Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/30/21) – Six Wakes

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Six Wakes is one of those books that’s been on the first shelf of my Goodreads TBR since the dawn of time. (Read: early 2017) I forget exactly when I fished it back out of the depths, but the premise looked interesting, so I figured I’d put it on hold at the library. Sadly, Six Wakes befell the same fate as most of the books that sit and wither in my TBR for too long: it didn’t live up to my expectations—average as they were—and ended up just being mediocre.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty

The spaceship Dormire is home to six clones. Each of them were convicted of crimes in their past lives, and by steering the Dormire to a new planet, they will be pardoned of all their past misdeeds. But when they wake up to find the corpses of their previous clones strewn around the spaceship, all six suspect foul play. But with their memories wiped and the Dormire’s AI malfunctioning, will they be able to find the perpetrator of the crime before they strike again?

Deshi Basara | 4orror: In space no one can hear you scream. ...

TW/CW: murder, blood, gore, poisoning, descriptions of death/corpses

From the premise of Six Wakes, I expected a sci-fi thriller. The sci-fi box was ticked off, without question, but the further I progressed in the novel, I was more convinced that all I was reading was 50% fictional cloning history, 48% backstory, and 2% plot.

I’ll give Six Wakes one thing, though; the worldbuilding, at its best, was incredibly thorough and well thought-out. Mur Lafferty clearly spent so much time on creating a rich, century-spanning history of cloning and its ethics, as well as the effects it had on world governments and the criminal underworld. It’s the kind of worldbuilding that made me think, “wow, I doubt I could ever have the patience to create something that detailed.” It was fantastic, really. However, it ended up being a bit of a curse to the rest of the book.

This worldbuilding, extensive and detailed as it was, ended up being delivered in such long chunks that I found myself forgetting what the novel was supposed to be about in the first place. There was so much content shoved in that it distracted from the plot as a whole, leaving it suspended in time for so long that I had to go back and re-read just to remember where we left off before the clone rambling started.

Along with the blessing/curse of the worldbuilding, the other 48% (excluding the plot) that bogged down Six Wakes was the excessive backstory. I may not be a frequent mystery reader, but I’ve read enough to know that the whole point of figuring out the mystery is to very slowly realize key details of the characters. And yet, Six Wakes went and did the EXACT opposite. Almost half of the book consisted of multi-chapter sections of backstories for the characters. Not only were they the most inorganic way possible to learn about the characters, they dragged away from what was supposed to be the main plot, and contributed to my lack of enjoyment for the book.

Even with all that backstories, none of the characters really had much of a personality. At all. We got their stories, sure, but save for maybe Hiro (whose personality seemed to be solely for comic relief), I got no sense for what made any of them tick, or what any of them were like as people. I will say in Lafferty’s favor that at least the cast was diverse—two of the main characters were Latinx (Mexican and Cuban-American) and one character was Japanese, so that was a plus.

All of those lacking plot aspects ultimately numbed me to what could have been an inventive and chilling mystery. By the time I’d trudged through all of the backstory and clone history, the plot twists made me feel nothing. And I still don’t have a clear picture of how the book was even resolved. Maybe that’s because by then, I was just skimming, but it still felt so weak and lacking as a whole.

All in all, a sci-fi thriller that had the potential for greatness but got bogged down by excessive backstory and info-dumping. 2 stars.

space aesthetic gifs | WiffleGif

Six Wakes is a standalone, but Mur Lafferty is also the author of the Afterlife series (Heaven, Hell, Earth, Wasteland, War, and Stones), the Shambling Guides series (The Shambling Guide to New York City and The Ghost Train to New Orleans), the novelization of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and several novels.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/23/21) – The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’ll admit to being not much of a mystery reader; I’m terrible at predicting who perpetrated (x) crime, so I just end up going along for the ride like a dog sticking its head out of a car window. But I thoroughly enjoyed Evelyn Hardcastle, from its consistent suspense to its creative takes on the genre.

Enjoy this week’s review!

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

Aiden Bishop has no memory of who he is, or who he was before. All he knows is this: he is currently attending a masquerade ball at Blackheath Manor, and that at the end of the night, a famous socialite by the name of Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day, time starts over, and Bishop wakes up in the body of a different party guest. The only way for him to break out of Blackheath Manor is to answer this question: who killed Evelyn Hardcastle?

