ARC Review – Deadbeat Druid

Hello, everyone! I just finished reading Deadbeat Druid by David R. Slayton earlier this afternoon. So, this review is coming hot off the presses. 🙂 I’m so glad I made the time to read this series this year. It was definitely worth prioritizing.

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ARC Review – Heart of the Sun Warrior

Hello, everyone! It has been a couple weeks since I’ve gotten a review posted. I seem to be finding my groove again, though, and have staved off a long-term slump (hopefully). Today I’m reviewing a book I’ve been waiting to read for almost a year, Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan. I enjoyed the first book of this duology quite a bit, and you can find my thoughts on it here. So, I was excited to return back to this world to see what Xingyin gets up to next.

After her perilous quest to free her mother, Xingyin thrives once more in the tranquility of her home. But her fragile peace is threatened by the discovery of a strange magic on the moon and the unsettling changes in the Celestial Kingdom as the emperor tightens his grip on power. While Xingyin is determined to keep clear of the rising danger, the discovery of a shocking truth spurs her into a treacherous confrontation.

Forced to flee her home once more, Xingyin and her companions venture to unexplored lands of the Immortal Realm, encountering legendary creatures and shrewd monarchs, beloved friends and bitter adversaries. With alliances shifting quicker than the tides, Xingyin has to overcome past grudges and enmities to forge a new path forward, seeking aid where she never imagined she would. As an unspeakable terror sweeps across the realm, Xingyin must uncover the truth of her heart and claw her way through devastation–to rise against this evil before it destroys everything she holds dear, and the worlds she has grown to love… even if doing so demands the greatest price of all.

The stunning sequel to Daughter of the Moon Goddess delves deeper into beloved Chinese mythology, concluding the epic story of Xingyin–the daughter of Chang’e and the mortal archer, Houyi–as she battles a grave new threat to the realm, in this powerful tale of love, sacrifice, and hope.

***Thank you to Harper Voyager for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

NOTE: There are some spoilers in this review! Turn back now if you haven’t read the book yet… unless you don’t care about stuff being spoiled.

I was very excited to finally get to this sequel, and I’m happy to say that the things I loved about the first book were present in this one too. The writing was exquisite. Reading the descriptions felt like stepping into a vibrant painting. The quality of the writing seemed to have even improved since the first book, which also displayed beautiful craftsmanship with its words. After this duology, there’s no doubt that Tan can craft otherworldly prose that easily transports the reader into her imagined worlds.

The world-building was just as stunning here as in the first book. There were a couple new places that I enjoyed visiting, and the narrative returned to many of the wondrous set pieces previously introduced, including the moon, Celestial Palace, and Cloud Wall. New and old creatures played a part in the story, and it was all just so fascinating. I loved the mythology and the way the author used it to tell a gripping story of loss, love, and forgiveness that felt very intimately human despite the divine nature of the participants.

I liked the plot in this book a bit more than the first. It felt less disjointed and the pace was more even. Where the first book felt like several distinct stories mashed together because of all its side quests, this one seemed more cohesive with a single major story thread and clear villain from start to finish. Speaking of the villain, I really enjoyed Wugang and thought his motivations were believable. I even felt a bit sympathetic to his cause given how horrible the Celestial court treated him and literally everyone else. I wish there had been more of the court intrigue in this one, though. I would have loved to read how the coup happened from the emperor’s or Wugang’s POV. I’m sure the emperor’s reaction was priceless.

Now to the part I think some people won’t really like: the love triangle. That’s right. It’s back again. lol. I didn’t hate it in the first book because I found the two men worked well as avatars of the warring parts of Xingyin’s psyche. I was REALLY ready for the story to move past that, though, and it didn’t. Xingyin went through a lot in this book and had to come to terms with some major, gut-wrenching losses. I loved her journey, and she was no less persistent here in her convictions despite the enormous scale of the opposition she faced. The whole time I was loving her strength and fortitude and wondering why she was putting up with these two whiny guys constantly trying to get her to love them while all this terrible stuff was going down. One of them, Wenzhi, started out with serious stalker vibes and had some major making up to do for the brutal betrayal in the first book. Although, he grew on me again as the story progressed, and I liked his redemption arc and Xingyin’s journey to forgiveness. Liwei still had as much personality as a piece of stale bread, and it just felt like he was sort of there only as a foil to keep Xingyin from falling right back into Wenzhi’s arms. I’m sure some people will love this dynamic, but I just found it distracting.

