Mini Review – A Dance of Lies

Hello, everyone! Today I’m bringing you my review of A Dance of Lies by Rebecca Crunden. I was excited to go back into this world and am even more excited to share my thoughts about this book. Although, I’m a little sad that there is only one more book left in the series!

A year into the Outlands and life has only become more dangerous and complex for Kitty and her friends. Not only are the Outcasts hunting them, but Charles and Ciara are adamant about returning to the Kingdom to help, forcing everyone to take a side. To make matters worse, the leader of the Outcasts, Quen, has an unrelenting fascination with Thom and Nate that soon reaches horrific heights.

As tensions mount and the group begins to splinter, Riddle comes to Kitty with an unexpected request. A secret. One that makes them inseparable.

Kitty soon finds herself spending more and more time away from Nate and Thom, learning to fight and increasingly drawn into the ways of the Radiants. But Kitty and Riddle’s new bond doesn’t come without complications, and a decision made by the two of them threatens more than Kitty’s relationship with Nate …

Well. Rebecca Crunden did it again against all the odds this time. At the end of book three, I assumed there would be love triangle mess in this book, and I was worried I wouldn’t like it because that is one of my least favorite tropes. I was right…there were so many triangles in this book I lost count, and it also had the dreaded miscommunication/lack of communication trope, as indicated by the title. There were lots of lies and omissions between the characters, which caused tons of drama. However, I was wrong about not liking it! The author did an exceptional job of writing the character dynamics, which was important since this was a much more stationary, character-driven book than the first three. I loved getting to see how much Kitty has grown into a fierce, independent woman, and I found her internal struggles over what that means for her and her relationship with Nate to be interesting and compelling. I also really liked the way the author handled the philosophical argument over whether one should always stay in the fight for a better future, especially if it means harm to you or those you love, or just live life and stay out of the struggle, if possible. I appreciated the care with which this author handled the mental health issues of the characters. Too often, fantasy and dystopian stories avoid the negative mental health effects of all the protagonist’s trauma, but not this story. It provided a vivid picture of living with the realities of PTSD and anxiety. I’m convinced now more than ever that Nate and Thom’s relationship is horribly unhealthy and developed the way it did as a coping mechanism to crippling anxiety, which isn’t surprising given the environment in which they grew up. The world-building was once again as exquitisite as ever. I loved getting a larger glimpse of the world and society of the Radiants. Despite being largely character-driven, the book also featured some great action scenes that had me on the edge of my seat. The ending was a bit shocking, although I’m not quite sure how things progressed to that point. It felt somewhat contrived, but I’m hopeful it will all come together in the last book since I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve read by this author so far. Therefore, I rate the book 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – Jade War

Hello, everyone! I hope the weekend is going well for you all. Today I’m reviewing Jade War by Fonda Lee. I was very excited to read this book after loving the first one in this series. This has easily become one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, and it is so hard to wrap up all my thoughts and feelings concisely into one review. But I’m going to give it my best shot…

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ARC Review – The Bone Shard Emperor

Andrea Stewart returns with The Bone Shard Emperor, the second installment of this unmissable, action-packed, magic-laced fantasy epic.

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.  
 
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.  
 
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.  
 
But can she trust them?

***Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit Books for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

***There are likely to be spoilers about the first book, The Bone Shard Daughter, in this review. If you haven’t read that book yet, read on at your own peril!***

I loved the first book in this series so much, and I was excited to get to read this sequel a little early thanks to getting an eARC from NetGalley. The Bone Shard Emperor was a worthy successor to The Bone Shard Daughter and continued the story into interesting new places while showcasing the same heart and superb writing that made me fall in love with the first book. There’s just something about the way Andrea Stewart writes that kept me hanging on every word. The mysteries from the first story were only deepened here as a result of the shocking reveals that set the scene for what will likely be an explosive final installment.

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ARC Mini Review – A Marvellous Light

Hello, everyone! Today I’m bringing an extra mini review for a book I’ve been waiting to read for what seems like forever. I requested A Marvellous Light months ago on NetGalley and had given up hope of being approved. I was eagerly awaiting getting my hands on it since today was the publication day. Then, last week, I got an email saying I was approved for the eARC. So, of course, I had to drop everything else and read it, and I’m glad I did. Without further ado, here are my thoughts!