𝔧𝔲𝔰𝔱 𝔶𝔬𝔲 — chewbacca: KNIVES OUT dir. Rian Johnson
god, I need to watch this movie again

TW/CW: murder, suicide, gunshot wounds, near-death situations, forced marriage, poisoning, drinking

Listen. I don’t often read mysteries, but even with a limited body of work to base my thoughts off of, I can say with certainty that this is one of the most creative mysteries that I’ve ever read.

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle has drawn comparisons to the likes of everything from Agatha Christie to Groundhog Day, and I can see the threads of both in this novel! It certainly had the feel of a classic mystery, and the cyclical, time-twisting element reminded me a lot of Groundhog Day with very different stakes. In fact, Turton’s playing with time is what made Evelyn Hardcastle such an enjoyable book; with each day that Aiden experiences, the stakes are raised even higher, building a very unique brand of suspense. I’m not usually one for back-and-forth time jumps, but Evelyn Hardcastle had a precise and clear reason for doing so, and the chapter layout worked just as well to increase the tension.

Going into Evelyn Hardcastle, the concept of switching between the bodies of guests was what intrigued me most. This aspect was easily the most well-executed element of them all, bringing in a twisty and creative factor to a mystery that would otherwise seem like any other period piece murder. The fact that all of the guests were, on some level, deplorable people made this facet of the book all the better; each one of them had any number of nasty skeletons in their closets, which made the question of Evelyn’s murder all the more intriguing—it could have been anyone.

I didn’t expect for the mystery to be an orchestrated test as well; the added element of multiple body-switching guests and the enigmatic Plague Doctor character created a new layer of suspense, which not only made the stakes higher, but also stranger. The idea that the key to Aiden’s freedom was solving Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder was all the more interesting given that this twisted “game” of sorts was orchestrated by any number of cryptic agents was such an inventive way of creating tension, so hats off to Turton for finding all sorts of ways to craft a suspenseful mystery!

Plus, the amount of red herrings that got thrown around…I’m notoriously bad at a) figuring out mysteries, and b) falling for false bait, so I tend to give up on trying to solve the mystery itself and just go along for the ride. That being so, I loved all the ways that Turton threw us off the trail as readers; in multiple instances, there were times that Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder seemed deceptively simple, but there were ruses on top of ruses (or: a donut hole in a donut’s hole) that slowly unfolded to uncover the real cause of her death. I’m sure that it’s just the kind of thing that mystery readers eat up—and I certainly ate it up, even as someone who rarely reads in the genre.

Also, without spoiling anything—the fact that Evelyn Hardcastle could technically count as sci-fi (according to the interview with Stuart Turton) makes it so much more fascination, not just because I love sci-fi so much, but because of the implications that has for the origin of Blackheath Manor in the first place. FASCINATING stuff.

All in all, a crafty mystery that employed all manner of creative twists to hook the reader in. 4 stars!

The Plague Doctor by MaxChe on Dribbble

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a standalone, and it was Stuart Turton’s debut novel. Turton is also the author of The Devil and the Dark Water, and contributed to the anthology You Are Not Alone.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/16/21) – Aurora’s End (Aurora Cycle, #3)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Wow. The day has finally come, folks. 1 and a half years of waiting, and now I have answers. My favorite series has come to a close, and yet it doesn’t feel like the end. It’s surreal to think that this may be it—the series that changed the course of my life, finally capping off. But if this really is the end, then Aurora’s End is the best conclusion that I could have ever asked for, and a book that I will no doubt cherish just as fervently as the first two books.

Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! If you haven’t read Aurora Rising or Aurora Burning and intend to, beware of spoilers! If you want to read my previous reviews, look no further:

Enjoy this week’s review!

Aurora's End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | Penguin Random House Canada
F I N

Aurora’s End (Aurora Cycle, #3) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

my copy ft. Aurora Burning and Aurora Rising, plus a cool filter and some crystals (not Eshvaren crystals oop)
last picture, I promise—here’s Finny boy with Hobbes, one of my cats

For all intents and purposes, the Battle of Terra was the end for Squad 312. They failed to stop the Starslayer from harnessing the Eshvaren’s Weapon, and intergalactic war is imminent. Meanwhile, the Ra’Haam slips in through the chaos, threatening to cover the entire universe in its spores.

