glimmer of relieved acceptance. Mauling, he thinks, is a preferable death to shame.

She scours every surface until it gleams, until her mind begins to disconnect from reality, until her pain feels distant.

She has built herself a mother out of those precious memories and kept herself alive on them. But she can’t subsist on crumbs anymore.

She could lose herself in this. The heat of his body against hers; the heady, ridiculous scent of his aftershave and the wild bright salt of the sea; the way he holds her as though she’s something precious.

Right now, she strikes him as entirely otherworldly. A siren — or one of the aos si liable to drag him to a watery grave. Fey magic as ancient and wild as the hala, wearing a girl’s skin.

She is so beautiful.

She feels as though she’s been threaded through with an electrical wire, jittery and wild with dread.

I love him. It doesn’t surprise her to finally admit it to herself. It feels nothing like a revelation, nothing like falling — only like the punchline of some cruel, predictable joke. She has only given the universe more ammunition to wound her.

There is something dark within him that enjoys this heady rush of power. It’s intoxicating to at last hold all the cards — to cradle a life in his hands. The divinity of God lives within each of them, but only an alchemist can harness that spark. Jaime’s is just a pale insignificant glimmer against his.

She’s lived her whole life braced for another blow, but no amount of preparation or precaution has stopped them from landing.

This is the beast half of the hunters here today would’ve killed them for. The last demiurge: the last of the Katharists’ false gods, the last of the Sumic god’s children, the last of the Yu’adir god’s gifts.

The wind quivers, as tremulous as a long-held breath. And there is less magic in the world.

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