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Book Review – The Bone Shard Daughter

Author: Andrea Stewart

Publication Date: September 8, 2020

Print Length: 496 pages

Read Date(s): September 28, 2021 – September 30, 2021

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Goodreads Synopsis

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

My Review

This book completely blew away all of my expectations. It has received a great deal of buzz, and I honestly went into it thinking it probably wouldn’t live up to all the hype surrounding it. However, I’m happy to report that the book deserves all of the praise it has received and much, much more. The writing was exquisite and almost instantly sucked me into its world. Then the pacing and slowly unraveling mysteries kept me hooked until the very end. This author also did a fantastic job of weaving together multiple POVs in a way that was satisfying and came together into one full, cohesive story while also giving each character distinct, interesting trajectories of growth.

The world-building was incredible, and the world itself was very unique. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. The floating islands of the empire were a fascinating setting with a captivating culture and rich history that I constantly wanted to learn more about. The author expertly built up the reader’s knowledge alongside the characters as the narrative moved forward, which made for a truly immersive reading experience. Sometimes that can feel jarring, but this book pulled it off and left me wanting to learn so much more about the world and its history. Luckily, there are two more books on the way!

The magic system in this book was also unlike anything else I’ve read. It was equal parts fascinating due to the logic puzzles involved and creepy because of how it worked. Using bone shards from people’s skulls to power constructs made up of different animal parts is not something I ever thought would show up in a magic system, but I loved it. The imagery of the people giving up a part of their own head to power the bureaucracy keeping them oppressed was quite striking, and the constructs, and how their instructions worked, reminded me a little of Asimov’s robots and his laws of robotics. There also seems to be other forms of magic in this world that weren’t explored as in depth yet, and I’m hoping to get more of them in future installments. All of it was just stunning to read, and I cannot wait to learn more in the next book.

The characters were all complex and intriguing to read. They also acted as compelling avatars for exploring the book’s themes of identity and revolution. Lin’s struggle to discover who she was in the face of her missing memories was interesting and allowed the reader to follow her discoveries from beginning to end while seeing her create a new sense of self with the information she learned. Phalue and Ranami had a beautiful story arc that highlighted the rich vs. poor dilemma in this kingdom vividly while also showing the impact love can have even when people are from two vastly different backgrounds. Their story also illustrated the myth of meritocracy in an easy to understand way, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it explained better. Jovis was probably my favorite character. I enjoyed seeing him go from a roguish smuggler who cared mostly about himself and his grief to someone classified as a hero. The psychological aspect of the transformation was fun to read. I also loved his dynamic with Mephi and consider their relationship to be the true heart of this book. The side characters are also all fabulous and round out the cast brilliantly.

So much of this story explored the moral conundrum of doing what is best for me and those I care about versus doing what is best for the greater good. All of the main characters struggled with this dilemma in some form. I appreciated that the answers were not all back and white; most of the characters and their decisions were morally complex.

Overall, I loved this book and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I don’t know what else to say. So, I’m just gonna give it 5 out of 5 stars and go read the next book.

Have you read The Bone Shard Daughter? What did you think?

ARC Mini Review – The Magi Menagerie

Author: Kale Lawrence

Publication Date: September 7, 2021

Print Length: 404 pages

Read Date(s): October 11, 2021 – October 14, 2021

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Synopsis

After the sudden death of his mother and the disappearance of his father, seventeen-year-old immigrant Ezra Newport is assigned to live at Belfast Preparatory School until graduation. The year is 1906, and a growing unrest in the world slowly begins to creep its way into Ireland. Unexpectedly, Ezra stumbles upon a secret society known as the Third Order of the Magi, a group sworn to protect citizens through magical powers granted by their ancestral predecessors. He soon discovers the happenings of his life were never accidental but instead, guiding him toward an existence he never dreamed possible.

My Mini Review

***Thanks to NetGalley and EnchantFire for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I loved this book so much. The pace was intense throughout and kept me on the edge of my seat from the very first chapter. I liked the way the author used multiple POV, and each of the characters was complex and provided something unique to the story. The writing was engaging, and I particularly liked the dialogue in this book as it made the characters feel real and exuded each of their individual personalities. The magic system and the secret societies that wielded it were interesting, and I enjoyed learning about them in the book. I’m a sucker for political intrigue and conspiracies, and there was plenty of each in this story. However, I found some of the explanations of the magic system to be a bit unwieldy and would have liked a bit more clarity about it, which will hopefully come in subsequent books. One of my favorite things about this book was the integration of bits of ancient history into the story, along with the turn of the century setting in Ireland. The book is heavy on tropes, including found family, absent/dead parents, forbidden lovers, and chosen one/prophecy, but it did manage to surprise me with a couple twists despite being largely linear in other ways. In regards to the characters, I enjoyed the portrayal of Jonas and his struggle with following authority vs. doing what he believed to be right, especially given his history with his father. Ezra was also an interesting character due to his determination to seemingly avoid his destiny, and Diego was just an absolute delight to read. Overall, I enjoyed the adventure and had a lot of fun reading this book. Therefore, I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review – More Happy Than Not, Deluxe Edition

