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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The Adventure Zone: Petals to the Metal by Clint McElroy, Griffin McElroy, Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy, & Carey Pietsch

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Explosions, bombs, death, vehicle accidents

The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins ★★★★★

The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited! ★★★★★

“For every evil impulse drawn from a tempted heart, there is a heroic deed, spurred on by unimaginable bravery.”

We have finally, FINALLY returned to The Adventure Zone! I know, I know… it’s been a hot minutes since I picked up this series, but we’re back and I’ve been eagerly waiting to start this. And what a more perfect season to pick this series back up than the autumnal season?! Truly, I’m thriving and this graphic novel, comic added 10 years onto my life! So grab your snack, sit back, and let’s follow our chaotic trio on a new chaotic adventure!

We once again join our chaotic friends, Magnus, Taako, Merle, and of course the hilarious dungeon master on a whole new adventure. This time our friend are jumping in the race car seats and they prepare to reclaiming The Sash of Gaia! However, they soon find out this won’t be so easy obtaining the artifact, and they’ll have a few close calls along the way. With the help of Hurley, our adventures will do everything they can to save lives and maintain balance, but… sometimes there’s a price to be paid and not even love can stop fate.

This was an absolutely fantastic read! If you don’t know by now, I absolutely love these characters and love following them. So when we’re introduced to Sloane and Hurley, we learn of their story, and their relationship… Be still my beating heart! I loved them, I absolutely loved them. They’re by no means a perfect couple and even the start of their relationship was rocky, but somehow they just work together. Not to mention, the height difference was so glorious to see. We stan tall women with short cuties! We also see some growth and development with our main three characters. We also get some very character specific moments for Taako and Merle, and I was thriving seeing them have their own moments. I wish we could of had a moment for Magnus, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed we’ll see it in the next book.

“I don’t know if you can hear this anymore. But on the off chance you’re listening… on the off chance you’re still you… I wanted to give you fair warning. You’re going to lose tomorrow. And then… And then you’re gonna come home.”

There’s also a lot of hilarious moments, a lot of action packed moments, but most importantly, the freaking ending of this book wrecked me. I was sobbing and getting so emotional over how everything concludes. If there was ever a way to make me realize how attached to these characters, the ending really made me realize that. Even more so for Sloane and Hurley! We only have these two for this volume and everything that we get to learn about those two, it wasn’t enough. I wanted more and despite knowing we’d only have them for this volume, I still got emotional about their whole journey. This is what this series does so well though! It makes you get attached to these characters, no matter how brief or long term, and you just want to see them thrive, and succeed.

If I had to say anything negative about this volume, it’s that I have more questions than I do answers. Volume two of this series already gave us a whole lot of questions that we don’t get answers to and now we’re in the third volume, still without anymore clarity. The ending of this left me with so many more questions than answers and I really wish I had a bread crumb to go off of. Even the small scenes for foreshadowing doesn’t really lead me to a whole lot either. So I’m invested to get my answers, but also I wish we had gotten at least a bread crumb at the end or something.

“Is it for keepsies? Everything is for keepsies if you’re sneaky about it.”

Overall, I always have a blast reading this series and getting caught up on the shenanigans of this family. There were so many funny moments like Merle and the vines, and the introduction of Garyl, too! I need more of this, more of Garyl in general! It was just a fun time and I love a good story that can remind me how much I love and adore my all my nerdy goodness. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves DnD, loves RPG (role playing games), or just want a fast read for any readathons. I do recommend that you read these in order though because, in my opinion, the recaps don’t always give all the best details to give a good overall of what’s happened thus far. So read them in order and have fun while you do!

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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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House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) by Sarah J. Maas

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Drug use, alcoholism, blood depictions, graphic injuries, gore, grief, loss of a loved ones, loss of a parent (in the past), death, murder, scenes of emesis, PTSD/trauma, slut-shaming, death of a child (pg 255), talk of war, war crimes, bombings, talk of torture, talk of slavery, graphic execution, brief mentions of suicidal ideation & attempted suicide recounted, human experimentation, violence, sex scenes, swearing, abusive relationships, depictions of anxiety & panic attacks

“Through love, all is possible.”

Honestly, this is a long overdue review. This book is the literal reason why I didn’t read a single book for a whole month and it took me that whole month to realize I was in a reading slump because of it. Whew, it has been a wild ride with this book. And if I’m being honest, I don’t know what more I can add into the review pool on this book. Although some feelings have changed, shifted, and after all this time my thoughts still drift back to moments of this book.

When a brutal massacre claims the lives of people close to her, Bryce Quinlan spends two years trying to return her life to normalcy. Until… bodies begin showing up again and the Archangel of Crescent City is knocking on her work’s door. Forced to work with the Archangel’s personal assassin, The Umbra Mortis, they’re time is limited as the next summit is on the horizon and bodies begin piling up.

It’s rare when I say this, but I would ride or die for Bryce Quinlan. Out of all the characters, I was instantly locked into her perspective and I felt very connected to her character. A lot of the ways Bryce carries herself hit really close to home for me especially when it comes to the people she cares about, and yes, that includes the scar. I’m very much one in the same with a lot of it and Bryce is just going to forever hold a special place in my heart. Plus, I feel like no one talks about this, but Bryce is plus-sized and it just makes me love Bryce even more. On the other hand, we also get the perspective of Hunter and I just wasn’t as connected to him as I was with Bryce. However, his perspective was still captivating and even more so as we get towards the end of the book. It was a really interesting perspective to be in and I’m curious to see if we’ll continue with the duel perspective in the next book. And put these two characters together, the banter is delightful, the chemistry is so good, and I really enjoyed how the two of them together aren’t perfect, but somehow suit each other really well. They just click.

“You’re the person I don’t need to explain myself to – not when it matters. You see everything I am, and you don’t run away from it.”

Speaking of characters, Maas has this habit of writing so many side characters that you end up falling in love with and oh, I fell so hard for so many of them. I loved Bryce’s boss and I adored the demon cat (if ya know, ya know), but there is one character aside from Bryce that caused me to sob relentlessly and that was Lehabah, a fire sprite and coworker/friend to Bryce. Lehabah was such a spark during this whole book and even though we don’t see her that much, I absolutely loved her. She captivated my heart and I had to mention her. There are many, many characters to love in this book, both main and side characters, but Lehabah was a blessing and I adored her. I wish we got to see more of her.

“I am a descendant of Ranthia Drahl, Queen of Embers. She is with me now and I am not afraid. My friends are behind me, and I will protect them.”

And while I’m talking about side characters, let me tell you, there are so many villains in this book and every one of those characters who are displayed as a terrible person, are truly terrible! When I say I had my book in a choke hold every time one of these buttmunchers decided to be a little butt… my book almost got chucked across the room a few times. This is actual high praise because only a very small handful of books (3 to be exact) have actually caused me to throw them. This has now been added to that list. The end game had so many good scenes of these villains getting their butts served on a platter to them, which was delightful. However, I’m a little hopeful that we’ll see a little bit of redemption for potentially some of them, but if something tragic happens to them, well… I ain’t crying for them.

Storyline wise, it was interesting. Every time I read high fantasy or high sci-fi (basically heavily detailed books), it takes me a hot minute to get into it, but once I’m in it, I’m in it. And that’s how it was for this book. As I’ll mention below, the details of this book didn’t really impact me the way I saw it impacting a lot of readers. There were so many scenes that I felt like I was there, witnessing what was happening. I was pulled into the storyline really easily with this book and it hooked me. There’s also a lot of foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the storyline as well and it kept adding fuel to the flames that just kept me going, wanting to know more.

“That’s the point of it, Bryce. Of life. To live, to love, knowing that it might all vanish tomorrow. It makes everything that much more precious.”

Despite all the things I loved this book there were a few things that just didn’t work for me. My biggest issue was that three of the major “twists” in this book were easily predicted for me. While I did still enjoy the scenes, I feel like I would have loved them more if it didn’t feel obvious with the way the author was going in the storyline. This won’t be the issue for everyone, but for me, it was easily predicted. This also ties in with the ending and I feel like the ending of this book would have hit twice as hard if some of the things revealed didn’t feel obvious in the direction certain things were going to go. My other really issue I can’t really talk about without spoiling anything, but this character soured my taste from the beginning, knew they were horrendously suspicious, and it ties in with one of the big twists. This was so painfully obvious and I was just really irked by how obvious it all was.

With all of that being said, I do want to put in here a little section to emphasize that this reads and feels like a high fantasy book. There’s a lot, I mean A LOT, of details that go into the first chunk of this book to build of the world, give details about the different quarters and the hierarchy, and even give backstory of the war situation. It’s a lot friends, it’s a lot and you should know that considering this is an 800 page book. While this didn’t bother me personally, if you’re not a typical avid reader of high fantasy and sci-fi books then this book may feel like a challenge to trudge through. It may also put you in a reading slump if you’re not a big lover of heavy details. The author does this for all of her books, laced with great detail to make you feel like you’re in the world or at least like you’re vividly experiencing it. So just something to keep in mind if you’ve been feeling a little intimidated by this book.

Overall, I had a really fantastic time reading this book. If you can’t tell in the picture of this review, there’s so many tabs and I took so many notes. This book made me order more tabs because I ended up running out. I was so captivated and enthralled by the story, the characters, and the world that I couldn’t stop reading. I just got caught up in all the details and that’s the case with every book I read from this author. I truly am trash for Maas and I’m not ashamed of this. I don’t think this book will be for everyone, but I recommend this book to anyone who loves this author’s work and loves high fantasy.

Buddy Read with Destiny & Caro

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3 Mini Reviews | Below, Muscles & Monsters, Garlic and the Witch

Salutations friends! I haven’t done any mini reviews in a hot minute, but I’m finally doing one after ages! I think the last one I did was in the winter of 2021. I’m currently on a really strong reading kick and I’ve been cruising through so many great books. This may be due to November looming over my shoulder or it just may be from finding my spark again in books after a month slump. Either way, here are three mini reviews of three recent reads that I loved! ♥


🕯️ Below by Laurel Hightower

Content/Trigger Warnings: Depictions of anxiety & panic attacks, misogyny, talk of divorce, on page vehicle accident, death, talk of grief, talk of nyctophobia (fear of the dark), depictions of blood, graphic injuries, gore, violence scenes of emesis, scene of drowning

“Keep you head down and get out, remember? Doesn’t matter how, just take it and run.”

It has been a week and I’m still thinking about all the ways this book haunts my thoughts. When I heard someone say this has Mothman in it, you bet your sweet booty that I jumped on this train immediately. Plus, seeing my friend’s review for this book also had me running for it immediately. However, I want to state that Mothman isn’t the main focus of this novella. Mothman kind of takes very to the sidelines despite the fact that we have a few select moments with them. But despite knowing this, I was hyped and super excited to dive into this book as soon as my claws were wrapped around this book.

We follow Addy who is recently divorced and is currently traveling through the West Virginia mountains to meet up with her friends. However, her journey goes from okay to pure chaos as a bad snow storm rolls in and the truck driver she met at the diner get into a sudden vehicle accident. Now Addy must decide if she’s just going to spend her time in fear or attempt to help her new friend, even if it means battling her inner monsters, and potentially something more realistically frightening.

“Came outta of nowhere, didn’t it?”

I liked Addy and how imperfect she was. She was angry, anxious, fearful, but also trying to find herself again in the aftermath of this divorce. She’s also very distrusting of men because of all the poor treatment she has had to deal with, not only in life, but in her marriage as well. So we see Addy start off as very anxious, weary, and hurting, but that quickly changes because things in this book escalate rapidly and all you can do is hold on for the ride as we see Addy grow and change.

I’m not kidding when I say thing escalate rapidly. Things pick up pretty fast and I think you’ll find yourself pretty hooked. Even when I wanted to put this book down, I couldn’t because I constantly was wondering what was waiting to happen. However, I did have to stew on this book and my thoughts for a day. Reading this book in less than two hours and you would need to sit on your feelings too.

Overall, I had a really great time with this book and I recommend going in not knowing too much about it. I think a lot of the twists and turns will be better enjoyed that way. If I had to really give issue with this book, it was the lack of Mothman. I think I would have liked Mothman playing a bigger role in this book than was given, but despite that I still loved the author’s interpretation of Mothman. It’s a great atmospheric read and one that I recommend for the fall season!


🕯️ Muscles & Monsters (Leviathan Fitness, #1) by Ashley Bennett

Content/Trigger Warnings: Abusive/toxic relationship (in the past), depictions of anxiety, bullying (in the past), mentions of & scene of fatphobia, body shaming, scene of prejudice towards monsters

“A moment of discomfort is nothing compared to a lifetime of unhappiness. Knowing that it led me to you, I’d make that choice again and again”

Holy cow did I enjoy my time reading this book! I have thirty-seven notes on this book and I’m still thinking about how delightful this was. Wow, wow, WOW. My expectations were blown out of the water for this. I thought it was going to be straight up monster erotica, but there’s so much more to it than that and I enjoyed every second of it.

We get duel perspectives from Tegan, a plus-seized baker, who got tasked with making a wedding cake that’s supposed to be delivered for the mayor’s daughter’s wedding only her assistant called out and now Tegan is struggling until she drops the cake. Enter Atlas Oberon, the werewolf owner of the gym down the street, Leviathan Fitness. Atlas had been on his way into work when he stumbled across Tegan and offered to assist with the cake. Who would of thought a wedding cake would blossom into a romance between these two?

“Well I’m glad you chose what was best for you, Atlas Oberon. And I happen to like that stupid fucking tail of yours. Very much.”

There were so many great elements to this read that made these characters so likeable and almost real. I think Tegan is my favorite though. The way the author chose to write Tegan really made the biggest impression with me. Tegan is very body positive in being plus-size, but we also see moments where she has doubts and questions herself. This was handle so well and in a way that I felt was realistic. Being plus-sized myself, I have my moments of ups and downs and seeing that represented in Tegan in this book was really nice to see. Speaking of body positivity and different views of bodies, I thought the way Atlas was handled was a great way to show the opposite spectrum of how you can be healthy, have a well toned body, and still have insecurities about the way you look. I think if anyone were to make this a book club pick, this would be a great way to open the floor to bigger discussions on body positivity, body image and societal views, and learning to love oneself.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the sexy times. The sexy times were actually really great and I mean that in the sense of the before, during, and after. Tegan and Atlas have really strong communication with one another, they care for each other in their own ways, and do what they can to protect each other. And sexy times aren’t excluded from any of that. Tegan is human and Atlas takes such good care of Tegan in the aftermath even when they go to the gym, after their romp, he keeps the routine of the day light and calls it early for Tegan. It was all really sweet and the open communication is fantastic. Plus, there’s a scene that involves icing and I think readers are going to have a blast with it.

Overall, this was a fun time and I read it a lot faster than I thought I would. I wasn’t expecting to get through it as fast as I did and I wasn’t it expecting to have so many different elements stirred in. If you’re a lover of monsters, you definitely want to add this to you list. Plus, the second book recently came out and I’m really excited to continue on with this series!


🕯️Garlic and the Witch by Bree Paulsen

🍄 Garlic and the Vampire ★★★★★

Content/Trigger Warnings: Depictions of anxiety, brief mentions loss of a loved one

I had no idea I was this excited about this sequel until I was ordering it. I fell madly in love with the first book because of the characters, the story, the layers, and just everything, truly. So waiting for this to release felt like trying to run through syrup. And honestly, now that I’ve read the sequel I’m kind of sad that this has come to a close. I don’t think this author has plans for anymore books in this world and just having the chance to read Garlic’s story in this duology feels like such a blessing altogether. All I know is that Bree Paulsen has become a favorite author of mine and I need to keep my eyes peeled for more of their work!

Our story takes place with a step back in time. We get to see how everything began and see how Garlic and the other veggie-people came to be in this world. This is a little treat for us as the reader, as we never get to see this bit in the first book. However, we quickly resume where the first book left off, only this time there are some changes, some unexplainable changes and Garlic seeks the truth of what’s happening to her, to everyone. Witch Agnes has no choice but to reveal her secret, they’re becoming humans!

As with the first book, Garlic is embarking on another adventure, two if you count them becoming human. Garlic must travel to the Magic Market with Count to retrieve some goodies for Witch Agnes and along the way she’ll learn to cope with her anxiety, to have faith in herself and the people who surround her, and trust that everything will turn out okay even if it all seems a little scary. We also find out a little more details about Count throughout this whole story too. Truly, Count just deserves all the love and is such a precious character.

Overall, this was one of the easiest reads I’ve rated all year. I absolutely loved the first book and so it was impossible for me not to fall in love with the second book. How could I not fall in love with these characters, this world, the representation we see?! It was all lovely and I truly mean it when I say I’m truly going to miss these characters and this world if there aren’t any books in this series. I’m not sure what those books would look like considering how this book (and the fact of how hard I sobbed), but if there are more books, then I can’t wait to see the adventures of these characters continue on. If you haven’t checked out the first book or perhaps you’re debating whether or not to get the second book, let this be the sign you need to go pick them up. I promise, you won’t regret it!


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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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How to be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery, Illustrated by Rebecca Green

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Toxic relationships, death/loss of animals, death/loss of parents, brief mentions of cancer, grief, depression, mentions and talk of suicidal ideation, spider chapter (pg 62 – pg 79)

“I am still learning how to be a good creature. Though I try earnestly, I often fail. But I am having a great life trying…”

It has been a hot minute since I’ve read a nonfiction book, let alone a book about animals. In fact, I’m pretty sure the last nonfiction book I read about animals was back at the end of 2020 with my review of When Dogs Heal. Which is a book I highly recommend, but I digress. This book was such a lovely breath of fresh air and a great reminder of all the life lessons I’ve learned from animals over the years. And I’m happy to say I’ll be looking into more books by this author.

How to be a Good Creature is a memoir that follows our author, Sy Montgomery, as they navigate the ups and downs through life. Along the way she learns important life lessons from the animals who come into her life. From dogs to emus, all the way to a loving octopus, we get to see and learn about the incredible animals who’ve imparted their wisdom upon Sy.

“Knowing someone who belongs to another species can enlarge your soul in surprising ways.”

Don’t let this cover fool you, this book was such an emotional read for me. Despite all the work I’ve done with animals and continue to do, this book hit me hard in my feelings. I took plenty of breaks reading this book because I was constantly reflecting on the animals that have come out of my life and the lessons they left me with, and how much I miss them. And I definitely recommend giving your pets some cuddles before, during, and after reading this book!

If I had to choose some of my favorite chapters of this book, they’d be the following:

Chapter 2: Bald Throat, Black Head, and Knackered Leg
Chapter 5: The Christmas Weasel
Chapter 9: Octavia
Chapter 10: Thurber

“Being friends with an octopus-whatever that friendship meant to her-has shown me that our world, and the worlds around and within it, is aflame with shades of brilliance we cannot fathom”

Even though this book is a memoir, I think there’s a lot of beauty to be seen through this book and a great way for animal lovers to experience the magic of various animals they wouldn’t. I think the most precious things in life is being able to experience something through someone else’s eyes, to feel that wonder and magic, and then feel inspired to find that magic for our selves. Whether that magic be found with our own animals, rescuing animals or educating others about animals, an so much more. I think it’s books like this that can make the world fall in love with the other creatures we share this life with. And while it’s not always easy, there is love, beauty, and wisdom to uncover in it.

“Teachers are all around to help you: with four legs or two or eight or even none; some with internal skeletons, some without. All you have to do is recognize them as teachers and be ready to hear their truths.”

Overall, I’m sure this review seemed vague, but trust me when I say that this book is beautifully written and holds many lessons that I think it’s better to go into this book not knowing too much. I do recommend checking out my content warnings though because there are some heavy topic throughout this book that could potentially be hard on someone’s spoons, but otherwise it was a fantastic read. As I mentioned, this has me excited to read more books by this author and bring back more animal books back into my life!

Buddy Read with Destiny ♥

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Gallant by V. E. Schwab

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Graphic animal deaths, grief, death, murder, scene of committed suicide, strangulation, depictions of blood, loss of loved ones (past & present), child abandonment, bullying, ableism & ableist language, mutism, child abuse & neglect, night terrors

“The Priors didn’t build this house. Gallant was already here. It called out to our family, and like fools, we came.”

Friends, I have been sitting here asking myself why I haven’t picked up anything by V.E. Schwab until now. Why did no one recommend her books to me sooner? Like, I really freaking loved this book. Every time I set it down, I was thinking about this book, itching to pick it back up. Even while I was reading two other books, this book still danced in my thoughts. Needless to say, Schwab’s books have been bumped up on my radar for books to read.