Just some final notes… I loved getting to see more of Xingyin’s family dynamic. I honestly wanted much more of it than I got. There was so much focus on the love triangle that her relationship with family, which was her driving force in the first book, was relegated to only a few scenes and seemed like somewhat of an afterthought. I also was a bit annoyed at first that most of what Xingyin worked so hard to obtain was stripped away again fairly quickly. Although, this is a problem I often have with duologies when the first book ends on a mostly settled note. Things kind of have to blow up again for there to be a reason for another story. I got over that nit-picky annoyance pretty quickly with this one, though, because the plot was different enough that it didn’t feel like a pointless retread.

I know this review probably sounded fairly negative, but I really did enjoy reading this book. I have pretty strong opinions about the characters and the story because I’ve come to care about them, especially Xingyin. This was a good conclusion to her story. If you enjoyed the first book, definitely be sure to pick this one up too. Even if you didn’t, this one may surprise you because the storytelling definitely improved as the author gained more experience. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – Jack’s on Fire

Hello, everyone! Today I am reviewing Jack’s on Fire by Owen Lach, which was just published last week. As the cover suggests, it is a cute YA romance. So, if that’s your cup of tea, be sure to check it out!

What if you were a queer teenage musician outed by his vengeful ex-boyfriend and not a fairy tale princess trapped in a castle tower? What if your wicked stepmother was your ordinary, thoughtless, uncaring mother? What if your fairy godmother was your older brother? What if your Prince Charming was captain of the JV soccer team? Maybe you’d be forgiven for not realizing you were living in a sort of fairy tale.

Faced with the impossible choice of staying home to risk being sent away to Father Sullivan’s special school for exceptionally happy boys or moving in with his older brother in California, 16-yr-old Jack Martin leaves behind everything he knows in Minneapolis to go to San Francisco. He finds himself at a new school with new friends and the freedom to be himself. Then sparks fly when Jack meets Damon, his Geometry tutor (and captain of the JV soccer team.) But Jack wonders if Damon feels those sparks, too. And does their budding friendship have a chance to become something more?

Jack’s On Fire is a heartwarming, modern, queer fairy tale about friendship, chosen family, and young, queer love perfect for fans of Heartstopper. Sure, there aren’t any fairies or wands. But what else would you call it when everything starts magically going your way?

***Thank you to Jetspace Studio for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This book is exactly what the cover and synopsis suggest: a delightful queer fairy tale focused on found family and the healing power of acceptance. Jack was such a great protagonist, and I appreciated the realistic portrayal of anxiety his character represented. He experienced so much growth, both in managing his anxiety and learning to trust and be open with others. I felt so much joy watching him realize that people could not only accept him but also love him for who he was.

His relationships with others, especially his brother and Damon, were the highlights of the story for me. He had a fun, easygoing relationship with his brother despite the circumstances of the two of them being thrown together, and I just loved the honesty and mutual support they shared. The friendship, and eventual romance, between Jack and Damon was sickeningly sweet and an absolute delight to read. The slow burn friends to lovers romance created a will-they-or-won’t-they tension that was fun, even though it was fairly obvious they’d end up together. This was a fairy tale after all.

On that note, this was largely a low angst story about the queer kid getting everything he had ever wanted after being moved from a hostile environment to a supportive one. There were moments of despair, but the general vibe of the book was very positive and devoted to giving Jack the perfect healing experience. That being said, sometimes I wished things wouldn’t have gone quite so easily for him. What can I say? I love drama. lol. However, I did enjoy the book for the positive vibes, and seeing Jack live the dream so many queer kids have of unconditional love and acceptance was a cathartic experience.

Now I’m going to be a bit picky. There was one character who seemed to exist only to create the conditions needed for the final climax. Their arc felt removed from the rest of the narrative, and I found the eventual outcome obvious despite also feeling a bit blindsided by it because it seemed like it should have been part of another story. Despite this pickiness about a relatively small detail, I loved this book and think it would be perfect for fans of Heartstopper because of its focus on queer joy and an absolutely adorable friends to lovers high school romance. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars!