Review: “The Athena Protocol” by Shamim Sarif

The Athena ProtocolTitle: The Athena Protocol
Author: Shamim Sarif
Publication Date: October 8, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

Shamim Sarif serves up fast-paced, action-packed spy thriller in her YA debut The Athena Protocol.

Jessie Archer is a member of the Athena Protocol, an elite organization of female spies who enact vigilante justice around the world.

Athena operatives are never supposed to shoot to kill – so when Jessie can’t stop herself from pulling the trigger, she gets kicked out of the organization, right before a huge mission to take down a human trafficker in Belgrade.

Jessie needs to right her wrong and prove herself, so she starts her own investigation into the trafficking. But going rogue means she has no one to watch her back as she delves into the horrors she uncovers. Meanwhile, her former teammates have been ordered to bring her down. Jessie must face danger from all ides if she’s to complete her mission – and survive.

This was one of my most anticipated books this year. A spy thriller featuring female spies? You got my attention. Someone from the team turns rogue and the other members are ordered to bring her down? SIGN ME UP!

The Athena Protocol was an enjoyable read. Thrilling, fast-paced, so full of heart-pumping action and delicious plot twists. I gobbled up all the spy part – the cool gadgets, Jessie’s amazing ways with a computer and the net, all the spying and sneaking around and bringing down the bad guys.

But more than all the kickass stuff, this book is about female bonds: the strength of it, the depth of it.

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The bond between the three female spies – Hala, Caitlin, and Jessie – was easily my most favorite part of this book. They weren’t perfect: they fight and argue and have differing opinions and ways of doing things. Coming from different backgrounds and factoring in their unique personalities, it’s something that couldn’t be helped. Caitlin acted as the lever, balancing and tempering her teammates, oftentimes running as a mediator and acting as team leader when they are out in the field.  Hala was closed-off and guarded, controlled and distrustful, cold even. She’s had it toughest among the three and her beginnings are a big part of who she is and how she processes things.

Then there’s Jessie.

Jessie is a compelling protagonist. Fiery, headstrong, and soldier-like in efficiency, she is a competent agent with a deep sense of justice. Her impulsiveness, however, led her to break rules and cross lines, her decisions blowing right back in her face and putting her at odds with her teammates and superiors.

I admit I didn’t like Jessie – her impulsivity and her immaturity both are strikes against her in my book – but it does not take away what a good character she is. She’s an effective story mover. She advanced scene after scene and, with her unpredictability, kept everything exciting while doing so. However, for all her talk of wanting to do better, Jessie’s character growth was minimal at best. She kept on committing the same mistakes throughout the book, never learning from them, and it stagnated her progress.

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This book took a while before it hooked its claws on me. Especially considering that this was told from a first-person POV, an almost infallible way to draw my full attention in, it moved like molasses. The narration felt more like a rundown of what a character, blurring the details – the feel and movement of the scene playing in the MC’s background – that add texture to the story. This lasts until the halfway mark where things, thankfully, start to finally pick up.

The F/F relationship between Jessie and Paulina, the daughter of the story’s villain, added an extra kick to this story. The pair’s dynamics kind of reminded me of Killing Eve’s Eve Polastri and Villanelle, only they’re a lighter version. The twist involving these two right about the last 50 or so pages of the book was something I did not see coming and truly surprises me in a very good way.

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Overall, The Athena Protocol stayed true to what it advertised itself to be – a compulsive YA thriller that’ll have its readers biting their nails. The bond its characters had is this book’s greatest strength. However, the slow start and the lack of character growth took its toll on me and impacted my reading enjoyment. Still, even if I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would, I think it will find its audience in YA thriller fans especially those who crave spy stories.

about the author

Shamim SarifSHAMIM SARIF is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and director born in the UK.

Her debut novel, The World Unseen was inspired by her family’s South African Indian heritage. The book won a Betty Trask award and the Pendleton May First Novel award.

Shamim has adapted and directed the films of all three of her novels including, most recently, Despite the Falling Snow. The book was published by Headline in the UK and St. Martin’s Press in the US. The movie stars Rebecca Ferguson and Charles Dance in a story of love and betrayal in cold war Russia. Her films have won 47 awards internationally.

An accomplished speaker, Shamim has spoken at TED events worldwide, at the INK Conference in India and DLD in Munich. Corporate speaking events have included Deloitte, Goldman Sacs, Citibank, and Disney.

Shamim lives in London with her wife, Hanan, and their two sons.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

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Win a copy of “The Athena Protocol” by Shamim Sarif (US only)

Giveaway ends October 16th.

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October 2nd

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Review: “Aurora Blazing” by Jessie Mihalik

Aurora BlazingTitle: Aurora Blazing
Series: Consortium Rebellion #2
Author: Jessie Mihalik
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Jessie Mihalik’s space drama romance continues in the second book in her Consortium Rebellion trilogy Aurora Blazing.

Bianca von Hasenberg did her duty for High House von Hasenberg and ended up trapped in a terrible marriage. When her husband dies unexpectedly and leaves her a happy widow, she vows never to marry again. Instead, she uses her connections to save other young women. Information is power and Bianca has a network that would be the envy of the ‘verse – if anyone knew about it.

After an attack, Bianca’s oldest brother, the House von Hasenberg heir, disappears from Earth without a trace. Determined to find him, Bianca leaves against orders. When she refuses to return, her father ends Ian Bishop, the director of House von Hasenberg security, to haul her home like a recalcitrant child.

Bianca leaves Ian on a merry chase across the universe, but when their paths finally collide, she persuades him that they would be far more successful at finding her brother if they worked together. She will do anything to save her sibling, even if it means spending time alone on a small ship with the handsome, infuriating man who once broke her heart.