But by a cosmic twist of fate, Tyler, Auri, Kal, Zila, Scarlett, and Finian are unscathed. They’ve been separated by time, and the only chance they have at thwarting the Ra’Haam is turning history itself inside out. Time is not on their side, though, and it may not be enough to save civilization itself from being wiped out.

karlmordo - This is how things are now! You and me. Trapped in...
Aurora’s End without context

TW/CW: graphic violence, mild sexual content, blood, near-death situations, severe allergic reaction, emergency medical procedures, loss of loved ones, death, descriptions of injury, body horror

[WARNING: this review may contain spoilers for Aurora Rising and Aurora Burning!]

I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that this is really the end of the Aurora Cycle. But as someone whose life was permanently altered for the better by this trilogy, I can say with certainty that this is the best end to the series that I could have ever asked for. My heart is so, so, so full of love.

There were so many factors that went into the separate situations that Squad 312 got themselves into, but Kaufman and Kristoff have once again proved that nothing is impossible. Time is distorted, there are future selves to be dealt with, technology and ancient aliens races are as complicated as ever, and of course, Past Pete is here to kill Future Pete. Lucky for us, Kaufman & Kristoff have been rapid-firing Chekhov’s gun, and every detail from the past two books comes full circle. After how mind-boggling the plot and cliffhanger of Aurora Burning were, Aurora’s End brings everything back in superbly clever and surprising ways, making for a trilogy that’s more cohesive than ever before.

And my emotions…MY EMOTIONS! After so long apart, reuniting with Squad 312 felt like reuniting with long-lost friends. Despite this being the last book, the development that many characters got was such a beautiful way to bring them all the way back and display the enormous growth many of them have had over the course of the series. Out of all of them, though, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see Finian and Scarlett’s relationship develop; they’re such an unlikely couple, but the love they have for each other is so consistently tender and heartwarming. Plus, a) NORMALIZE BI PEOPLE IN STRAIGHT PASSING RELATIONSHIPS! STRAIGHT-PASSING RELATIONSHIPS ARE SO VERY VALID!, and b) DISABLED PEOPLE!! IN LOVING RELATIONSHIPS!! WE NEED MORE OF THOSE!! Nothing can top Kalauri, but Fin and Scar come very, very close. I LOVE those two. Power couple. Finian is the once and future disaster bisexual.

Also, Tyler trying to be all “space pirate”-y after an entire lifetime of being Captain America was a train wreck…comedy gold

One aspect of Kaufman and Kristoff’s writing that I haven’t often touched on is how they build tension. Their skill at developing heart-pounding tension is especially evident in Aurora’s End; they did such a masterful job of raising the stakes over the course of these three books, and bringing it all to a nail-biting cataclysm towards the end. The last 100 pages of Aurora’s End had me stressed out to no end, but…in a good way? It made me genuinely worried for everybody involved. Look, I’ve gotten way to attached to my space misfits over the past two years. Let me off the hook this once.

Along with all that, Kaufman and Kristoff once again more than delivered with everything that made the first two books so strong. The universe was expanded upon in surprising ways, the characters were more fleshed out and lovable than ever, the chemistry was impeccable, the action sequences had me clutching the book in a vice grip, and the dialogue hit the perfect balance of levity, tenderness, and solemnity. The found family of Squad 312 is stronger than ever, and my heart is still bursting with love for all of them.

It’s hard to end this review. It isn’t every day that a series changes my life, but the Aurora Cycle truly did. These books taught me so much about moving through this world as an outsider; Auri taught me that I didn’t have to be brave or strong to be a hero, and that people with the fate of the world on their shoulders can have their big feels too. She was the first time I’d really seen a mixed-race hero, and having a character like her means the world to me. I’ve come to see myself in Finian, and he’s taught me that I deserve love just as I am. And Squad 312 has taught me that no matter who you are, there will always be a home for the outsiders. It cemented, more than ever, that even if you think that you are alone in the world, somebody out there loves you, and will give you a home.

All in all, the perfect ending for a series that changed my life for the better. 5 stars for the sake of Goodreads, but realistically, however many stars there are in the known universe.

Squad 312 forever. 💗

never again shall we submit

Aurora’s End is the final book in the Aurora Cycle, preceded by Aurora Rising (#1) and Aurora Burning (#2). Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have also written the Illuminae Files together; Amie Kaufman is also the author of the Starbound trilogy (co-written with Meagan Spooner) and the Elementals series, and Jay Kristoff is also the author of the LIFEL1K3 trilogy and Empire of the Vampire.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/9/21) – Columbus Day

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

A close friend of mine was the one who recommended this week’s book to me; we’re both sci-fi fans, and she had been listening to this whole series as audiobooks and highly recommended it. Since it was cheap on the Kindle library, I bought it and read it while I was in LA last week. While it certainly wasn’t my favorite sci-fi book I’ve ever read, it wasn’t bad for my first jump into military sci-fi.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Columbus Day (Expeditionary Force #1) by Craig Alanson | Goodreads

Columbus Day (Expeditionary Force, #1) – Craig Alanson

Humankind has barely breached outer space, but it’s already in the midst of an intergalactic war.

Caught up in a war between the Ruhar and the Kristang—two alien species with unparalleled interstellar might—Earth creates the Expeditionary Force to fight for themselves on the side of the Kristang, bringing in soldiers from the world’s most powerful militaries to aid in the effort. Joe Bishop, a U.S. army soldier from a sleepy town in Maine, finds himself caught in the conflict when he is whisked off-world to join the Expeditionary Force. Amongst old friends and new enemies, he is entrenched in a war beyond his comprehension. But the more he learns, the more he ponders the question: are humans fighting for the wrong side?

Starwars Battle GIF - Starwars Battle Clones - Discover & Share GIFs

TW/CW: graphic violence, xenophobia, misogyny, sexual content, war, death

I’ve been a fan of sci-fi for years, but I think Columbus Day is one of the only military sci-fi books that I’ve read. (The only other one I can think of might be Ender’s Game, but it’s been a while since I’ve read that one.) After reading this, I wouldn’t say that I was impressed, but I wasn’t fighting the urge to vomit, either. Columbus Day was entertaining, but it got bogged down by a series of flaws that built on top of each other.

Columbus Day largely hinges on the prospect that your average reader knows a substantial amount of military jargon. And there is quite a lot of jargon here; on multiple occasions, I found myself lost in a thick, murky swamp of unexplained slang and technical terms. The same treatment was given to the worldbuilding, which, although it was clearly complex and well thought-out (which was great!), it was delivered in such dizzyingly long chunks that it all felt more convoluted than it was intended to be. The frequent comma splices didn’t exactly help, either. I would’ve gone for a few more rounds of editing on this one.

I found most of the characters to be fairly bland and unlikable, but the one thing I will say in their favor is that they worked as characters in this novel specifically. Joe Bishop was infuriating; he’s the kind of heroic but unknowing everyman who is supposed to appeal to everybody, but falls short big time. There isn’t an original thought that goes through his head, and he’s constantly going on about how “humble” and “down to earth” he is and thinks he’s cooler than everyone else because he can…I don’t know, live off the land, or whatever. He’s a horrible character, to put it lightly, but for this kind of military sci-fi, he almost works. It’s supposed to be centered around soldiers with no control over their lives, so Joe…strangely fits?

The same went for most of the characters; the only depth we got out of any of them (Joe Bishop included) was the prospect of “wait, are we fighting on the right side of this war?” and the concept that nothing is black and white. Most of them came out with the same factory settings, and were then assigned a single personality trait. However, there is one delightful exception to the rule: Skippy! He really stole the show—yeah, he got saddled with all the banter, but the banter was somehow LEAGUES better than any of the other dialogue in the entire rest of the book. I know that it’s way too common for sci-fi to hand all of the comic relief in the entire book to the sassy ship’s AI, but you know why everybody does that? Because it works! And Skippy was certainly a highlight of Columbus Day. Maybe even the best part.

One more thing that I’ll say in Columbus Day‘s favor—it has some pretty solid action scenes. They’re a little drawn out at worst, but Craig Alanson does a great job of throwing in twists and keeping you on your toes when you least expect it. I did enjoy the final battle scene quite a bit, even if there wasn’t a whole lot of substance to it. That’s another thing—Columbus Day is more candy than anything; if you’re looking for a book that muses on the nature of man’s place in the universe or something along those lines, you won’t find it here. But that’s okay! It’s somewhat shallow, but that’s just fine. It’s the perfect book if you’ve just read something heavy and you need something to distract yourself. That’s the merit of these kinds of books—if you’re looking for substance, you’ll be disappointed, so think of it as a 300-page action movie.

All in all, a sci-fi novel that was bogged down with excessive jargon and unlikable characters, but partially made up for it in fast-paced action and sassy AI. 3 stars.

star wars battle gifs | 2048

Columbus Day is the first book in Craig Alanson’s Expeditionary Force series, which spans over 12 books (!!) and counting. In addition to Expeditionary Force, Alanson is also the author of the Ascendance trilogy and the Mavericks series, which are Expeditionary Force spin-offs.

Today’s song:

excuse me for a moment [SOBS]

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/2/21) – A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

After finishing A Gathering of Shadows, I was scared that the final Shades of Magic book would be similarly disappointing. Luckily, A Conjuring Light packed the punch that the series needed, coming through to be my favorite book in the trilogy.

Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! This review may contain spoilers for book 1, A Darker Shade of Magic, and book 2, A Gathering of Shadows. If you haven’t read the first two books in the series and intend on doing so, be careful!

Here are my reviews for the first two Shades of Magic books:

Enjoy this week’s review!

Buy A Conjuring of Light: A Novel: 3 (Shades of Magic, 3) Book Online at  Low Prices in India | A Conjuring of Light: A Novel: 3 (Shades of Magic, 3)  Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.in

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) – V.E. Schwab

Red London is falling. Sentient black magic, escaped from Black London, is loose, and it hungers for vessels. It leaves complete and utter destruction in its wake, and no one is safe.

Rhy, the newly crowned King of Red London, and Kell, are sequested in the palace, attempting to discern the origins of the magical plague. Meanwhile, Lila and Alucard are stranded on the high seas. Their only hope is to join forces to save Red London, but will their combined powers be enough to defeat magic itself?

𝐆𝐎𝐃𝐃𝐄𝐒𝐒 || 𝐆𝐢𝐟 𝐇𝐮𝐧𝐭 - 𝐌𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐜! - Wattpad

TW/CW: stabbing, graphic violence, death, loss of loved ones, near-death experiences, fantasy violence

After the disappointment that was A Gathering of Shadows, I didn’t expect to enjoy book 3 as much as I did. But, lo and behold, I ended up finishing this one late at night. I curled up like a sad, emotional little worm in my bed and stared at the ceiling after I finished. I still don’t know what to do with myself now that I’ve finished the whole trilogy.

V.E. Schwab succeeded in bringing in everything that was missing from A Gathering of Shadows back and better than ever in A Conjuring of Light, and then cranked it all up to 100. The writing was sharper than ever, the worldbuilding was just as immersive, and the raw emotion and suspense was present in no small amount. As lengthy of a book this is (about 624 pages in the edition that I read), I couldn’t stop reading, feeling a constant urge to turn the page and find out what happened next. All of it made for a finale that truly packed a punch.

I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but the characters are what truly make the Shades of Magic series what it is, and A Conjuring of Light is a shining testament to the fact. More than ever, I was truly rooting for Kell, Alucard, and the rest of the characters, feeling everything that they felt more deeply than ever. And can we talk about the development that Rhy had? DANG. It’s rare for the last book in a trilogy to devote that much time to a main character’s growth, but A Conjuring of Light did just that for Rhy! I liked him for the first two books, but the emotional growth he had in this book made me love him so much. It was great to see his development now that he holds a position of true power; the realization that he has an entire empire to save sharpened him into the ruler that he needed to be. It was simultaneously a sea change and a display of growth that still stayed true to who he was at heart.

I suppose I’ve come around a little bit to Lila. I’m still not the biggest fan of her, but she was at least tolerable in this book.

A Conjuring of Light also had the strongest plot out of the three—what’s more suspenseful than a devouring, magical plague with a god complex? It presented a very real threat for the characters, and it was just the kind of movement that the series needed. Add in political intrigue, romance, and nonstop action, and you’ve got a book that doesn’t just successfully keep itself afloat, but hooks you for every page. I went through the emotional gamut reading this one—heart-thumping suspense, giddy happiness, and some tears of shock. No spoilers for what caused the latter, but at least it was a false alarm.

And now, I’ve inevitably arrived at the bittersweet stage where I’ve finished the whole trilogy. Though book 2 was a letdown, A Darker Shade of Magic and A Conjuring of Light brought me no shortage of joy. I had so much fun traveling through the Londons and watching magical battles play out. I forget who put it on the list for my high school book club, but whoever you are, THANK YOU. You have improved my life so much by introducing me to these fine books. And thank you, V.E. Schwab, for creating such gems. What a trilogy.

Now, I still really don’t know what to do with myself. But hey, I’ve heard there are some prequel comics…😳😳😳

4.5 stars!

baroque fool: WitchCraft nails: Dark magic

A Conjuring of Light is the final book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, preceded by A Darker Shade of Magic (book 1) and A Gathering of Shadows (book 2). V.E. Schwab is also the author of the Villains series (Vicious and Vengeful) and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Today’s song:

BABE WAKE UP NEW SPIRITUALIZED JUST DROPPED AFTER J. SPACEMAN SAID THAT HE PROBABLY WOULDN’T RELEASE ANY MORE MUSIC

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (10/26/21) – A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

For no particular reason, I’ve ended up reading a lot more sequels than usual this month. I picked this one up because of how much I loved A Darker Shade of Magic; I couldn’t find it at my local library, so I ended up checking it out from my school library because I just NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT. However, though A Gathering of Shadows was still a decent novel, it fell into the tragic curse of the disappointing filler sequel.

Enjoy this week’s review!

A Gathering of Shadows: A Novel (Shades of Magic, 2): Victoria Schwab:  9780765376473: Amazon.com: Books

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) – V.E. Schwab

Kell Maresh and Delilah Bard have long parted ways. But unexpected circumstance will reunite them, and the results may mean the end of Red London as they know it.

After the fall of the Danes in White London and the disappearance of the stone, Kell is back in the palace with Rhy. It is the eve of the Element Games, where magicians from all over compete in an extravagant spectacle. But the competition brings old friends and new ashore—namely Alucard, a clever pirate captain who is not as he seems, and Lila, who has joined him as a part of his crew. But on the margins of all the festivity, a new threat is rising—one that could topple every London in existence.

ladyofvalyria | Dark fantasy novels, Katherine pierce, Royal aesthetic

TW/CW: graphic violence, fire, near-death situations

I’m glad that I read this soon after reading book 1, but still, this one was a disappointment…[Obi-Wan Kenobi voice] “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!”

It saddens me to admit it, but A Gathering of Shadows fell straight into the fatal trap of the Disappointing Sequel: if anything, it’s almost nothing but filler. My main complaint about book 1 (besides Lila) was that the plot was a little weak, but this book was even more so. Most of the book was just festivities surrounding a celebratory event that had almost no connection to the main plot. All that tied it back to the central plot was sprinklings of a villain that we thought was dead (resurrection trope! Whee!) and not much else. Coming off of the immersive, heartstopping gem that was A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows was a little bit pathetic in comparison.

However, that’s not to say that it wasn’t at least decent. I did like A Gathering of Shadows, at least to some degree. It was disappointing, sure, but I didn’t hate it. V.E. Schwab’s writing still kept me rapt, and the worldbuilding and expansions to it were interesting to see. Even if the Element Games plot bored me a little, I did like seeing all of the intricacies that went into it, as well as the other cultures and countries outside of Red London. There’s no denying that the world that V.E. Schwab has built is a fantastic one, and in the case of this novel, it was largely its saving grace.

And there’s always the matter of the characters! Kell and Rhy were just as lovable as always, and although they didn’t develop an awful lot during this novel (not like the plot gave them much room to do so, oof), reuniting with them was like reuniting with old friends. I loved Alucard as well; he was such a fun character, but…hold up, what is it with the second book in a YA fantasy trilogy ALWAYS introducing the sarcastic, seductive privateer? First Nikolai Lantsov, now Alucard…HAHA

A Gathering of Shadows almost made me like Lila, but all my hopes for her collapsed about halfway through the book. Not only was she as “not-like-other-girls” as ever, her motivations made even LESS sense than they did in book 1. Given that she’s spent her life on the streets fighting for her life, you would think that she wouldn’t do something so risky as…well, disguise herself as a dead magician that she looks nothing like and enter a competition in his name, right? Wrong, apparently. With all that Lila’s been through, I would personally think that she would be the kind of character to weigh risks and benefits, but I guess that all went out the window. I get it, she’s a teenager, but even for a teenager, that’s kind of ridiculous. Plus, after how A Darker Shade of Magic ended, I was excited to see that she might have some kind of ulterior motive or the beginnings of a corruption arc…but no, I guess that wasn’t the case either. Sigh.