Author: Adam Silvera

Publication Date: September 8, 2020 (Deluxe Edition); June 2, 2015 (Original Edition)

Print Length: 352 pages

Read Date(s): September 17, 2021 – September 18, 2021

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Goodreads Synopsis

A special Deluxe Edition of Adam Silvera’s groundbreaking debut featuring an introduction by Angie Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of The Hate U Give, a new final chapter, and an afterword about where it all began.

In his twisty, heartbreaking, profoundly moving New York Times bestselling-debut, Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months following his father’s suicide, sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto can’t seem to find happiness again, despite the support of his girlfriend, Genevieve, and his overworked mom. Grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist won’t let him forget the pain. But when Aaron meets Thomas, a new kid in the neighborhood, something starts to shift inside him. Aaron can’t deny his unexpected feelings for Thomas despite the tensions their friendship has created with Genevieve and his tight-knit crew. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound happiness, he considers taking drastic actions. The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-altering procedure will straighten him out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

My Review

This is one of few books I have read almost completely in one sitting. It was that captivating. It left me an emotional mess feeling heartbroken, which lasted for days after finishing the book. The reading experience felt as if my heart was ripped from my chest, stomped on, lit on fire, and then put back with the expectation it would function the same as before. Needless to say, tears were shed multiple times, and the book left me in a very contemplative state by the time I had finished it.

It started out innocuous enough following Aaron Soto as he navigated his day to day life in the Bronx after losing his father to suicide. It was definitely already sad because of that but not devastatingly so. The story followed Aaron as his summer began and he met a new friend. Their blossoming relationship led to him beginning to have feelings for said friend, which upends his relationships with his girlfriend and his group of friends. He decided that using a new procedure to remove memories of that part of him would solve his problems and allow him to live a ‘normal’ straight life. Then the twist happened and my heart absolutely shattered. The rest of the book just twisted the knife over and over again, and the original ending left me speechless. The supplemental ending was a nice touch that provided an update on the main characters and left things on a slightly happier note.

The characters and environment were both brilliantly executed. It felt like I was dropped on the streets of the Bronx, and all of the main characters behaved like I would imagine real teens would act in a similar situation. Many of the characters exhibited the identity confusion so common in this age range, and I particularly enjoyed reading about how Thomas approached this iconic conflict of adolescence. The somewhat sci fi element of the memory-altering procedure was also interesting and added an intriguing mechanism by which to explore some deep themes. However, the author was able to use it skillfully without needing to include drawn out technical explanations, which I appreciated as I think it would have just distracted from the overall narrative.

So many interesting themes and ideas were explored in this book, it will be impossible to go over them all here. Ultimately, it was a book about learning to accept oneself despite the opinions of others and the necessity of finding happiness within the bad things that may happen in life. One of the key takeaways of this book was the message that bad things will inevitably happen to every single person but how we respond to them is the determining factor in our happiness. It also illustrated that attempting to erase, change, or bury who we are or the bad things that happen to us does nothing to help us move forward but instead keeps us trapped in the past. Furthermore, this story pointed out the healing power of acceptance, friendship, and love while also demonstrating the devastating psychological impacts of toxic masculinity, homophobia, and poverty.

This is how I’m going to win – not from running away from the memories, but from confronting them dead-on…it’s okay to hurt…I’m excited to find the sun in the darkness in these stories, and if I can’t I will work to create my own light.

I’m more happy than not.

Remember that.

More Happy Than Not, pgs. 321-322

More Happy Than Not was a book that broke my heart but also gave me a great deal of hope. If the main character could not only survive his ordeals but find happiness within them, there is no reason I, or anyone else, cannot do the same. I recommend it for everyone as it teaches an important lesson, but I think anyone who has trouble reading about death, suicide, or extreme homophobia should approach this book with caution. The impact of this book on me is hard to put into words, but I can’t think of another book that made me feel so much in such a short period of time. It was a book I will never be able to forget, and I foresee reading it again multiple times in the future. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Mini Review – A Promise of Return

Author: Rebecca Crunden

Print Length: 252 pages

Publication Date: November 3, 2017

Read Date(s): October 8, 2021 – October 10, 2021

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Goodreads Synopsis:

When Thom Anteros is arrested after breaking into the Building of Historical Records, he demands to be taken before the King. A laughable demand for anyone else, Thom’s request is granted and the King spares his life. Yet what’s to become of him is left in the hands of the one person Thom truly fears – Mickey Taenia, the King’s Hangman.

