ARC Reviews

Where Darkness Blooms by Andrea Hannah

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ARC was given by NetGalley & St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (February 21st, 2023)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, depictions of blood, loss of loved ones, grief, abandonment, underage drinking, mentions of cancer (in the past), trauma, talk of rape, mentions of drugging, gun violence, violence

“The land had always been parched but it’s thirst for blood was learned.”

Wow, friends! I absolutely devoured this book! In two days, TWO days, I read and finished this book! It was just one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. I had to know what was about to happen next, I had to know if any of these characters would redeem themselves, and let me tell you, this book didn’t disappoint. It was a great, spooky, thrilling time and I was here for it! Plus, the cover, the sunflowers, lured me in and I didn’t realize how big of a role they would play!

“Where blood had been spilled, sunflowers grew over the unmarked graves.”

Our story follows the four perspectives of four friends who have all lost their mothers in the small town of Bishop, Kansas. Yet this is nothing new as women of all ages seem to disappear in the town of Bishop for a long while now. Delilah, the one who looks out for everyone, trying to keep them all safe, but who also wants to move on with her boyfriend, Bennett Harding. Whitney, twin sister to Jude, who’s grieving for the loss of her mother, but the loss of her girlfriend, Eleanor. Jude, who fines it hard to communicate with everyone, but who had a fling with Bennet Harding that summer and find herself still in love. And then there’s Bo, a soul full of rage for many a reasons and demanding answers for all the odd things that don’t add up or make sense. As strange things begin to happen and secrets come to light, these four girls will have to decide how far they’ll go to uncover the truth and to protect each other.

I had a lot of mixed feelings on these characters and I feel like I have to say, these characters aren’t perfect. They’re flawed and morally grey, and they may not be quite what you expect. Though, I really loved Bo and Whitney as characters. Both of these characters felt raw in their own way and I really loved the way the author built them up to the very end of the book. I think they both got the endings they deserved and even though both of their endings were still emotional, it was still nice to see their story wrap up the way it did. However, I really didn’t like Delilah or Jude, especially Jude. Even at the end of the book I still felt Jude hadn’t redeemed herself in anyway possible and I almost wish she had been killed off or the author went the obvious route with Jude’s character. Delilah, on the other hand, I just didn’t personally connect with. And I also want to say that the way Delilah’s character is written, it almost seems like Delilah has a sensory disorder or sensory sensitive, but then later on in the book it’s addressed as some special ability to “detect evil” and it made me feel a little weird and uncomfortable at times. So that was a whole thing that added to the mixed feelings about Delilah’s character as a whole. Needless to say, I had a 50/50 split when it came to these characters.

“So much had happened in the last two years. They had all lost so much. But no one had lost all that Bo had. No one wanted to be found as much as she did.”

The mystery of this whole story was so captivating and I’m so glad I was wrong about the sunflowers. Look, I can’t help that the cover made me believe there might be killer sunflowers in this book, okay? I’m so glad I was wrong though! Sunflowers hold the meaning of adoration and loyalty, but it can also hold other means in other cultures like harvest and bounty in Native/Indigenous culture or good fortune, vitality, and long life in Chinese culture. So naturally, from my own sentimental connection to them, I adored the sunflowers, the role the sunflowers came to hold within this book, and the way the truth about them unfolded at the end of the book had me so soft and emotional in the way things seemed to come full circle. It was all beautifully done and I’m probably being more sentimental about the sunflowers than I should be. I digress! We do get some paranormal elements laced into the story as well. However, I like how they weren’t a huge part of this story. It was just casually sprinkled in and I think it was just the right amount. Plus, it kind of plays a tiny, key part of Whitney’s perspective. It was a nice touch!

The book as a whole is very atmospheric and very mysterious. It really has the small town vibes to it and as we all know, small towns come with their secrets and sometimes dark histories. I think that’s what pulled me in the most at the beginning, the way this small town was established. I love stories that play to the small town vibes and take that theme, and run with it as far as they can. I think the author did a really good job at making you feel like you’re in a small town that holds a dark secret, just waiting to be discovered. I also want to mention that the storyline builds up quickly and especially near the end, you can feel how high the stakes are.

“There had always been something strange about this place. The sunflowers that hovered around them all like a threat. The wat they watched. How they were a little too sentient to be just seeds and petals.”

However, I did have some issues with this book. I think my main issue with this book was a lot of things felt very obvious in the direction it was going to go. For example, it was very obvious there was going to be a betrayal from one of the main characters we follow. If not, multiple betrayals from that one particular character. Another example would be the way the book ended. It’s just very obvious from the 75% mark and it kind of chipped away at the mystery a bit. The other thing I didn’t really like was a scene where Bo decides to end things and honestly, it was anti-climatic. It felt like there should have been more to it except there wasn’t and it just turned out the way it did. It felt too easy and like there should have been more. Honestly, that part was a bit of a disappointment and I just wanted more especially since Bo’s character has so much rage within her.

“She ran straight into the sunflower fields, praying she’d come out on the other side alive.”

Overall, I really enjoyed my time reading this book. As I mentioned above, I read this book in two days! It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that quickly in such a short amount of time that wasn’t a novella or short story. I also don’t want to reveal too much in this review because so much ties in with main plot or climax moments, but it was so good friends! I really enjoyed my time reading this and the need to know all the secrets and mystery behind what’s happening was a great pull. If you’re looking for some new books to put on your anticipated 2023 release list or if you’re looking for mystery thrillers with small town vibes, this is one to keep your eye out for!

Buddy read with Ashley

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Into The Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga edited by Lindy Ryan

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ARC was given by NetGalley & Black Spot Books in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (November 8th, 2022)

Holy cow this was a doozy of anthology! 24 short stories about the one and only… Baba Yaga! It’s exciting, isn’t it?! This was truly a wild ride and definitely an anthology that won’t so easily leave my memory. Some of these stories are fantastic, others may chill your bones, but for me friends, I think I wanted this to be a little more than what I got. And let me tell you, there were moments where I got a whole lot that I didn’t even want. So buckle up, this might just be a wild ride for you too!

As always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts, feelings, and include content/trigger warnings.

Foreword by Christina Henry ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Scene of animal death

This wasn’t anything too spectacular or anything. This basically just an introduction to Baba Yaga, if you never heard of Baba Yaga till now. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of anthology, that melting pot of the good, the bad, and the unsettling.

“She is a wild thing tied to the earth. She can be a friendly hand to a passerby or a monstrous one – a snake that can choose to strike or turn its fanged head away in mercy or indifference.”

Dinner Plans with Baba Yaga by Stephanie M. Wytovich ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Implications of cannibalism and dead children

This was just an okay read for me. This felt like it clung tightly to the blueprint of the traditional tale of Baba Yaga, which is fine. I think I was just hoping for more branching away from the typical folklore about it and just wanting a little more. It’s still a good story though!

Last Tour Into The Hungering Moonlight by Gwendolyn Kiste ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was an eerie short story. I don’t even know how to properly describe it, but this one made my skin crawl. You’re in the perspective of someone moving/looking to move and you’re visiting this neighborhood, all the while Baba Yaga is whispering about. It’s a very eerie, chilling setting. Almost walking into a neighborhood where everyone is always smiling and happy. Yeah, that’s the creepy vibe it gives off. Very spooky and I definitely recommend a warm beverage for this one!

The Story of a House by Yi Izzy Yu ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of animals, depictions of blood, gore, grief, scene of decapitation

This story messed me up in so many ways, both good and bad. I had never read a short story about Baba Yaga’s house and that was one of the things that always intrigued me about her folklore. I always wanted to know more about her house and how it came to be. This was a great interpretation of that and it was so good to read. Not a fan of all the animal horror, but still a good read.

“There, House remains to this day, half-asleep but with an open door.”

Of Moonlight And Moss by Sara Tantlinger ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent (in the past), abusive/toxic relationships, depictions of torture recounted

I adored this story! This was one of my favorite stories of the whole collection. It gave a lot of renaissance era vibes for me. Not quite Camelot, but definitely in that time period. This was so good and I love the thought of Baba Yaga being someone who open their home to the broken and the unwanted/unloved.

“If you survive the bog, you may not survive the witch. If you do, beware of how sweet lies may taste. Beware the fate you accept.”

Wormwood by Lindz McLeod ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, emesis, scene of hanging

This is a great story of the potential good side to Baba Yaga. When it comes to tales of Baba Yaga, I hear more terrible stories than I do good and this was nice breath of fresh air. I loved that she helped a grieving woman after a horrible crime has been committed and I love how mirrors have symbolism in this short story. It was an all around great read for me that intrigued the senses.

“They call her a witch. They call her a goddess. They call her a cannibal. But mirrors tell the wrong stories. And so do people.”

Mama Yaga by Christina SNG ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Cannibalism, mentions of famine, loss of loved ones

Eh, this was an okay read for me. I enjoyed it, but again this circles back to what I mentions earlier, about a story sticking to an already made blue print. It just feels like an easy way of getting out of writing something that could have been much more. I would have liked a different twist or something. I don’t know, this was just an okay read for me in the department of Hansel & Gretel/Baba Yaga.

Flood Zone by Donna Lynch ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Cannibalism, mass murder

Another okay read for me. I wish this had more to it, potentially some combat or someone finding out about the plot, but this just didn’t hit the mark at all. All this story really did was just remind me of how horrible and cruel people can be, with an unrealistic outcome that’s far too simple. I liked that Baba Yaga had a child or apprentice of her own, but I just wanted more from this story.

The Peddler’s Promise by Catherine McCarthy ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions loss of a loved one, death of children, cannibalism

I think this was a unique way to write Baba’s tale of luring children from the safety of their homes. However, I think my biggest issue was the lack on conflict or confrontation with Baba. Honestly, the way this story goes just leaves you with a heavy feeling and I think if we had some conflict it would have made the story a little lighter. It just wasn’t a fun time. I went in intrigued and emerged feeling kind of heavy and sad.

The Space Between the Trees by Jo Kaplan ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of grief, mentions loss of loved ones, mentions of murder, cannibalism

This is another take on Baba Yaga actually having a daughter, which I love this concept. This was really well written and it was interesting to see the parallels in approaching things between Baba and the daughter. I almost wish there was a different outcome for the ending, but that may be asking for too much.

Sugar and Spice and the Old Witch’s Price by Lisa Quigley ⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Homicide

I’m going to be honest, I debated my rating on this one. This was just not it for me, at all. This is basically a short story of a woman who slowly descends into the calling of the forest and murders her whole family. Yeah, not what I wanted to read and definitely not what I was expecting. It didn’t so much see this as a Baba Yaga retelling or even anything related to Baba Yaga, if I’m being honest. It literally felt like the start of a mystery thriller book and was it’s own thing. This just wasn’t it and one of my least favorite stories in the anthology as a whole.

Birds of a Feather by Monique Snyman ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Gun violence, bullying, gore, murder, death, violence, depictions of blood

This was fantastic! I was hooked the minute I started this! Who does love starting a short story running through the woods while people are shouting at you, hunting you down?! Delicious. A great way to capture the reader, hands down. I loved that the author also went with the balance and order approach for this story too. It really worked well with the flow and pacing, and just set the atmosphere up for the end game of the story. It was just a really great read!

Water Like Broken Glass by Carina Bissett ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Drownings, scene of assault, war themes, death, murder

This was another fantastic read, as well! Plus, who doesn’t love some lesbian representation? It was delicious! This is a very unique story of how Baba Yaga exists and how one can become Baba Yaga, but it’s also about love and the extent of what one will do for love. It’s also a story about forgiveness especially when one is a river rusalka and has been doing the same things for so long. It was really well written and captivating. Hands down one of my favorite reads of this collection.

“She is Death incarnate. A creature that thrives on war, and her hunger is as bright as the full moon, as sharp as glass.”

Herald the Knight by Mercedes M. Yardley ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Blood depictions, death of an animal, mentions loss of a child/miscarriage, death, scene of assault, gore

Yes, yes YEEEESSSSS! We get a short story with a black knight and I’m thriving! I love stories with black knights. I eat that goodness for breakfast! Can you tell that this is my favorite story out of all the short stories of the whole book? I love that we get a romance between a black knight, who hides his face because of his scars, and we have Baba Yaga, who’s young and doesn’t need anyone yet wants this black knight like a fire consumes charcoal. It was just so good and I enjoyed how well the two felt right for each other. It was spectacular, for me!

“The black knight watched her, instinctively knowing she ran toward something, not away from him, and it was no surprise when the forest closed itself behind her.”

All Bitterness Burned Away by Jill Baguchinsky ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Indications of an abusive relationship, implied starvation, murder

Now THIS is why the Hensel & Gretel retelling meets Baba Yaga works! First, Baba Yaga’s house being a cat/acting like a cat was so delightful. Yes please, I would like more Baba Yaga retellings where her house is a cat house, please and thank you! I love this concept more than I do the bird house concept. Secondly, this book ties in the element of Baba Yaga being good, but also adopting children as her own and removing them from an abusive situation. I thought this was handled really well and it was done in a way that was satisfying to read. This was just everything I wanted and I got a big boost of serotonin from reading this story.

A Trail of Feathers, A Trail of Blood by Stephanie M. Wytovich ⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Grief, brief mention of a dead animal, implied child sacrifice

This left an unsettling chill in my spine and not the good kind of chill. I want to express that this story many be triggering for readers whether you’re a parent or not. This story kind of smacked me out of left field and the way the ending plays out is not a good one. It’s a cruel, messed up ending and honestly, if I had known the the content warnings in advance, I would have skipped this one to spare my sanity.

Baba Yaga Learns to Shave, Gets Her Period, Then Grows Into Her Own by Jess Hagemann ⭐⭐

Horrendously repetitive! Holy cow this one chipped away at my sanity relentlessly. My biggest pet peeve is repetitiveness in books and ‘like this‘ is repeated so much in this short story. I had a hard time focusing on other details because it just came off as a mother talking down to a teenager and it was just so annoying. The story as a whole was incredibly annoying and for the most part, that’s what this story is, a mother talking down to her child, giving her the same verbal cue. We only see something in relation to Baba Yaga till the end of the story, literally the very end of the story. It just wasn’t a fun time for me.

Fair Trade by Jacqueline West ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Underage drinking, death, grief

I liked the concept of this at first and then it just felt like a Baba Yaga version of Freaky Friday. While that’s not a bad thing, it just didn’t really work for me, personally. I came to read a Baba Yaga retelling, not a short story that only has two scenes of Baba Yaga in it and focuses on someone I didn’t really feel any connection to. The story is really well written, but that’s about the only thing that really stood out for me.

Stork Bites by Ev Knight

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mention of current events (Roe v Wade), talk of postpartum depression, emesis, drugging, graphic scene of abortion, brief implications of rape, cannibalism

HELL to the NO! This was not it, at all. If I wanted a graphic scene of abortion, whether there were fantasy elements or not, I would go read/listen to those who actually went through that because at least then I’d know what to expect or I could prepare myself mentally and make sure I’m in a good headspace. I don’t like things come out of left field and chipping away at my sanity especially when no one can be bothered to give content/trigger warnings in advance. This is the last thing that I wanted in a retelling. It was disturbing to the point of that scene inducing nausea. No thank you, next!

Chicken Foot by Octavia Cade ⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Dead animals, animal experimentation

I think the part that’s going to haunt me the most is the canary legs making screaming sounds as the wind blows through them… ANYWAY, this was another interesting take on Baba Yaga’s house and how it becomes what it becomes… a bird house. It was a really interesting approach to take a more scientific route with the story, but it was good. I’m just not a fan of animal experimentation.

Where the Horizon Meets the Sky by R. J. Joseph ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Sex, death of a loved one

This story has a very modern day feel to it, but add a little kick of zombie near the end. It was interesting to see things play in a way where Baba Yaga was word focused. Every thing Baba did in this story was done in a way of how the person spoke about what they wanted. It was a really interesting take and I think this could have been it’s own novella.

Maw Maw Yaga and the Hunter by Alexandrea Weis ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Gore, scene of dismemberment, death

This is my first time hearing a Cajun retelling of Baba Yaga! I really enjoyed this and was so captivated of how things would play out. There was a moment where I thought things would turn out differently, but it didn’t. All I can really say is I would have love a full novella of this short story. It was really good and I think it could stand on it’s own.

Baba Yaga in Reprose by Heather Miller ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is very detail heavy and it takes a hot minute to get to Baba Yaga, but it feels very much like Sleeping Beauty. It’s a really interesting was to set the whole story up, but I love the concept of these beings from folklore and fairytales to go into a slumber as the world moves on into modern day. I think this was such an interesting way of capturing that and I enjoyed it a lot.

Shadow and Branch, Ghost Fruit Among the Lullabies by Saba Razvi ⭐⭐⭐

This was a nice way to close out the collection. However, my issue is that it gets repetitive really quickly and as I’ve mentioned before, repetitiveness and I don’t get along. It’s very well written and it can be captivating for the right reader, it just wasn’t me. Still a lovely, spooky way to close everything out.


I gave Into The Forest: Tales of the Baba Yaga three stars overall, because out of the possible 120 stars (5 stars being possible for all 24 stories) this anthology accumulated 80 stars (67%)!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Twisted Love (Twisted, 1) by Ana Huang

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ALC was given by Libro.fm & Tantor Audio in exchange for an honest review.

Content/Trigger Warnings: Aquaphobia, drowning, trauma, PTSD/flashbacks/night terrors, anxiety/panic attacks, child abuse, loss of loved ones, mentions of divorce, murder, mention of suicide, mentions of drug addiction, mention of overdose, stalking, harassment, assault, physical violence, alcoholism, scene of emesis, scenes of gaslighting & manipulation, mentions of cheating & adultery, kidnapping, scene of hostage situation, implications of torture, coitus (sex), swearing

“You are the light to my dark, Sunshine,” he said in a raw voice. His lips brushed against mine as he spoke. “Without you, I’m lost.”

*takes a big sip of beverage* Well this was an unexpected read and even more unexpected of how much I enjoyed this book, altogether. While I did have a ebook copy, I decided to take a chance on the audiobook and I’m so glad I did. The voice narrators were perfect for this book. While I don’t think I could choose what I loved most about this read, I hope this review will speak for itself on how I feel about this read. BUT – Before we begin, reader, know that the title of this book is a little deceptive and I put emphasis on this book being very true to the dark romance genre.

We follow Alex Volkov and Ava Chen, two polar opposites of each other. Ava Chen chooses to approach life with smiles and love despite the cruel, dark past that haunts her dreams. While Alex Volkov might as well be an ice king. Barely anything seems to provoke emotion from him. When one day Ava is stranded in the the rain, her brother, Josh sends his best friend to help his little sister out. Only… Ava wasn’t expecting tall, mysterious, and stoic Alex to pick her up. Things only escalate from there as Josh leaves for his internship and forces Alex to look after Ava while he’s away. But many shadows from both their past are lingering, creeping closer in the present, and will put these two to the test, in more ways than one.

Okay, I’m just going to jump right into the good bits. That’s right, I’m talking about the steamy, goodie goods of intercourse! Look, if you went into this book expecting constant, wall banging, steamy hotness almost every other chapter or perhaps you were expecting more from of those steamy moments… Well, I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but this is mostly vanilla steaminess despite the constant implied kinky-ness thrown around. This is probably the issue I had the most with this book. It’s not the fact the steamy scenes played more to the vanilla scene, but it was the fact that it was implied Alex really liked to “go there” in the bedroom, but we never really see that, at all. Also, I want to point out that Alex’s choice for calling women bad names during sex wasn’t my cup of tea. I think if that’s your kink then you’ll enjoy it, but for me personally, my blood boiled and it didn’t do it for me. However, the steamy scenes are still good despite these two issues. If I had to give it a steamy rating out of ten, it’s probably sitting at a five or a six for me. It’s not the best, but it’s not terrible. Just a fun, steamy time and nothing too wow worthy.

“She felt like heaven to my hell, the closest I’d ever get to salvation, and yet I still wanted to drag her into the depths of Hades with me.”

However, despite my issues with the steamy scenes, the chemistry and sexual tension between was absolutely delicious. Throw in the banter that constantly played between them, oh, it’s a fantastic time! I think the author did a really fantastic job at creating a slow build between Ava and Alex, and the way they both slowly unraveled, descending into lust for one another was so good to watch unfold. Typically, slow burns can be hit or miss for me, but I think the way the author did the slow burning between these two characters really played to the book’s advantage, for my personal reading taste.

As always, whenever I find this representation, I always want to vocalize and address it. Trauma and PTSD representation is always, always something I point out whenever it’s present in a book. Beautifully done, absolutely beautifully done. Whether the author has personally experienced trauma/PTSD or knows someone who has, the way it’s portrayed in this book not only feels so real, so vivid, but a lot of scenes Ava would have with her night terrors felt very similar to the experience I have with myself with my own PTSD. So I just really wanted to put this in here as a little appreciation for the author and how well written, and respectfully done this representation was handled.

“You want the world to think you have no heart when in reality, you have a multilayered one: a heart of gold encased in a heart of ice. And the one thing all hearts of gold have in common? They crave love.”

While there were many things I loved, there were other things that bothered me aside from the more intimate parts. One of the issues being able to call two of the twists early. While I won’t go into which twists these were, it was a bit of a disappointment being able to pin-point these twists early. However, I also chalk this up to my own personal life experiences that allow me to see these things coming from a mile away.

My other biggest issue was the way a lot of the ending was handled. After the big conflict, I had a lot of issues with the lack of communication between Ava and Alex, and a lot of the repetitive stalker themes that were being thrown in at the end. All of it rubbed me the wrong for so many reasons and it almost felt like a double-standard. In the beginning Ava is dealing with stalking and harassment from an ex (which are bad, they escalate to physical conflict), but yet the stalker themes in the last 25% of the book are okay and fine due to it being in the name of love. It just left really weird feelings with me especially as someone who dealt with stalking in the past.

Overall, I really did enjoy my time reading this book especially the grumpy/sunshine pairing. Three stars is not a bad rating and this feels like a true three star read for me. There were a lot of things that I loved, but there was also a lot of things that rubbed me the wrong way, and some dark things from Ava’s side of things that hit very close to home for me that have me feeling a little rough. But this is a still good read and I think if you’re a lover of dark romances then definitely give this book a chance. I just want to encourage readers to look at content/trigger warnings before you decide to dive in.

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ARC Reviews

Cryptid Club by Sarah Andersen

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ARC was given by NetGalley & Andrews McMeel Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (September 20th, 2022)

Oh my spooky heart is so full from reading this graphic novel and I can’t wait to pick up a physical copy of this to read whenever I want! I had such a wonderful time taking my time reading each section, enjoying the art, and the little cryptids we get to meet. I think all my spooky lover friends are going to have such a joyous time checking this graphic novel out. And if you’re like me, who’s new to this author’s work, I think this is a great place to start because it certain has me wanting to read more of Andersen’s other books.

Cryptid Club is a bind up of short comics about various cryptids and their unknown life, and why they tend to avoid humans. Some of these cryptids you might be familiar with such as Bigfoot or Mothman, while others aren’t as often addressed or talked about socially. We get to take an inside peek at the struggles these monsters have and while also seeing a lot of cute, humorous moments that will have you giggling in delight.

I really loved so many sections of this bind up. I think my favorite pieces had to be ones featuring Mothman and the Loch Ness Monster. I have a particular soft spot for those cryptids and being able to chuckle to their little moments was such a pleasure. Although, the moments with the ghosts were absolutely precious and just little treat moments. Plus, we have a little ‘release the kraken’ moment and it was so wholesome and precious that my heart was so full. There were so many wonderful moments and delightful moments that I think many readers are going to enjoy and adore.

Overall, this was a really wonderful, cute, and delightful read especially as a cryptid and spooky lover! I can’t recommend this book enough to all my fellow cryptid lovers out there who may be looking for some cryptid goodness with a big dash of joy and humor thrown in. I think there will be some readers out there who may feel this graphic novel is on the more weak side of humor, but I found it had just the right amount and enjoyed my time reading it. And of course, if you’re looking for a book that you can fly through, whether it be for reading goals or readathon, this is sure to be a winner for those and spooky season!

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ARC Reviews

The Sacrifice by Rin Chupeco

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ARC was given by NetGalley & Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (October 4th, 2022)

Wicked As You Wish

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, loss of a loved one/parent (in the past), mentions of plane crash, racism, themes of colonization & gentrification, alcoholism, talk of cheating, human sacrifices, cult themes, depictions of blood, graphic violence, gun violence, mentions of domestic violence, gaslighting & manipulation (from Hemslock), mentions of suicide, scene of dog being shot

“It is believed that when people hear the screaming, someone is about to die.”

It’s no secret that Rin Chupeco has easily become one of my favorite authors and when this earc landed in my lap, with a synopsis that lures you in, I had to start this book immediately. And of course, recommend it to all my horror/thriller loving friends! This was probably the easiest 5 stars I’ve given all year and I didn’t even think about it because at the end of this book, I just couldn’t stop saying ‘wow’ and I stand by that statement. Also, before we get into this review, I want to quickly mention that there is a dog in this book. For those wondering, ‘Does the dog die?’ No, the dog doesn’t die and despite my content/trigger warning, I’m not going to say anything else. Just know that this book is full of twists, turns, and surprises! And I also want to mention that this book won’t be for everyone, but this was the right book for me.

The island of Kisapmata is a beautiful place, but despite that beauty the locals fear the island and know of all the lives lost who stepped foot on it. With a body count of fifteen people dead, Hollywood quickly descends upon Kisapmata, determined to find out if the legend of a slumbering god is true and document everything. Alon, the only person who’s unafraid of stepping foot on the island wants nothing more than for everyone one to leave this place. And if he can’t convince them, there’s only one thing sure to happen… death and destruction.

Chupeco has such a beautiful and detailed way of building her worlds and establishing her characters. One of the biggest things that always sucks me into a Rin Chupeco book is the detailing in the environment and the those little details that make a character feel real. That’s what you get with this book. Plus, I’ve mention this to a few people, but it gives very strong Mummy vibes (for those who have seen the movies) and The Dark Picture Anthology vibes for fellow gamers. You get a rich, detailed, atmospheric book with characters who are so well detailed that even the ones you’ll come to dislike, you can’t help enjoying. Trust me when I say, there’s a lot of characters to dislike in this book, but I enjoyed them anyway because of those little details the author added in. I also want to point out that there is no good or bad person in this book, either. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie because there’s one lovely madman/power hungry nutjob thrown into this book that just makes this book feel just right. Otherwise, most of the characters are morally grey despite a few characters having bad pasts and you see the confliction in a lot of the side characters about certain things later on in the story. I also want to put in here that Alon, our main character is non-binary and the love interest, Chase Gries is either bisexual or pansexual. And I kind of really loved them a whole heck-a-ton!

“The living bring their own ghosts to the shore, and only the latter are honest about why.”

There’s also so many themes within this book and I think this is one of the strongest reasons why I fell madly in love with it. The author never holds back on themes she wants to include in her books. When Chupeco decides to include these themes, they’re beautifully woven throughout and honestly, at time, I think it’s hard for many readers to pick them out because they’re so intricately laced in the story. The prime example, there are a few characters we see who are haunted by their past choices and we see how the choices of those pasts can impact the way the characters are in the now. And there’s many other themes like that sprinkled throughout.

Respect was one of the major themes that really spoke to me because I’m a huge believer in respect. Not just respect being earned instead of given, but also showing respect to foreign people and a culture that isn’t your own. There were so many moments in this book that put an emphasis on respect and how even a little bit of it can go a long way. We also see what happens when disrespect occurs and how people respond to that disrespect. Though this theme isn’t a major theme of this book, it’s one I wanted to highlight and put emphasis on.

“Respect is key. But most foreigners don’t have that for us.”

The other major theme of this book ties in with colonization, gentrification, and how when foreigners come to a place that isn’t their own, they constantly demand and take, and if that doesn’t work then they just pay everyone off so they can do what they want. If you think this doesn’t actually happen, then you would be very, very wrong. This is something that still continues in North America with the Native/Indigenous people to this day and this is something that constantly occurs in other places such as the Philippines and South America, and many other places in the world. This was a theme that spoke to me on so many levels, for a plethora of reasons. And I want to point out, that with the entitlement that comes from foreigners to a new place that isn’t their own, there’s a lot of racism that comes along with that too. Prime example, Chase Gries, the love interest, upon arriving on Kisapmata hands all of his bags of to Alon and assumes they are “the help” when Alon is actually the guide and local of Kisapmata for the entire production cast. There’s also conversations in the beginning with a side character who talks with Alon of how Hollywood likes to take advantage of, not only young people, but foreign people, as well. These are just two of the various moments that highlight this key theme of the book. And again, this themes ties back to the themes of respect and how respect is often disregarded by majority of people who aren’t locals.

“No. The opportunities you have in America are not always available everywhere.”

Of course I have to talk about the mythology of this book! You knew this was coming at some point in this review and we’re finally here. I have absolutely fallen in love with Filipino mythology because of Rin Chupeco and this book is no exception. This book, like all of Chupeco’s books, are very unapologetically Filipino. The amount of notes of words I had to go look up, the creatures and legends I spent three hours scrolling to learn more about, it was just everything. It filled my heart with so much joy and honestly, I wanted even more and was so sad when the book came to an end. Though the author does add English translation or the definition afterwards, I still wanted to do my own research. That also lead me down many rabbits holes and a lot of late hours scrolling to learn as much as I could find. I really enjoyed that this book motivated me to look into things more and I also love when you can tell an author is being unapologetically themselves in their book, as well. I think this will be something many readers will either like or dislike. That’s just always been the nature of the beast when it comes to things like this, but I strongly encourage readers to look things up if they still don’t understand. And if you’re a mythology lover like me, the extra research is so worth it!

If I had to say anything negative about this book (which I don’t), aside from the Filipino words/language and mythology, I think many readers may have issues with romantic subplot. Now for me, this wasn’t any sort of issue and I kind of enjoyed it. I really liked that it still happened, but it wasn’t a main focus of the story and it wasn’t too much of a standout that it impacted the main storyline. However, I think if you’re a reader who’s not always a fan of romantic subplots, this could go either way for you.

And I will say, I don’t think the horror in this book will be for everyone. I think there will be readers who thoroughly enjoy this book because of the horror/thrilling aspects of it, but I think there will be many readers who get chills or become unnerved by a lot of the things that unfold in this book. Again, this is another thing that could go fifty-fifty for many readers. Obviously, I loved it and really enjoyed the way things unfolded and played out.

“The Diwata knows. He knows all who come to his shores. He remembers us after we die.”

Overall, I had a wonderful time reading this book! I saw so many similarities between this book and The Mummy, and for the video game lovers, The Dark Picture Anthology series. It was the perfect read for me! And let me say, curling up with this book while it’s storming outside was absolutely delightful and meshed so well with the story inside these pages. If you’re looking for a good atmospheric read for Summerween or for just fall reading in general, then you definitely need to put this book on your radar. It’s the perfect spooky read for lovers of all things spooky!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland

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ARC was given by NetGalley & Tordotcom in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (August 30th, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: On page depictions of anxiety & panic attacks, depression, loss of loved ones, scene of physical & verbal abuse, graphic violence, depictions of blood, graphic injuries, attempted drugging, scene of kidnapping/abduction, on page racial slur (often used towards Muslims)

Oh boy, where do I even begin with this book, this review, and just… everything. This was not it, friends. I feel like the only person in the room who dislikes this book because every review I see is four or five stars, everyone raving of how amazing this book is. I feel like I’ve read an entirely different book and usually with my romance reads, I devour them in a day or so. Nope, nope, nope, big ole’ NOPE! That was not the case and at the end of reading this book, I feel disappointed and frustrated. So much happens and yet absolutely nothing happens! This book could have been everything, but it fell short for me, greatly.

After a hunting trip gone horribly wrong, Kadou, the prince of Arasht, finds himself feeling lower than he’s ever felt in a long time. Feeling distant from his sister and in a sense, banished from court after this incident, Kadou takes on proving his loyalty to his sister by investigating a break-in at one of their guilds. What Kadou uncovers is much more than just a simple break-in. With his newly appointed body guard, Evemer, they’ll dig deeper into a thickening scheme and maybe even find themselves more drawn to each other than they originally thought.

I really loved a lot of the side characters. The side characters were fantastically done. A lot of these side characters stood out more than our mc and love interest. Kadou’s sister and sultan, Zeliha was a force that commanded attention every time she was in a scene and you could constantly feel the tug-o-war she was having with making certain decisions. Eozena was a really great character that stood out a lot, as well. Captain of the core guard and a close family friend to Kadou and Zeliha, Eozena was delightful to have in scenes. And the banter that would often take place was so good. And probably my favorite, Tenzin, who’s introduced way later in the book was a freaking riot. Tenzin is a truth telling witch and the funny moments she brings to the table was absolute bliss. I adored her so much especially when we get the scene with her and everyone walking back to the palace, pure gold moment! I wish we had been introduced to her far sooner than just getting a few pages with her around. And don’t even get me started on how wonderfully delightful Evemer’s mother was. She was a treat of a side character and definitely underrated!

“I’m getting paid as we speak,” she said with a grin, slouching down into her chair and crossing her arms. “I’m getting paid in chaos.”

The other thing I really loved about this book was the accurate portrayal of anxiety and panic attacks. We see these attacks from both Kadou’s perspective and we can see a lot of the outside perspective from Evemer. I really loved the duel perspectives in this case because you could see how things would begin to unfold within Kadou, but then in Evemer’s perspective we would see how those who are closest to Kadou would feel and see them go from not understanding the situation to doing whatever they can to help. It was really well done and the detail of these scenes was really set the tone so the reader could feel what these characters were experiencing.

However, these were the only redeemable qualities of this book I took notes on. And the more I sat on these notes and processed how this book left me feeling, there were so many problems. The issues from itty-bitty to big were stacked high and I couldn’t just overlook them. So I want to address them and hopefully prepare anyone who’s considering picking this book up.

The first thing I want to point out is something minor, but also a huge issue that had no place being used in this book. About 21% into this book, a racial slur is used that is very often used and offensive to Muslims. I really don’t care if the excuse is, “Oh, the MC was drunk, was trying to start a fight, and so they’re going to say these kind of things.” I really don’t care what excuse someone tries to use to justify this because it doesn’t take away the fact that this word is completely unnecessary and hurtful/harmful, but also the fact the author specifically chose this word despite there being plenty of other options instead. It was a lot cringe for me and it soured my reading mood pretty early on in the book.

“The knowledge that one wrong word spoken in fear to someone offering comfort could send shock waves through the whole, like ocean waves after an earthquake.”

My biggest issue with this book has to do with the writing and the duel perspectives. I’m really hoping in the final version of this book, these issues will be done a bit better or even more fleshed out. Usually, I don’t mind books that have two or more perspectives, but it bothers me immensely when the two perspectives blur together and it takes two to three pages before you realize you’re in a different perspective. Typically, perspectives are broken up into their own chapters, sometimes even labelled from who’s perspective you’re in. This is also done very often with books that flash between past and present. However, this is not the case in this book. One chapter holds both duel perspectives and are only broken up by dotted breaks. Sometimes it can take a couple of paragraphs to even a few pages before any distinction is made of who’s perspective you’re reading from. This at times ruined the reading experience for me because it was so hard to tell who’s point of view I was in. A lot of the time the perspective of Kadou and Evemer blended together because some of the time this blending of perspectives would happen in the same space and time as certain events were unfolding. It was really frustrating and it made it hard to enjoy the reading process.

Speaking of characters, this was another issue for me. If you noticed, I never mentioned anything I liked about our MC or the love interest. That’s due to not liking either of them, at all. I found no redeemable qualities for either of them. While I love the accurate portrayal of anxiety and panic attacks in Kadou, that doesn’t make up for everything else about him. Kadou was like watching a train wreck happen. With how much he boasts about all the education he received and how he was trained into being a weapon if necessary, we see those skills one time. Otherwise, we spend countless of moments of him scrambling, not thinking things through, and even causing scenes where he literally causes dangerous situations to unfold because he refuses to actually think and plan. Evemer, on the other hand, felt like a brick wall and it didn’t help that he spent 75%-80% of the book constantly trying to shut down his feelings, his emotions, kept his speech more on the professional side of things, and also spent probably 50%-60% of the book judging everyone except Zeliha. This made it really hard to connect with him or even feel any empathy towards. I did like he was a hard worker and dedicated to his job, but that’s all I really liked about him.

While I really don’t like ranting or complaining about books, since we’re already here, I might as well mention that the people behind everything is revealed pretty early on. Actually, they were revealed just slightly before the 50% mark and kind of killed the entire mystery that was behind the guild break-in. We also have an entire magic system that is never flushed out, we get glimpses of people who have special abilities, and that’s about it. We never see these abilities come into play in big scenes and if they do, the scenes are always very brief and we never really see the full extent of that kind of magic/abilities. Which the world building was even more hard to get behind because it often times felt like it was trying to do too much at once and felt confusing. With that being said, I think that played a huge part it why this book was such a slow read and why I skimmed sections because things felt very dragged out or even at times, an information dump zone.

“I don’t expect I’m going to stop wanting you.”

I also want to take a moment to address the romance in this book. I know a lot of readers say it’s a slow burn and yes, it’s a slow burn alright. The romance is so slow that nothing exciting or even romantical actually happens with Kadou and Evemer until the 70%-75% mark. Although, I wouldn’t even really classify this book as a slow burn romance or even a romance in general. You can’t take the last 30% of a book and call it a romance. For the majority of this book, there was no chemistry with either of these characters. And as I already mentioned with the characters, love and attraction was the furthest thing from both Evemer and Kadou’s minds until the 70-75 percentage way I just mentioned. It just wasn’t what I expected for a romance and for me personally, it was very lacking and at times the romance felt more lust driven than love driven.

Overall, as I mentioned in the beginning, so much happened yet nothing happened all at the same time. Honestly, I wish I could go back in time when I hit the 50% mark, convince myself to ‘dnf’ this book to save myself the trouble of reading this book like I was originally going to. This just wasn’t the book for me, but it really could have been everything and it just missed the mark horrendously. But hey, I read this book so you don’t have to! And if I’m being fully honest, I don’t recommend this book. I think there are other fantasy and romance books that are out there that have better established magic systems, have better slow burn romances than this one does, and don’t leave you with more questions than when you started.

Buddy Read with Destiny ♥

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories edited by Kate Ashwin

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley & Iron Circus Comics in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (April 5th, 2022)

My heart, my freaking heart is so damn full right now! There aren’t enough words to convey how happy I am to have an arc of this graphic novel anthology right now. I ended up missing out on requesting an arc for this anthology and had it wish-listed, and as fate would have it, while on vacation I was surprised with this sliding into my library. If you haven’t heard me talk about how emotional I get every time I get a book by a Native/Indigenous author/s then here it is right here. I’m so emotional, so so grateful, and very privileged to have this right now.

As an Apache reader, book blogger, this anthology means the world to me just as all literature I receive by Native/Indigenous authors. If you would have told a very young, child Malli that I would be able to see more Indigenous people in literature that isn’t from a stereotypical lens and actually by Indigenous authors, I probably would have laughed and then broke down into sobs. Growing up as an urban Native and as someone who has spent years reconnecting with one’s heritage; you end up missing a lot of things, you can’t always go to PowWow, your elders aren’t always available to teach you, you have to devote large portions of time to learning your dialect (in my case, Eastern and Western Apache), and so on. So receiving this anthology, seeing stories I recognize, having heard these stories from my elders or others of my own age, it just means everything to me. It is everything.

As always for my anthology reviews, I have mini reviews for all the short stories where I talk about my thoughts, feelings, and include content/trigger warnings.

As It Was Told To Me by Elijah Forbes (Odawa) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a story about creation and The Creator, and about life. This story had me super emotional because I couldn’t help thinking about a similar story I was told from my Auntie. It got me really emotional and soft thinking about her and when she told me about how creation was a sort of awakening, how Creator created other gods/deities, and the way everything came into being. Reading this story, I just felt instant connection and just reminded that even if the story is slightly different, all tribes are connected to each other because of a story like this one.

“They were the most sacred being, feminine and masculine. Not in parts, but both at the same time.”

Chokfi by Jordaan Arledge & Mekala Nava (Chickasaw) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This story is about how animals became vain because of their coats. Chokfi being a very proud rabbit, became curious after hearing about Otter’s coat being the most beautiful and his plot to make Otter’s coat his. I think the Trickster stories are always my favorite stories to hear from my elders because each story is different depending on the tribe. For example, a lot of Apache trickster stories revolve around coyote (which I feel in modern day is used, along with foxes, as trickster icons). Look, I’m not saying I’m biased, but this was one of my favorite stories from this anthology.

White Horse Plains by Rhael McGregor (Métis/Cree) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Brief mentions of starvation, brief scenes/mentions of violence, and brief scene of implied death

Honestly, this was the story that held my attention the most. This story revolves around the growing conflict between the Sioux & Assiniboine and the Cree. I find that so many stories in literature (in general) constantly revolve around the colonization and the wars that constantly broke out during that whole time period, but we never see the struggles and conflicts between different tribes very often. And for me, this story was the main reason this anthology caught my attention in the first place. I had only heard faint whispers about the White Horse Plains, but never had a chance to ask anyone about it or get the chance to research into the story itself to learn more. And this was both sad, tragic, but understandable and beautiful in some ways.

“It’s believed the spirit of the bride resides within him, helping steer those who are lost or misguided onto the right path so that they do not fall into a tragic fate.”

The Rougarou Maija Ambrose Plamondon & Milo Applejohn (Métis) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mentions of killing animals, mentions loss of loved one (in the past), grief

I think this one surprised me the most out of all these stories. The stories of the Rougarou are something that I’m very partial too and I guess in a way, I connected with this particular story on a very deep, emotional and personal level. This story is about a young child to encounters a Rougarou and befriends the Rougarou, and the story behind this child’s Rougarou friend. This story, though short, has beautiful themes and I cried reading this whole story. I think this is going to be my most loved and preferred story of the Rougarou thus far.

“You put yourself in potential danger because you could sense help was needed. Facing your fear is a great sign of bravery.”

Agonjin In The Water by Alice RL (Ojibwe) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

If there was ever a story to remind you of how sacred water is, let this one story be it. If you don’t know, water is very sacred to Native/Indigenous people especially the plains tribes because droughts can be intensely rough to get through. This story does a fantastic job of emphasizing the importance of water and also the importance of story telling. And the artwork really helped paint a vivid picture for the reader.

“I cherished these stories and would love to share them with others as I grew older. And as I grew older, the water, our source of life, began to change.”

The Woman In The Woods by Mercedes Acosta (Taino) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Honestly, my breath hitched reading this story. For starters, this was my first time reading any story from the Indigenous people of the Caribbean. However, everything about this story was just so beautiful and the artwork really added to the beauty of this story. I wanted a few more pages of this story because I was just fully enthralled by everything, but I’ll settle for the few in this anthology. It was just so good and so breath-taking.

“Be careful of what you accept from spirits. Accepting their gifts binds you to them. Though some of us were never meant to be with anyone else.”

Into The Darkness by Izzy Roberts & Aubrie Warner (Navajo) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

If there was one story I wasn’t expecting to encounter, it was this short story right here. And I should have known from the synopsis of the book, too! However, I ignored my gut feeling and thought, “No, it wouldn’t possibly be…” and then it was. I bamboozled myself! But in all honesty, just the fact that I know what this story is about and how vividly remember my aunties and uncle telling me about this… Shivers and chills, down my spine. If you know, you know, and if you don’t then count your blessings.

By The Light Of The Moon by Jeffrey Veregge & Alina Pete (S’Kallam) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Again, this seems like an obvious story I’d love, but any stories that revolve around the moon and I just immediately swoon. This story is about how the Moon fell in love with the Octopus Queen, and how some marine life became bioluminescence. I loved this story, from start to finish. I think starting the story from the perspective of two divers and concluding the way it did was chef’s kiss. This is definitely another favorite that now lives in my brain, rent free.

“Her movements were a ballet that spoke directly to the Moon’s soul.”


I gave The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories five stars overall, because out of the possible 40 stars (5 stars being possible for all 8 stories) this anthology accumulated 40 stars (100%)!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Wild is the Witch by Rachel Griffin

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley & Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (August 2nd, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, loss of a loved one, grief, mentions of cancer (in the past), trauma/PTSD. mentions of divorce, injured animals, death of an animal, depictions of blood, graphic injuries, panic/anxiety attacks, brief scenes of bigotry (towards witches)

Friends, I can’t believe I read this book in only one day! I’m truly shocked. Aside from graphic novels, I haven’t come across a book that captured my attention the way this book did. Even when I sat this book down to go do little mundane things or even to take a reading break, my thoughts were occupied with the content of this books. It must have been the owl or perhaps the loathe to love romance, or maybe it was an impending curse that was on the verge of unleashing chaos. Well, I guess you’ll just have to find out which one it is.

“There is magic in my blood, but this place has its own kind of magic.”

With the past constantly hanging over her head, Iris Gray just wants to start over with her mother, in a small town in Washington with their wildlife refuge, Foggy Mountain Wildlife Refuge. However, even starting over can have it’s challenges and it comes in the form of one person named Pike Alder. These two don’t see eye to eye and when one day the news talks about a person from Iris’s past, the commentary from Pike leaves Iris chilled to her core. With fear seeping into her bones every second, Iris decides to do an old ritual her grandmother used to do and give a curse to the earth. But fate has other plans when a northern spotted owl interferes with her ritual, Iris is thrown into an adventure unlike any other to prevent the curse from being unleashed.

“This doesn’t have to end in darkness, in a vote that will make all the magic of the universe flicker and dim, until it finally goes out. There are other endings, and I will find one.”

One of my all time favorite things is when a character is morally grey, they’re flawed, make mistakes, and we get to see the multitudes that character contains. The author does that with our main character, Iris. Iris was such a easy character for me to love because there were so many moments where I saw myself reflected in Iris. And the thing that stuck out to me the most was how protective Iris is of everyone and everything she cares about. That just did me in with my love for her. I’m a very protective person myself and seeing that reflected in Iris just solidified my draw to her as a main character. Pike, on the other hand, was a different story. I wish we saw more of Pike’s character or at least saw more layers to him. He almost felt flat to me due to lack of details and that’s excluding the major key moments with him. Outside of the major scenes between Iris and Pike, Pike just didn’t have enough details to him as I would have liked and he kind of came off as a jerk the majority of the time. What ultimately made me like Pike was the details that were poured into his love for birds. I have a big soft spot for bird lovers for sentimental reasons and throughout this book we see Pike’s devotion to birds and how much he truly values them. However, together the build of the chemistry between one another was something to savor and that’s all I’ll say on that.

Speaking of characters, there’s also a sapphic relationship in this story. Iris’s mother, Isobel is in a relationship with her long-time friend, Sarah. Sarah actually runs a local breakfast café in the same town. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I love a good story with a café and wildlife refuge with some small town vibes. Seeing Isobel and Sarah in little moments sprinkled throughout the book was a lovely touch, but I really wish we could have had more moments. However, I loved the chemistry between them and it the small moments we see them together, they just feel perfect for one another.

“I want to forget it. I want to forget because it was so heartbreakingly kind, because for a single second, it made me wonder what it might be like to be fully accepted. Fully known.”

I will say the magic and magic classes were fascinating to read about. I’ve read a lot of books that have witches in them and to me, this book feels very accurate to how I picture witches. In this book, there are three different classes of witches and there is a council of witches who maintain the balance with witches, and regular society. The first class of witches are the Solars. Solars are witches who work with plants and you can usually find them working jobs in agriculture or like Sarah who runs her own café. The second class are Lunars, who are witches that work with animals like our main character and her mother. And the final class are the Stellars. This particular class are highly powerful and considered dangerous as their powers center around people. Mostly, Stellars are all part of the witch council and we also have a side character, Cassandra who is not only an old family friend of Iris and Isobel, but also plays a role in key moments throughout this story. As I said, the magic system was fascinating and we learn how there’s a natural balance that’s bigger than people and witches themselves. Plus, the little pieces we get about how witches view owls just sent my heart flying to the moon.

“That’s the thing about magic: people want to see it and feel it almost as much as they want to dismiss it entirely.”

Speaking of owls, let’s talk about our little mischievous friend. One of my all time favorite elements any author can do in a book is have an animal side character who interferes with everything. As a lover of owls and as someone who has worked with them, I was in absolute heaven! This little owl was an absolute delight throughout this entire story and I love how the owl kind of throws our main character into a whirlwind of chaos, and just thrusts her into an unexpected adventure that forces Iris to work with Pike. Seeing the owl’s full plan and intentions come full circle at the end was truly everything and honestly, I think the owl was my favorite character of the book. Plus, the name the mc and Pike gave to him, MacGuffin! Ugh, my heart is just so full from this owl.

“I have to squint to see him, his shape nothing more than a shadow in the dusty twilight, but sitting in an old spruce tree is the northern spotted owl. Silent, still, and watching. Always watching.”

Also, before I forget to mention, the themes of grief that are laced throughout this book were chef’s kiss. Truly, it was fantastic. We not only see the side of grief from the loss of a loved one and how that can stay with us for years, but we also see the side of mourning the living and how we can harbor the grief from the painful things the living can do to us or have happened to us. I loved that we get to see both sides of grief and I also love how we see grief and trauma/PTSD laced in together with one another. I thought all of this was really well done and well written, and these themes are laced throughout this entire book. So anticipate seeing these themes frequently and how those themes impact Pike and Iris.

“That’s one of the worst casualties of being hurt by someone who was never supposed to hurt you: you start to question all the beautiful things that led up to the ugliness, start to wonder if some of the moments you thought were perfect were actually painted with a dirty brush.”

I know I’ve been kind of gushing about the things I loved, but I do want to talk about some of the things I wish were left out or just not in to begin with. One of those things being second-hand embarrassment which is a dead zone for me in books. Second-hand embarrassment truly is a mood killer for me when reading and can be really hard for me to recover from. There were two moments revolving around a condom and while I praise safe coitus, the way those two particular scenes were handled in a joking manner really had me cringing. Not only was the main character mortified and embarrassed both times, but that embarrassment overlapped into my own mortification and second-hand embarrassment while reading. Now this isn’t going to be the case for everyone. I’m a very serious person with majority of things. So I don’t really hold it against the author for including these two scenes, but I definitely wish they weren’t in or just left out from the beginning. Circling back to what I mentioned previously, Pike’s character was the other thing that bothered me the most. I really wanted more from his character and as I said, majority of the time his character came off as a jerk despite the few sweet moments and the major key scenes where we’re learning things about Pike. I think his character could have had more depth to him and he just felt closed off the majority of the time.

Overall, I’m still long-winded from this book and how much I adored it. There was so much to love in this book from the small town vibes to the magic, and of course you have the trope of loathe to love. There’s just so much this book did and it delivered it so well. I think this is going to be one of those books that makes a lot of top books of 2022 (spoiler, it made mine) and I think a lot of readers are going to be anticipating this book’s release. If you’re looking for a book that’s whimsical, magical, and has an adventure that’s sure to suck you in, then I recommend this book with my whole chest. Plus the cover is just stunning!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley & Astra Publishing House in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published after the release date (May 3rd, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of near death experience, talk of death, talk of murder, hate crimes, talk of racism, mentions of cancer (in the past), mention loss of loved ones (in the past), grief, trauma/PTSD, self-harm, alcoholism, underage drinking, mentions of biphobia/bi-erasure, transphobia, homophobia, misgendering, ableism, bullying, stalking, emotionally abusive parents, anxiety & panic attacks, mentions of car accident, scene of emesis, poisoning, scene of anaphylactic shock, scene of strangulation, gun violence

I have been sitting on this review for a few days now and trying to decide how to convey my disappointment with this book. I really, really wanted to love this book especially because this book has so much representation we often don’t see in literature. I was so ecstatic about the synopsis and my curiosity was running wild with what the pages of this book would contain. However, I’ve been left unsatisfied and wondering if I even read the same book as everyone else because this was a huge flop for me.

“I’m not afraid of death because the living are much scarier, even the ones who aren’t trying to kill you.”

Our story follows Sam Sylvester, a non-binary teen who just moved to the town of Astoria. This move is supposed to be a fresh new start for Sam to recover from a trauma and hopefully this school will not only be more understanding of Sam’s gender, but also help accommodate Sam due to them being autistic. But as Sam starts making friends with the kids of the club for all the queer folk at school, things begin to heat up. After finding out a local kid was murdered in their home, Sam and friends decide to investigate what really happened, but things start to take a serious turn as they get closer to the truth.

I think my most favorite thing about this whole entire book was the relationship between Sam and their father, Junius. The bond and connection between Junius and Sam was so special, so wholesome, and it was the highlight of the entire book. Every scene that we had with them made me so emotional and so mushy, so soft, and it was a wonderful experience. Plus, the dynamic between Sam and Junius is one we don’t often see in literature. Sam is Junius’s adopted child and when I tell you how emotional I got over the memory flashbacks for the two of them coming together, it had me dissolving into a puddle. It was really wonderful being able to see those memories and how the two came together. The other dynamic is the single father household dynamic. This is representation we don’t often see in literature and deserves to be recognized for what it is. Seeing a single father household and seeing such a close-knit relationship between the main character and their father was such a breath of fresh air, and I just had to point out how much I really loved this about Sam and Junius.

“This is why I will never understand how people think family is as common as blood. To me, family is breath, it’s trusting the person besides you to demand your right to air in a world that would take it away from you.”

Speaking of representation, this book has so, so much representation. As I already mentioned, our main character, Sam is non-binary (they use they/them pronouns), autistic, and ace. There’s also so many side characters who bring so much diversity to the table. Mister Quach is Vietnamese and the teacher of the Queer club, Shep is Latinx and bisexual, Sky is bisexual, and Junius (Sam’s father) is Black, asexual and aromatic! I also want to take a moment to point out Aiden comes from a home of poverty/financial struggle and there’s so many moments of conversations surrounding this. I wanted to point this out because in middle grade books we often see things from a child’s perspective or even see financial struggles in the young adult/adult perspective, but we never see things from a teenager in high school especially from a teenager who has a high social status in school. This really hit home for me for a lot of reasons and I really wanted to give this the attention it deserves. Plus, Aiden as whole is an underrated character and deserves a lot more love.

“You have nothing to prove. To anybody. You are who you are.”

Sadly, these are about the only two really redeeming qualities that I really loved and enjoyed throughout this entire book. Again, I really wanted to love this book because those two things were so strong (which is why this book got the rating it did), but my love for those two things is not enough to overlook all the issues with this book as a whole. And friends, there were a lot of issues with this book.

One of the major things that really impacted this book was the writing and narrative of the voice. I can’t begin to express how important it is to have the right tone especially when it comes to contemporary and mystery books. The way this book dialogue felt more like a middle grade book and the way it fell flat made it incredibly hard to find motivation to read this book. There were many times where I wanted to ‘dnf’ this book because it felt like I was trudging through quick sand. Plus, the pacing felt very choppy in the sense of it would feel slow and then fast, then go back to slow. It was just an around rough time. This ties in with the ending as well. The ending felt rushed and a lot of the things that came to light felt swept under the rug and the most typical consequences being used to deal with the actions of others.

“That’s just it – people get jealous, of the popular kids, of the ones who get attention because they’re nice. And kids are cruel. Even if they don’t mean to really hurt someone, well. Impact matters more than intent.”

The other major issue with this book was how predictable the killer was going to be. I love a good mystery book and I won’t lie, the mystery had me invested. I really wanted to know what the truth was going to turn out to be and I was invested in how everything was going to play out. However, by 17% into this book I already had three predictions of how this book was going to go and sure enough, I was right with two of those. Not only was the killer made really obvious, but the execution of leading up to the reveal was an entire mess. The very foundation for almost 50% of the book it’s hinted that the main reason was a hate crime and by the time we get to the 75% mark in the book, that whole foundation was scrapped for something else entirely. And what it was changed to was just a mess because the author had to rush to fill in gaps with all new information. It felt like a poor execution all around and it made the reading experience even worse.

I feel terrible for all this complaining and ranting, but this is only scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues. There’s a whole romance in this book between the main character and a side character that greatly lacked chemistry. Not to mention it felt like instant attraction between the two characters and things were really rushed between them. This is one of those times where I wish the author would have left the romantic subplot at home because this subplot literally caused this book to feel like it was trying to do too many things all at once. There’s also an entire conversation between Sam and a side character named Dylan about asexuality. When I say I had the most extreme second-hand embarrassment, I’m not kidding because I was cringing. I wish that conversation would have never happened, the scene felt entirely unnecessary, and I wish I could erase it from my mind. Not to mention the author wrote this side character to put all this pressure and blame/reason on Sam for why they were questioning things and feeling confused. It was one of the most awkward moments of this entire book (not that things weren’t already really awkward with this side character to begin with).

“They’re here with me because I found their stories, and this is the lesson I needed to learn from them.”

Overall, I was really excited and had high hopes for this book, but oof this book hurt my soul. And honestly, I should know better not to put my hopes too high when it comes to books I read due to this happening. This book fell short in so many categories and again, I wonder if I even read the same book as other readers because I’m definitely in the minority when it comes to my feelings with this book. If you’re looking for a book that has a cohesive story or a solid mystery plot, then I would recommend looking elsewhere. However, if you’re look for diverse representations like ace, non-binary, etc… then definitely give this book a chance.

Buddy Read with Destiny ♥

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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ARC Reviews

Birdsong by Katya Balen

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This post contains affiliate links; if you use these links to make a purchase, I may earn a commission. Thanks for reading!

ARC was given by NetGalley & Barrington Stokes in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (July 7th, 2022)

Content/Trigger Warnings: Car accident, trauma/PTSD, grief, death of an animal, brief mentions of blood

“There is music everywhere – if you know how to listen.”

Wow, what a powerful read. Wow, wow, wow! I always find that middle grade books have some of the strongest themes that kids need to read about and this is definitely one of those books. Filled with conversations of finding one’s passion again after a tragic accident, finding the strength to move on past tragedy, and so much more. Birdsong is one of those reads that can make anyone feel seen.

Annie Ford loves music and has a special talent with the flute. However, after tragedy strikes, Annie loses her ability to play her beloved flute. Now after moving and having her world turned upside down, Annie struggles with finding the motivation to allow herself to heal or even talk about the feels she’s suppressing inside. Until one day she meets a boy named Noah, who tends to a blackbird family in the bushes. Soon, Annie not only made a new friend, but slowly realizes that with the help of these feathery friends, she’s slowly beginning to heal.

I really enjoyed Annie as our main character! Annie is a main character who’s had her entire world turned upside down and I think there’s going to be so many children who will end up relating to Annie, and what’s she’s been through. For myself, Annie reminds me of a lot of some of the things that I experienced and felt as a kid. I feel like I say this all the time with middle grade books, but I truly wish I had had a book like this growing up because seeing characters like Annie can change your perspective especially when you’re a kid. And Annie is far from being a perfect main character. She’s angry and grieving, but healing and scared of if she has a future with her passion. She’s all of those things as she navigates so many changes.

There’s also a theme of healing and how healing is never linear, but also how you can begin your healing journey in the unlikeliest ways/places. And I really loved how the author used the blackbirds as the center of Annie’s healing journey. Of course, Noah and music helps, but the blackbirds really help Annie and her journey back to the the that brings her the most joy. Annie finds her way to healing and forgiving the person she’s the most angry at too. All of it flows so well together and it’s a steady process of ups and downs, but it’s such a good theme we need to see more often in books.

“I fill the space around me with music. I don’t play anything that I’ve learned. I just play. I play for me and I play for the bird who has lost so much.”

My only major issue with this book is that it feels so short. Actually, it feels shorter than most middle grade books. I think if the author would have added more to the story, like a few chapters, then I think it would add to what’s already established in the story. However, I feel like I say this with most books that are on the quicker side of reading.

Overall, this was a really wonderful and emotional read. I really enjoyed so many themes within in this book and just reading from Annie’s perspective was such a nice treat. Again, this is a short read and would be perfect for reading challenges or something to read if you’re looking for those fast reads (for all your traveling adventures too).

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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