As clues lead them deep into rival House Rockhurst territory, Biana must decide if she can trust Ian with the one piece of information that could destroy her completely…

I fell in love with Jessie Mihalik debut Polaris Rising when I read it this year. It had everything I needed in a scif-fi romance: solid worldbuilding, take-no-prisoners action and a steamy romance. Ada and Locke burned the pages – falling into lust then to love all while they jump from planet to planet to escape their pursuers. I gobbled up their story and, greedy reader that I am, I naturally wanted more.

Aurora Blazing gave me that more.

The second book in the Consortium Rebellion trilogy, Aurora Blazing centers on Ada’s older sister, Bianca von Hasenberg, and House von Hasenberg’s director of security, Ian Bishop. Both characters were already introduced and played minor roles in Polaris Rising so readers who have read the first book will already be familiar with them.

I loved Bianca in PR and I grew to love her more in Aurora Blazing. She’s resourceful and intelligent and tough, but broken. It was clear even from the first few chapters of this installment that her marriage wasn’t just terrible, it was traumatic. Clues as to what her husband did to her are dropped throughout the whole book and when the final reveal came, it was equally horrifying. Her past took something from her, making Bianca question her own capabilities. She suffers and endures chronic pain from debilitating headaches, an aftermath of her dead husband’s experiments on her.

Bianca’s character development was one of the things I loved most about Aurora Blazing. She was only gaining some of her own back when AB opens – learning to trust herself again but still guarded, unwilling to let people back i. It was great watching her walls come down bit by bit, for her to reclaim what she lost. It was certainly satisfying (and so fun!) to see her finally stand up to her father.

Ian, meanwhile, took his time with me but, in the end, I grew to love him too. Hiding his own secrets, he is just as closed-off as Bianca. He was just so controlled and infuriatingly proper at the beginning that it felt so rewarding when his facade was finally chipped off.

Bianca and Ian’s romance is so different from Ada’s and Locke’s. Theirs was a slow burn, progressing a step at a time throughout the book. The tension between the two, however, was very much palpable even from page one. They have a shared past, one that is tackled in the book, that further complicated their feelings for one another. When they finally get together though, it was just so right. He and Bianca made a great team – different but similar in all the ways that matter. They’re both protective of the people they love and they will go down the line for them.

Readers who loved the trilogy’s first book will definitely find something in Aurora Blazing. It had everything I enjoyed in Polaris Rising – the political machinations, House politics and rivalries, the mystery of the High Houses’ defunct Genesis Project. The bond between the von Hasenberg siblings came out clearer in this book than in the last. It was definitely funny reading about Ferdinand and Benedict play their brother card against Ian. We also see quite a bit what the PR crew – Ada and Locke, Veronica and Rhys – has been up to. Readers also get a glimpse of the next feature couple of the trilogy – Catarina and Alex – so that’s definitely an exciting bit.

Fast-paced and action-filled, both lovers of sci-fi romance will fall in love with this story. The only drawback, I think, is that you have to read the series in order as you may miss a number of key details. It pays off big time though, so I don’t think that’s much of a sacrifice. I’m definitely in for the last leg of this trilogy. I already can’t wait to see how Catarina and Alex’s story plays out.

about the authorjessie_mihalik_squareJESSIE MIHALIK has a degree in Computer Science and a love of all things geeky. A software engineer by trade, Jessie now writes full time from her home in Texas. When she’s not writing, she can be found playing co-op video games with her husband, trying out new board games, or reading books pulled from her overflowing bookshelves.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Review: “Tiger Queen” by Annie Sullivan

Tiger Queen coverTitle: Tiger Queen
Author: Annie Sullivan
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Publisher: Blink
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

 

A fierce young desert princess must win her way to the crown to save her people from the drought in this YA fantasy inspired by Frank Stockton’s 1882 short story The Lady, or the Tiger?

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world – and her heart – upside down. Her future is now behind two doors – only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.

Last year, I had the lucky opportunity to read and review Annie Sullivan’s debut A Touch of Gold. I loved how she created the story – using a character of her own to sort of continue the well-known legend of King Midas’ golden touch. It was unique and entertaining, more than what I thought it would be. So, when I heard that she was coming out with a new re-telling, I immediately grabbed the chance and requested for a reviewer’s copy.

That said, my expectations may have been set a little higher going into this book.

Tiger Queen was an interesting take on Stockton’s The Lady, or the Tiger with a bit of Peter Pan and Robin Hood elements thrown into the mix. Kateri was a compelling character. Sheltered and wanting validation from her King father, she’s naïve, blind to the real struggles of her people and every bit the privileged princess that she was. She has been taught that physical strength is equal to power, so she – with her father then, later on, her father’s cruel captain of the guard Rodric as her mentors – honed herself as a fierce, capable warrior in the arena ready to literally fight off all her suitors to prove her right to rule.

Tiger Queen.png

Her character growth was the most engaging part of this story. Escaping the palace walls that has for so long both protected and caged her, Kateri’s whole world – her truths, beliefs – was shattered, leaving her to learn the harsh reality of her kingdom and its people, of the betrayal of his father. The girl basically needed to pick up what pieces of herself she could salvage, and that’s a tough thing to deal with. I couldn’t help myself from cheering her on.

However, other than Kateri’s evolution, I just can’t find anything else about this story that really stood out for me. Yes, I was entertained enough that I was able to finish reading this in two days. It was fast paced and very much full of action. The Desert Boys gave this story a little bit more of color with their raids and their mission to help the people Achra the best they could. Obviously, I enjoyed this book, but do I see it making its mark in my brain? Sadly, the answer is no.

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Tiger Queen was entertaining and enjoyable. It was a good story, but not a solid one. I found a better chunk of it bland – the antagonists were pretty much one dimensional, bad to the core with none of the nuance I was looking for in a fully-formed villain. The romance, too, did not do much for me. It was slow burn, I get that, but even in slow-burn romances you’ve got to layer in the tension, nudge the pairing together here and there where it makes sense – make it memorable enough that readers remember it and yearn (long) for your characters to be together. In Tiger Queen‘s case though, those little nudges were so subtle they were almost ignorable, and by the time Kateri and her love interest did finally get together, all I felt was an underwhelming meh.

Still, even if this book did not do much for me, I’m sure it will find a place in the hearts of other readers. Fans of YA re-tellings will especially love the creativity that went into this one.

about the author

4135488ANNIE SULLIVAN grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. She received her Masters degree in Creative Writing from Butler University. She loves fairy tales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling. Her wanderlust has taken her to every continent, where she’s walked on the Great Wall of China, found four-leaf clovers in Ireland, waddled with penguins in Antartica, and cage dived with great white sharks in South Africa.

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Review: “A Treason of Thorns” by Laura E. Weymouth

A Treason of Thorns (Laura E. Weymouth)Title: A Treason of Thorns
Author: Laura E. Weymouth
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

A young girl must decide between duty and heart in this enchanting and haunting YA fantasy.

Violet Sterling has spent the last seven years in exile, longing to return to Burleigh House. One of the six great houses of England, Burleigh’s magic always kept the countryside well. And as a child, this magic kept Violet happy, draping her in flowers while she slept, fashioning secret hiding places for her, and lighting fires on the coldest of nights to keep her warm.

Everything shattered, though, when her father committed high treason trying to free Burleigh from the king’s oppressive control. He was killed, and Vi was forced into hiding.

When she’s given a chance to go back, she discovers Burleigh has run wild with grief. Vines and briars are crumbling the walls. Magic that once enriched the surrounding countryside has turned dark and deadly, twisting lush blooms into thorns, poisoning livestock and destroying crops. Burleigh’s very soul is crying out in pain.

Vi would do anything to help, and soon she finds herself walking the same deadly path as her father all those years before. Vi must decide how far she’s willing to go to save her house – before her house destroy’s everything she’s ever known.

With the hectic thing that was 2018, I missed Laura E. Weymouth’s debut A Light Between Worlds so I’m coming into this new book of hers as a total newbie to her words and worlds. If A Treason of Thorns is anything to go by, however, I think I might just have found a new auto-buy author.

Ultimately a novel about family – of inherited responsibilities and the ghosts of the ones before us – and the bonds that bind us, A Treason of Thorns was a thing of beauty. It was poetic and haunting, lush and dark, atmospheric and almost Gothic. I quickly fell in love with this imagined version of an older England fueled by the magic of six great houses.

A Treason of Thorns 3

Solid world-building and Weymouth’s almost lyrical writing are two of this book’s many aces. The magic system was a fresh one for me. The thought of old, sentient houses running on ancient magic was such an intriguing idea and I gobbled it up. I had so much fun visualizing what was being described: fireplaces lighting up on their own when you enter a room, moments from the past featuring your forebears playing like scenes from a movie right in front of you. The story’s world is fully alive ready to pop up from the pages.

But, as strong as the world-building and as beautiful as the writing, these elements weren’t what kept me reading.

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A Treason of Thornscharacters remains its strongest suit. I found a compelling protagonist in Violet Sterling. Caught up between duty and the desires of her heart, her dilemma was entirely relatable and very human. She started out the story certain of her purpose and goal – to be Burleigh House’s caretaker, to restore the only home she’d ever known and in turn heal the West Country – her duty having been ingrained in her by her father since her childhood. Uncovering hidden truths, though, Violet quickly realizes that things are not as cut-and-dry. Her situation is made even more complicated when she starts to want things for herself, things that aren’t to Burleigh’s benefit.

I loved Violet. Even from the first few chapters, she made a connection to my heart. She’s stubborn, strong-willed, naive and fallible. Her struggle between what she needed and wanted – family and love, home and heart – was something familiar. I think it’s a bridge we all must cross as we come of age, having the power to choose your own way if only you’d be brave enough to claim it.

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Wyn took his time with me, but eventually, I grew fond of him. He was sort of gray at first, gaining depth as the story progressed. He, like the rest of the secondary characters, added more texture to Violet’s story because, in the end, this is still about her.

In all honesty, I am just floored by how the women in this story were written. They embody strength in different ways, one not less than the others. Mira, the Sterling’s longtime housekeeper who stood as Violet’s mother-figure, showed her strength in the form of loyal and her steadfastness. Frey, the owner of Red Shilling where Violet worked and her father’s lover after her mother left them, showed it in her quiet defiance. Esperanza, the Princess of Wales and King Edgar’s heir, navigated the royal court armed with her cunning, wit and resourcefulness. She was one of the nicest surprises in this book for me as I thought she was going to be an antagonist. It was great being proved wrong.

This review will never do justice to just how good A Treason of Thorns was. It was spellbinding, enchanting. It’s one of the best books I read this year and will surely stay in my head for a long, long time. Teen readers and adults alike will all find something they can relate to in this book. YA fantasy readers will surely eat this story up just like I did. This comes with my wholehearted recommendations. (Also, I’m going to finally pick up A Light Between Worlds after this.)

about the author

Laura E. Weymouth

LAURA E. WEYMOUTH is a Canadian living in exile in America, and the sixth consecutive generation in her family to immigrate from one country to another Born and raised in the Niagara region of Ontario, she now lives at the edge of the woods in western New York, along with her husband, two wild-hearted daughters, a spoiled cat, an old soul of a dog, and an indeterminate number of chickens. She is represented by the inimitable Lauren Spieller of TriadaUS.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

 

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Win signed copies of Laura E. Weymouth’s book: The Light Between Worlds and A Treason of Thorns (US/CAN only)

Giveaway ends 24th September.

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Kait Plus Books – Interview
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Review: “Kingdom of Souls” by Rena Barron

Kingdom of SoulsTitle: Kingdom of Souls
Series: Kingdom of Souls #1
Author: Rena Barron
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Content Warnings: Blood magic, self-injury for a ritual, challenging familial relationship, psychological torture, death of children, mind manipulation, animal possession, animal sacrifice (mentioned), violence
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

Built on a world based on West Africa, Rena Barron debuts with a compelling story about a girl with no magic in a world teeming with it.

Magic has a price—if you’re willing to pay.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

With all intents of being forthright, I will tell you that I have very complicated feelings about this book. There were definitely parts that I loved and parts that I didn’t. Writing this review took just as much time as reading it with me having to parse through said complicated feelings. This post is an extension of that dissection.

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When this book is at its strongest, it doesn’t only put its best foot forward – it goes all out. Nothing is done by half-measures, which works well half the time playing up strengths to a maximum. It’s brave and something that I really admire in this story.

A world built as strong as it is vast

Kingdom of Souls is an ambitious work and its larger-than-life world attests to it. With West Africa at its foundation, Barron’s world is a lush, colorful one with unique characteristics that’ll separate it from other stories in its genre.

I love how clear the story’s world was described – the dynamics between its peoples, the Five Tribes and the Almighty Kingdom: their belief system, the gods they worship, political hierarchy, and general way of living. They are fully alive within the pages of this story, even the Northerners and Kefu, though I have a feeling there’d be a lot more from those last two in the coming books as they’ve only been discussed in relation with the former.

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Mythology weaved into the narrative

I love mythology and I love that many books have a bit of it included in their narrative. I most especially love when the mythology and lore in a book go outside the usual Greek and Roman ones that have already inspired a handful of earlier YA titles.

But, that’s not the case with Kingdom of Souls.

Mythology and lore are not added as a mere layer to Arrah’s story – it’s tightly woven into the narrative with a life and purpose of its own independent from Arrah. Heka – the god of the peoples of the Five Tribes – and the Orishas – the gods of the Almighty Kingdom – all add something to the whole story. Powerful but fallible and unpredictable, their intentions are not entirely pure and their actions aren’t always for the good of everyone. They are the wild cards of this story and I just have a feeling they will continue to serve up surprises in the coming sequels, which will be really interesting especially given the way things ended in this one.

A compelling heroine

This is one of the biggest selling points of this book for me. Kingdom of Souls is a character-driven story, and it needed a strong character to carry its weight through.

Arrah proved to be more than capable for the part.

KoS 3

She is a compelling heroine, one that you will root for from beginning to end. She’s tough, fierce, and determined but she’s also plagued with frustration, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy at her lack of magic, at her mother’s disapproval and condescension. Arrah is loyal and dedicated to her family and her friends, unhesitatingly making sacrifices – crossing lines she set for herself – in the belief that it will save those she loves.

With a solid cast of characters behind her – the charming Rudjek, steadfast Sukkar, and Hassana, her loving father Oshe and her paradoxical mother Arti – Arrah grow by leaps and bounds within the pages of this book and it was such a joy reading about her. I found it easy to empathize with her, despair with her – basically to feel whatever it is that she is feeling. It takes a special kind of character to do that and, if anything, I will be reading the sequels just to find out what happens to Arrah.

breaker

As it is with any book, I had a number of issues with Kingdom of Souls. Some of these I would have easily overlooked but, in the case of this book, they just greatly affected my enjoyment that I had to take note of them.

Too much

I appreciate complex stories, I really do. Sometimes though, when you add one thing after another, it just gets to be too much. This was my main problem with Kingdom of Souls.

Barron served up plot twists like dishes on a banquet, and it became too much, too hard to digest. All the plot threads she pulled into this book alone could easily write a trilogy. It created an imbalance that in turn affected the story’s pace.

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Wonky pacing

This is probably my biggest issue.

Being a character-driven story, I already expected the pace of this book to run a bit slower. But, with all those blocks of story pieces thrown into the plot, the pace just crawled.

This problem was most prevalent in the book’s middle parts. It just sagged, felt unbalanced and repetitive. Characters would go on about something one chapter only to repeat talking about the same thing a few chapters down. I put down the book a handful of times because it just got too exhausting. It was a good thing that the first and last parts of the book were more even-tempered.

breaker

Kingdom of Souls is an imperfect but still sets the beginnings of what sounds like a really promising series. Its strength lies deeply in its character and Barron’s rich world-building. I would definitely come back for the sequels because I’m just too curious (and, honestly, too attached to the characters.) YA SFF readers will find something to love in this book, and hopefully, the whole series.

about the authorRena BarronRENA BARRON grew up in small-town Alabama where stories of magic and adventure sparked her imagination. After penning her first awful poem in middle school, she graduated to writing short stories and novels by high school.

Rena loves all things science fiction, ghosts, and superheroes. She’s a self-proclaimed space nerd. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading or brushing up on her French.

Website | TwitterInstagram | Tumblr

 

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WIN A KINGDOM OF SOULS VIP SWAG BAG: ONE (1) COPY OF KINGDOM OF SOULS BY RENA BARRON & SWAG (US ONLY)

Giveaway starts September 4th and ends September 18th.

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Phannie the ginger bookworm  – Review + Favourite Quotes
Jrsbookreviews – Review
Kait Plus Books – Review + Favourite Quotes

SEPTEMBER 6TH

In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
Utopia State of Mind – Review + Favourite Quotes
Camillea Reads – Review
Artsy Draft – Review + Favourite Quotes

SEPTEMBER 7TH

Frayed Books – Review
The Layaway Dragon – Review + Favourite Quotes
NovelKnight – Review
Charis Rae – Review
Novel Lives – Review

SEPTEMBER 8TH

Luchia Houghton Blog – Review + Favourite Quotes
Justbusyreading – Review
Flying Paperbacks – Review

SEPTEMBER 9TH

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
Confessions of a YA Reader – Review + Favourite Quotes
TBR and Beyond – Review + Playlist + Favourite Quotes

SEPTEMBER 10TH

Wishful Endings – Review
Jessica Writes – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Life – Review + Favourite Quotes
Devouring Books – Review
Flipping Through the Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes

Review: “Wild Savage Stars” by Kristina Pérez

Wild Savage Stars (Kristina Perez)Title: Wild Savage Stars
Series: Sweet Black Waves #2
Author: Kristina Pérez
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Publisher: Imprint
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Kristina Pérez picks up where she left off in Wild Savage Stars, her second installment in her Tristan-and-Isolt-inspired series.

Branwen has a secret powerful enough to destroy two kingdoms.

Her ancient magic led to a terrible betrayal by both her best friend, the princess Essy, and her first love, Tristan. Now this same magic is changing Branwen. Adrift in a rival court, Branwen must hide the truth from the enemy king by protecting the lovers who broke her heart – and finds herself considering a darker path.

Not everyone wants the alliance with Branwen’s kingdom to succeed – peace is balanced on a knife’s edge, and her only chance may be to embrace the darkness within…

I read Kristina Pérez’s debut Sweet Black Waves last year and fell in love with her story. It’s one about love – love for your motherland and its people, love for your family, of the sister of your heart, and of love found unexpectedly. Pérez put her own spin on a legend that has been repeatedly told and romanticized over the centuries, breathing fresh life into it by focusing on a different character. It was an exciting start for a new series, and with the way it ended, I knew that I just have to get my hands on its sequel or else my curiosity will kill me.

Well, reader, I got my wish and boy, it was everything.

Brutal, magical, romantic and tragic – Wild Savage Stars was both the sequel I expected it to be and a surprising follow-up to its predecessor. It starts off almost immediately after the events of Sweet Black Waves with Branwen, Tristan and Eseult arriving at Iveriu’s enemy country of Kernyv. Pérez places her original trio in a new land, introduces new characters- both allies and foes – and ups the stakes in this installment.

Wild Savage Stars quote #1

Despite all these additions though, the story felt instantly familiar and I was quickly drawn back into this series’ world. Pérez’s writing is as strong as ever with lush descriptions and dramatic prose that is sure to coax an emotional response even from the most stoic of readers – be it anger, sadness or horror. Her scholarly knowledge of medieval legends, as it has done in her first book, continues to provide a solid foundation for her version of the story. It’s actually one of the things that originally pulled me to this series.

But it wasn’t why I stayed.

Branwen is a complex character. Dutiful to a fault and loyal to the bone, she oftentimes falls victim to her own schemes: making decisions that she thinks will best protect the ones she loves and overplaying her hand in preserving peace for her beloved Iveriu. She is not easy to like – most of the time she’s actually quite unlikeable – but there’s just something so ineffably human about her, in her struggle between what her heart’s wants and her mind’s idea of what is right, in being cleaved in half by love and hate, being caught up in between anger and forgiveness.

This series may be inspired by Tristan and Iseult’s legends, but this is Branwen’s story and she commands this book, dictating its tone and pace like the wildfire that she is. Wild Savage Stars is darker, more complicated than its predecessor. It mirrors Branwen’s growing powers and her new life in a new land – one that she has long seen as an enemy.

Wild Savage Stars quote #2

Indeed, while Tristan (annoyingly repentant to the point of self-flagellation) and Eseult (still selfish, immature, irresponsible, petty and, just so completely, wholly unworthy) remained stagnant, Branwen flourished. She falls in headfirst into Kernyvak politics, faltering at first but quickly became more adept as she gained her footing. She also, finally, comes around to accept her ancient magic – scaling up another level after vacillating between denial and reluctance in SWB and the first third of this second book.

Shifting the focus on new characters – the fair and kind King Marc and the cagey Ruan – instead of meandering on the broken pieces of the Tristan-Branwen-Eseult triangle was actually a godsend as it gave Branwen and the story a depth that the first book lacked.

Wild Savage Stars quote #3

I enjoyed reading this book so much and not just because it pushes the series on. Wild Savage Stars can very well stand on its own and even improves on its predecessor – something that a lot of sequels fail to do. With the way this installment ended, (Gasp! Another betrayal!) the series closer is bound to be an exciting one, and I’m in this ride come what way. Historical fiction buffs, Fantasy lovers, Romance readers and fans of retellings will all find something to love in this book. I definitely, definitely recommend this whole series and if you see a girl pushing this book into people’s hands, that’ll be me.

about the author

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KRISTINA PÉREZ is the author of The Myth of Morgan La Fey (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). She holds a Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from the University of Cambridge.

She has lectured at the National University of Singapore on vampires in Western Culture and was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal Asia, Departures, L’Officiel India, Condé Nast Traveller, CNNGo and the South China Morning Post, among others.

Her debut YA Fantasy, Sweet Black Waves – a Tristan and Iseult retelling – was published by Imprint/Macmillan on June 5th, 2018. The sequel, Wild Savage Stars was published on August 27th, 2019.

Writing as K.K. Péerez, her first YA Sci-Fi, The Tesla Legacy was published by Tor Teen on March 12th, 2019.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr

Review: “All the Bad Apples” by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

p-3Title: All the Bad Apple
Author:
Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Publication Date: August 1, 2019 (UK) August 27 (US)
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content Warnings: Homophobia (challenged), suicide (supposed), rape (incestuous & of other minors), murder & arson (implied), institutionalization, forced labor, abuse (physical, mental & emotional), abortion, forced separation of mother & child
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

  ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

One teen-aged girl’s quest to find her missing sister uncovers more than she expects. Family secrets and curses, and a country’s unspoken history fuel this brutally emotional contemporary by Moïra Fowley-Doyle.

When Deena’s wild and mysterious sister Mandy disappears – presumed dead – her family are heartbroken. But Mandy has always been troubled. It’s just another bad thing to happen to Deena’s family. Only Deena refuses to believe it’s true.

And then the letters start arriving. Letters from Mandy, claiming that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions – but a curse, handed down through the generations. Mandy has gone in search of the curse’s roots, and now Deena must find her. What they find will heal their family’s rotten past – or rip it apart forever.

There are stories that just grip you and crush you into tiny little pieces. All the Bad Apples was one of those stories for me.

All the Bad Apples is a force of its own. Combining contemporary and magical realism, its story weaves together intergenerational stories of the women of the Rys family – a long history deeply rooted and intertwined with Ireland’s own unspoken history of Catholic fundamentalism, discrimination, and institutional abuse.

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Queer representation

Though there wasn’t much racial diversity in this story (Finn is the only black character in the book. The rest were white,) queer representation is not a problem for this standalone. The main character, Deena, and her possible love interest Cale are both lesbians. Finn, Deena’s best friend. Mary Ellen, Deena’s great-great-grandmother, and Ann, Cale’s great-great-great-great-aunt, were in a relationship. Before that, Mary Ellen was with Deena’s philandering great-great-grandfather.

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Nitty and gritty

All the Bad Apples tackles some of the toughest issues there is – homophobia, sexual abuse, and abortion to name a few – but it doesn’t pussyfoot. Fowley-Doyle addresses these issues in a very straightforward manner, her words sharply honed to get to the very core of things. This fitted the story and helped propel her narrative on the right ground.

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Rage, rage, rage

“This novel was, in part, fueled by rage,” Moïra Fowley-Doyle wrote in her author’s note, and, indeed, rage was a palpable and dominant emotion throughout the whole story. It was hard not to feel fist-clenchingly angry with what all the women – not just the Rys’ – went through in this story.

It was not just anger that I felt though.

This book dragged me through a whole range of emotions, back and forth several times over. I felt disgusted at the way men objectified and used women, treating them like objects that can be discarded at any time they pleased; felt sadness and betrayal when families turned their backs on daughters because they don’t conform to their notion of right and normal; shame at the righteousness of the people who deemed themselves the interpreters of God’s word and will – more so because, like them, I’m also Catholic.

But at the end of it all, hope.

All The Bad Apples (4).png

The ending definitely was a satisfying one, having gone through a rollercoaster of emotions to get to it. Fowley-Doyle definitely succeeded in making readers feel what her characters feel, using Deena as a touchpoint through which her audience experienced her fictional piece of the world.

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All the Bad Apples is a powerful story. Though the characters and places are fictional, the history peppered throughout the pages of this novel has happened to real people. This is one book that should be read by everyone.

about the author

p-4MOÏRA FOWLEY-DOYLE is half-French, half-Irish and made of equal parts feminism, whimsy, and Doc Martens. She lives in Dublin where she writes magic realism, reads tarot cards and raises witch babies.

Moïra’s first novel, The Accident Season, was shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize & the North East Teen Book Awards, nominated for the Carnegie Medal & won the inaugural School Library Association of Ireland Great Reads Award. It received two starred reviews & sold in ten territories. Her second novel, Spellbook of the Lost and Found, was published in summer 2017, received a starred review from School Library Journal and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr

Giveaway

Win one (1) of three (3) copies of All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle. Open to UK/Ireland only.

Giveaway starts August 22nd and ends September 5th.

Follow the Tour

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AUGUST 21ST

AUGUST 22ND

The Book Bratz – Interview
In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
Rants and Raves of a Bibliophile – Review + Favourite Quotes
Bookish Looks – Promotional Post

AUGUST 23RD

The Clever Reader – Interview
Hauntedbybooks – Review + Favourite Quotes
L.M.Durand – Promotional Post

AUGUST 24TH

The Baroness of Books – Review + Favourite Quotes
Story-eyed Reviews – Review
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review + Playlist + Dream Cast
Confessions of a YA Reader – Promotional Post

AUGUST 25TH

Downright Dystopian – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Life – Review + Favourite Quotes
Starry Sky Books – Review + Playlist
A Book Addict’s Bookshelves – Promotional Post

AUGUST 26TH

Utopia State of Mind – Review + Favourite Quotes
Dazzled by Books – Review
Portrait of a Book – Review
Book Rambler – Review

AUGUST 27TH

Moonlight Rendezvous – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Corner for All – Review + Playlist
Boook Beach Bunny – Review
Kait Plus Books – Promotional Post

Review: “How the Light Gets In” by Katy Upperman

pTitle: How the Light Gets In
Author: Katy Upperman
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Content Warnings: Drug use, alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, grief, ineffective coping
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC access provided by the publisher through NetGalley as part of the Fantastic Flying Book Club’s blog tour. All opinions expressed are my own.

A YA contemporary featuring a sweet summer romance and a touch of the paranormal, Katy Upperman’s new offering How the Light Gets In is a perfect beachside read.

Since her sister’s tragic death, seventeen-year-old Callie Ryan has basically given up. Her grades have plummeter, she’s quit her swim team, and she barely recognizes the peope her parents once were.

When she returns to her aunt’s run-down coastal Victorian one year after Chloe’s death, Callie resigns herself to a summer of guilt and home renovations. She doesn’t expect to be charmed by the tiny coastal town or by Tucker Morgan, a local boy brimming with sunshine.

But even as her days begin to brighten, Callie’s nights are crowded with chilling dreams, unanswered questions, and eerie phenomenon that have her convinced she’s being haunted. Will Callie be able to figure out what her sister is trying to communicate before it’s too late?

This is my first book from Katy Upperman, but I can safely say that I will be coming back for more.

How the Light Gets In mixes contemporary charm with paranormal mysticism built on the bittersweet foundations of love, loss, and grief. Emotion-charged straight off page one, this story is set to tug, pull and pluck at your heartstrings and leave you contemplating just how precious moments with your loved ones truly are.

I enjoyed this book a whole lot even though it took a while before I really got into it. Once I did though, there was no turning back. I fell in love with the setting, the characters, and their relationships, at the honesty and realness with which the author portrayed grief and loss in this story.

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Real and honest

How the Light Gets In showed grief with an almost visceral realness – how people’s handling of it differs in varying ways, how sometimes grief and loss can drive a person to grab at whatever thing will make the pain go away no matter how temporary, and how you can still mourn and search for someone even if they’ve long been gone…even if you’ve never known them.

I felt for Callie, her mother and father, and Lucy. Losing a sister – a daughter, someone who has so much more ahead of them – is a tough loss that took something from all of them.

I felt for Tucker. Having lost his mother without even knowing her, and having a father who’s reluctant to even tell him a smidge about the woman who bore him left him with questions and made him mistrustful.

As someone who has lost a number of loved ones, this one is something that deeply resonated with me. Grief plays a crucial role in the plot of this story. It is a delicate topic, but one handled well and with much sensitivity.

How the Light Gets In (3)

Small-town charm

I don’t usually mind a story’s setting much. I trust the author to build her story, its world, place her characters in the setting she deems will best serve her narrative. For this one though, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with Bell Cove and it’s coastal small-town charm. There’s just something magical, at the same time eerie about it especially thinking the paranormal elements this novel has. It’s just perfect!

A ghost story & a mystery

This was a bonus I never expected to get from this book. Yes, the blurb hinted at a bit of a ghost story, but that’s selling it short. It plays a slightly bigger role and totally gives this story an added dimension. The inclusion of small-town mystery – the intrigue and rumors surrounding it included – was a welcome and fresh addition.

How the Light Gets In (4)

Family, friendship & love

It wasn’t an immediate connection, but I grew to adore Callie. There’s a vulnerability in her at the same time that there is a hidden, undiscovered strength. Tucker, meanwhile, first appeared to be Callie’s opposite – the bright sunshine to her gloomy raincloud. As the story progressed though, I just couldn’t help but see how much similarities they have – they’ve both lost people, both still grieving. It was beautiful reading how they discover these similarities bit by bit and use it as a common ground to begin something new that’s just for both of them.

Another thing I loved was Callie’s, and by extension Tucker’s, interaction with the rest of the characters in this book, most especially with Lucy because she’s one of my favorites. More than an aunt, she’s like an older sister for Callie, and like her, is also swallowed up in guilt after Chloe’s death (although she copes with it in a different way.)

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Overall, How the Light Gets In is an enjoyable read that perfectly blends summer romance and paranormal mystery. It has its flaws, yes. It starts slow, and at times it meanders through unneeded introspection. But there’s much more to love in this one that I overlooked them and focused on the good stuff instead. I’d definitely recommend this to YA contemporary readers who love a bit of mystery (and a ghost story).

about the author

p

KATY UPPERMAN is a wife, mama, author, reader, baker, and wanderer. She writes novels for teens and teens at heart. She’s a Washington State University alum (go Cougs!), a country music fanatic, and a makeup stockpiler. She loves the ocean, pedicures, sunshine, Instagram, Dirty Dancing and The Princess Bride, Jelly Bellies, true crime documentaries, and Friday Night Lights.

Katy’s debut novel, Kissing Max Holden, was published August 1, 2017, and her sophomore effort, The Impossibility of Us, released July 31, 2018. Her third novel, How the Light Gets In, will be out August 6, 2019. All three books are with Swoon Reads/Macmillan. She’s represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Agency.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest

Giveaway

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Win a copy of Katy Upperman’s “How the Light Gets In” and some swag. Open INTERNATIONAL.

Giveaway starts August 12 and ends August 26.

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AUGUST 12TH

AUGUST 13TH

Flipping Through the Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes

AUGUST 14TH

Phannie the ginger bookworm – Review + Favourite Quotes
The Reading Corner for All – Review + Favourite Quotes
Bemused Bibliophile – Promotional Post

AUGUST 15TH

Wishful Endings – Interview
Books4Jessica  – Review
Bookishly Nerdy – Review
Bookish_Kali – Review + Favourite Quotes
Pages and Pugs – Review
TheBookNerdDiaries – Promotional Post

AUGUST 16TH

The Reading Life  – Promotional Post

AUGUST 17TH

The Clever Reader – Review + Favourite Quotes
Book Rambler – Review
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review + Playlist
In Between Book Pages – Review + Favourite Quotes
A Dream Within A Dream – Promotional Post

AUGUST 18TH

L.M. Durand – Interview
Cafeyre – Review + Favourite Quotes
Booked J – Review
Emily The Book Nerd – Review + Playlist
Hauntefbybooks – Review + Favourite Quotes

Mini-reviews: “The Impossible Girl” and “A Beautiful Poison” by Lydia Kang

I’ve been reading book after book in the last couple of months, but have neglected writing reviews for them as usual. I’m going to rectify that starting with these two books that I’ll be reviewing in this mini-reviews post.

I read The Impossible Girl and A Beautiful Poison back in April when I was on my free trial of Kindle Unlimited. I enjoyed both of these two as they both appealed to the history nerd in me and the medical professional that I am. The crime mystery element weaved into these two books was another thing I really liked about these books.

Given all their similarities though, these two books stand well apart from each other. And me being me, might just prefer one over the other a little bit more.

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Title: The Impossible Girl
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Two hearts. Twice as vulnerable.

Manhattan, 1850. Born out of wedlock to a wealthy socialite and a nameless immigrant, Cora Lee can mingle with the rich just as easily as she can slip unnoticed into the slums and graveyards of the city. As the only female resurrectionist in New York, she’s carved out a niche procuring bodies afflicted with the strangest of anomalies. Anatomists will pay exorbitant sums for such specimens – dissecting and displaying them for the eager public.

Cora’s specialty is not only profitable, it’s a means to keep a finger on the pulse of those searching for her. She’s the girl born with two hearts – a legend amnog grave robbers and anatomists – sought after as an endangered prize.

Now, as a series of murders unfolds closer and closer to Cora, she can no longer trust those she holds dear, including the young medical student she’s fallen for. Because someone has no intention of waiting for Cora to die a natural death.

This book was immensely interesting especially with all the medical bits and pieces thrown into the narrative. I ended up on an hour’s worth of research rabbit hole after this, reading more about resurrectionists and the history of anatomy (which was intriguing and gruesome and brow-raising at varying measures.)

But, more than the fascinating history of the time, it was the characters that got me. Cora was just such a strong main character. She’s wily, smart and cunning, but she’s also vulnerable, closed-off. Theo, while immediately appearing to be the opposite of Cora’s grey cloud personality, has secrets of his own. Together, these two form a formidable bond that had me rooting for them right until the very end.

This was a carefully crafted story full of twists and turns. The end actually took me by surprise in a good way. I never expected the ending to happen the way it happened, but when I finally got to it, I realized that it has been hinted to all throughout the book. It’s a testament to Lydia Kang’s subtle plotting, something that I very much appreciated.

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Title: A Beautiful Poison
Publication Date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many vicims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned – and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.

Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her close to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.

As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone – even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.

A Beautiful Poison was just as interesting as The Impossible Girl. Lydia Kang again uses her medical background and history – the Gilded Age this time – to create a vivid backdrop to her story.

However, I felt like the author just pulled on a bit too much in this one – looping in WWI, the Spanish Flu into this story’s collection of strings. I love plot twists like any other reader does but, with this one, it felt overdone, unnecessarily overcomplicated. It didn’t help that the relationship between the three main characters – Allene, Jasper, and Birdie – was already complex in itself. The three have their own agendas and constantly maneuvered over and around one another just so they get what they want simply because they want it. They aren’t exactly the kind of characters you’ll root for, and I didn’t. I, maybe, felt a bit of empathy but I didn’t care enough about them even after the book ended.

What kept me reading, however, is the mystery – the whodunnit part – that I think was still well done. Piecing together the clues dropped in between dialogues and scenes kept my mind turning. The final twist in this story was a total surprise.

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Both books, though classed as adult fiction, have great crossover appeal. Teens and young adults will just as easily love them. I definitely would recommend them to mystery and historical fiction readers.

Review: “The Merciful Crow” by Margaret Owen

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Title: The Merciful Crow
Series: The Merciful Crow #1
Author: Margaret Owen
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
Publisher: Henry Holt (BYR)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

A solid story from start to finish, debuting author Margaret Owen tackles discrimination head-on in The Merciful Crow.

A future chieftain
Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect the royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.
A fugitive prince
When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses – and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.
A too-cunning bodyguard
Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?

This book took me by surprise in all the best ways.

Rich and immersive, The Merciful Crow is everything I wanted in a Fantasy and more. An intriguing story set in a unique universe starring diverse characters in an epic quest – this is the kind of book that’ll take you by the scruff your shirt and drag you inside its world not caring if you’re ready for it or not.

Margaret Owen writes with a razor-sharp and unyielding – which fits TMC. From the get-go, she immediately sets the tone and pace of the story with a punchy first line, sustaining it right to the very end. Her characters, all from diverse backgrounds, appearances, and gender identities, take readers on a high-stakes quest across their kingdom. It was a frame after frame of action that kept me on my toes (and kept me turning the pages.)

But more than those obvious bits, there’s just so much more to The Merciful Crow and it’s these elements that make this book stand out.

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A well-built world and a unique magic system

This is the first thing that really stood out for me. It was obvious the careful planning that went into the making of this story’s universe. Owen crafted an expansive kingdom of diverse peoples; a kingdom where a person’s birthright determines their fate – caste, trade, and magic included.

The Merciful Crow quote #1

It’s a fictional world that still feels pretty much like ours. You could easily draw out real-world parallels – the Hindu caste system and the bubonic plague immediately came to my mind when I started this book – which helped with filling out the minute details.

The bigger elements though, like the details about each group’s magic and how it works, were seamlessly woven into the narrative and it made for a smoother flow of the story. No info dump here, whatsoever!
A story that bites

The Merciful Crow takes an unflinching look at discrimination and systematic prejudice. The kingdom’s caste system provides a rich ground for inequality to grow and fester, with people thinking their caste being above others by basis of birthright alone. The Oleander Gentry – something that just reminds me so much of the KKK with their white cloaks and masks – and the power-hungry Queen Rhusana capitalizes on their people’s prejudices to advance their own agendas.

The Merciful Crow quote #2

TMC hits close to home, probably too close. A hard truth as it is, the things that the Crows – being the lowest caste – suffer in this story is the reality of a lot of people in our world. I very much appreciate how the author handled these topics. She was harsh when the story called for harsh and empathetic when the story called for empathy, never sugarcoating anything. It was this that made this story more real to me.
A feisty female protagonist you can rage with

Hands down, Owen did a great job with her characters. All of them are fleshed out, their mannerisms and actions, the way the relationships between characters developed were very organic – realistic. Still, somehow, Fie just really sets herself apart.

Fie is one angry lady and, I say, she has every right to.

The Merciful Crow quote #3

Being a Crow, Fie has seen and experienced just about all the injustices the higher castes threw down their way. Her mother was brutally murdered by the Oleanders, the same people who seek their help with the plague won’t even pay them their due. Nevertheless, despite these, Fie’s spirit remains unbroken. She refuses to accept things as they are and will do her damndest to change the status quo for herself and the Crows.

Fie’s such a powerful character, one you’ll root for to win. In a plot-driven story, she broke through and made me feel whatever she was feeling, and that’s a testament to how Owen wrote her character.

breaker

I absolutely loved The Merciful Crow. It’s a unique story that just feels so real perhaps because of the hard issues it tackled.

This one read like a standalone with pretty much of the plot threads tied up as cleanly as the author could have, but I’m happy to get another installment next year. The ending leaves enough space for a continuation. I certainly want to see how things pan out for Fie and Tavin, Jasimir, and the Crows. This is definitely a must-read!

about the author

m-owen-headshot

Born and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, MARGARET OWEN first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.

The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked in everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.

Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page and negotiating a long-term hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.

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