Infuriated by Thom’s refusal to reveal the whereabouts of Nate and Catherine, the Hangman sends Thom to one of the worst places in the Kingdom – the slave markets of Muntenia. It is there that Thom is bought for the Red Arena: a barbaric, gladiator-type competition where the children of convicts and other unlucky souls are forced to fight to the death.

Twenty wins is release. One loss is death.

With the help of Charles Thoreau, a fellow captive, Thom begins not only to survive, but to thrive. A master of words becomes a master of death, and Thom’s prowess in the arena frightens even him.

But death isn’t the only thing haunting Thom. As the days go by, he dreams of his brother, and the promise he cannot forget.

I will return.

My Mini Review

I don’t think it is a secret at this point that I love this series. The previous two books both received five stars from me, and I was greatly anticipating reading this one after the cliffhanger of the second book. Unsurprisingly, this book exceeded all of my expectations. The writing was as engaging as ever, and the pacing kept me glued to the pages waiting to see what happened next. I’ve also really enjoyed getting to see the story through the eyes of the different characters. It has kept things fresh in a way that I didn’t expect. At first, I was a little worried that this book goes back all the way to the beginning to tell Thom’s story, but I ended up loving it so much. His journey illustrated the immense growth of a citizen content with the status quo, who primarily used his looks and manipulation to get his way, transforming into a tough fighter who wanted to burn the whole system down. The events that catalyzed this growth were brutal, and I’m convinced this author enjoys torturing her characters. Thom’s story also allowed for the exploration of some pretty heavy topics/themes, including slavery, sex work, and morality. I especially enjoyed the philosophical aspects of the shifts in Thom’s moral reasoning from conventional to post-conventional. The romance in this book was also well done, and I loved Thom’s new partner. Their relationship seems like it will continue to provide an interesting backdrop to the debate between doing what is best for you vs. what is best for society. Additionally, this story provided a little more information about the mutant civilizations and proposed some interesting ideas about how to structure society to avoid tyranny. The ending left off with unsettled arguments between the characters that will decide the fate of the group, as well as seriously impact all of society. I’m excited to see how it all plays out over the last two books. If you like dystopian stories with great characters, LGBT rep, and cringeworthy torture scenes, you will love this series. I rate this book an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars.

Mini Review – Iron Widow

Author: Xiran Jay Zhao

Publication Date: September 21, 2021

Print Length: 400 pages

Read Date(s): October 1, 2021 – October 5, 2021

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads Synopsis

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

My Mini Review

First of all, I just have to comment about how utterly stunning the cover of this book looks. The picture does not do it justice, and I am thrilled to have a copy on my bookshelf. I was highly anticipating this release, and I moved it to the top of my TBR list as soon as I purchased it. For the most part, I loved it. It took on the injustices of sexism and classism while weaving a compelling tale of a woman who discovered and harnessed her own power, shattering every barrier in the process. The writing didn’t really grip me from the beginning, though, and felt a bit choppy, but I enjoyed it more after I got used to it. The world-building was interesting; although, I felt it took a bit of a back seat to the messaging, which did begin to feel a bit preachy and repetitive during the middle part of the book. The battle scenes were engrossing, and the last 100 pages of the book kept me so engaged I had to read them in one sitting. The characters were all interesting and had very diverse backgrounds, which created gripping character dynamics. I particularly loved the way the power throuple came together because of the way it turned the love triangle trope into something different. I just wished more of the book was devoted to their relationship and the three of them working together because it was one of my favorite things about the book. Even though I liked her and enjoyed seeing her rage out, kick ass, and come into her own power, Zetian’s character felt a bit flat to me. She was motivated primarily by rage throughout the story even though the circumstances changed somewhat, and I felt like she didn’t really learn anything over the course of the story. Her rage just became a little more warped with a larger focus, which kind of turned her into a power hungry monster towards the end. I’m curious to see if she bounces back from the anger and rage or becomes a new version of the very thing she has raged against all this time, a tyrant imposing her will. The epilogue blew my mind and set up some interesting details for the next installment, which I will definitely be picking up when it comes out. Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot despite the few things I didn’t like. Therefore, I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Have you read Iron Widow? If so, what did you think?