Olivia Prior has spent her whole life in an all girls school, where cruelty is abundance. With only the vaguest of clues to her past and the parents who left her behind in the pages on a journal, written by her mother. Until one day, a letter arrives from distant, unknown family, summoning Olivia to Gallant. But upon arriving, Olivia is only met with confusions and secrets. Refusing to leave, Olivia is determined to unravel the secrets that everyone, even her mother’s, is trying to shield her from.

As someone who’s new to Schwab’s writing and world building, I felt entire emersed in the world of Gallant. It was so easy for me to get sucked in with the ghouls and the way little things would slowly unravel. I absolutely adore world that can catch my attention with the tiniest, little things. I always say the beauty is in the little details and that’s what we’re given with this book. They’re the subtle details that you can only feel and truly see when you almost feel like you’re the main character. As if you’re experiencing things for yourself. And I think the mixed media was a nice touch to really paint the picture of what our mc was reading, seeing, and just added the icing to the cake, if you will.

“Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me.
I would write the words a thousand times if they’d be strong enough to hold you here.”

Speaking of our main character, holy French toast yes please! Can we have more main characters who are mute, who use sign language?! Characters that are quiet on the outside, but filled with noise, bottled up feelings waiting to escape in it’s own way?! I really loved Olivia and everything that made Olivia who she is. I think her determination really made me fall in love with her because her desire to seek out answers were so strong. And I really loved that about her. She’s just one of those characters that has a fire lit inside of them that burns so brightly, it’s hard to ignore and that’s what she was for me. She was a character who stood out in so many ways. I also want to say we have a side character who’s implied to be dyslexic and I really appreciated that representation being added into this book.

The themes scattered throughout this book were fantastic. There were so many themes about love and freedom, and homes. The discussion about homes and finding a place where you belong. There’s this constant theme of how homes can take on many forms. It can feel like a gilded cage or home can be a person. How sometimes even in a home, we can feel like an unwanted stranger and never really know peace or safety. The constant themes of freedom and homes constantly made me think of (and I don’t say this very often) Genie and Aladdin when they talk about freedom. “Freedom. But, oh, to be free! To be my own master. Such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world.” This is a constant feeling I got from Olivia, from all the Priors really, in various different ways. I think of all the things I loved about this book, the themes throughout really hit my soul the most and are the real reason I loved this book as much as I did. As readers, we don’t often look for themes, but when we do, they can hit all the softest parts of our being.

“Free – a small word for such a magnificent thing. I don’t know what it feels like, but I want to find out.”

Honestly, I don’t have the words to describe all the things this book made me feel, how it touched parts of my soul in ways I don’t want to be vulnerable about. I think this was just a masterfully written book, with very beautiful writing and I think those who are looking for themes or some sort of connection with this book, you’ll find it. I know I found it when I least expected it.

If I had to sit down and say anything negative about this book, I think it would be two things. One, that this doesn’t fully feel like a young adult book. I think there will be readers who feel this fits in the middle grade category more. For me, I think they can be both because both can be true at the same time. The other thing I think will cause may readers to dislike the book will be the constant conversations and themes around death. Death is a theme and topic, let’s just be honest, people in general get skittish or hesitant to read or talk about. It tends to remind us of our own mortality especially when a book feels set in our own world or scenes are laced with very real situations/consequences, etc… I think the theme of death will be something that may cause readers to take a step back with or even feel uncertain about especially because there’s been so many different portrayals of Death throughout literature, media, etc… For me, these things weren’t an issue, but I think they may be issues for other readers.

“But the truth is, death is everywhere. Death comes for the roses and the apples, it comes for the mice and the birds. It comes for us all. Why should death stop us from living?”

Overall, what more can I say about this book except that I loved it. This was such an atmospheric read that hooked me right from the start. Honestly, one of the hardest books to set down for sleep and regular necessary things because I was so hooked on the story, in love with the writing. I think this may be a hit or miss for readers especially if you’ve been a long time fan of Schwab’s work. But I absolutely fell in love with this book and I’ll definitely be picking up more books by Schwab in the future!

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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

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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