All in all, a lackluster but entertaining addition to the Shades of Magic world that offered up a dry plot, but kept the series afloat with new characters and consistently dazzling worldbuilding. 3.5 stars.

Fearless Falling, Reckless Rising | Liz sherman, Super powers, Magic  aesthetic

A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, preceded by A Darker Shade of Magic and followed by A Conjuring of Light. V.E. Schwab is also the author of the Villains series (Vicious and Vengeful) and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

Today’s song:

most of the time, covers that people produce specifically to fit into movie trailers annoy me, but I’ll admit that this gives me CHILLS

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (10/19/21) – Steelstriker (Skyhunter, #2)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

wHEW okay so I just submitted my college applications I need a minute

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So, what do my college applications and this week’s review have in common? My feelings after finishing both of them can be described accurately with the image above.

I’ve been a fan of Marie Lu’s for years now, and I loved Skyhunter, so I immediately jumped at the chance to preorder book two. I got to read it recently, and I can say with certainty that Marie Lu has made another riveting success!

Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! This review contains spoilers for book 1, Skyhunter! If you haven’t read book 1 and intend to, I suggest you skip through this review.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Amazon.com: Steelstriker (Skyhunter Duology): 9781250221728: Lu, Marie:  Books

Steelstriker (Skyhunter, #2) – Marie Lu

my copies of Skyhunter and Steelstriker feat. a cool filter

Mara has fallen. The Federation’s colonization sweeps through what was once the last stronghold of freedom, and at its forefront, the young Premier wreaks havoc, fighting to uncover an ancient artifact that could give his empire unimaginable power.

Talin has been captured for the Skyhunter initiative, melded with wings and great power against her will. But her connection to the Premier presents her with a unique perspective that could help her allies win the war. Meanwhile, Red and the rest of the Strikers are intent on breaking her out, but a plot against the Federation could mean the difference between victory and utter chaos.

are you with me? | Rogue one star wars, Star wars ships, Star wars fandom

TW/CW: torture, human experimentation, graphic violence, public executions, murder (attempted and executed), colonization

Let it be known that I was reading the last part of Steelstriker while getting my hair dyed, and that right as I hit THAT CLIMAX, the lady dyeing my hair came in and I had to hold it together long enough for her to rinse my hair out. This is the havoc that Marie Lu has wrought upon my heart.

But it was 100% worth it.

Skyhunter is a very special book to me. Not only was it written by one of my favorite authors, it helped me through what was easily one of the toughest times in my life. When I was weighed down with grief and stress, Skyhunter taught me to maintain hope, even in the darkest of times. Now, here I am one year later, and Steelstriker means just the same to me—a bleak, dystopian world, but with underlying currents of hope and resistance.

Just as with book 1, I can picture the imagery of Steelstriker like it was footage from a TV show. Marie Lu’s writing kept me hooked from page one, and I only found myself putting it down for…well, basic necessities. (And getting my hair rinsed off.) I felt just as invested in Talin and Red’s story as I did last year.

Standing next to Skyhunter, one aspect that set Steelstriker apart was the rich political intrigue. Within the action there are threads of unrest, manifesting in secret plots and uprisings aplenty. Every single plot point had a satisfying domino effect through the rest of the novel, and the constant twists that resulted kept me guessing until the epilogue. Marie Lu’s balance of sci-fi action and realistic dissent and secret plots made for a book that sucked me in for its entire length.

And the characters! Coming back to Red, Talin, and the rest of the striker gang felt like reuniting with old friends. I had a soft spot for Red in book 1, and he was just as well-developed, complex, and outright lovable as ever. Talin’s internal struggle with being a Skyhunter never ceased to tug my heartstrings, and her perspective balanced outside intensity with introspective development. And the two of them together!! I mentioned in my review of Skyhunter that I thought they would work in either a platonic or romantic relationship, and having them be in love was so, so, SO sweet. They’re just perfect for each other. GAAH.

All of it culminated to a climax that threw my heart down the Grand Canyon and an epilogue that pulled it back up. Marie Lu certainly knows how to toy with my feelings [coughcough THE MIDNIGHT STAR cough cough].

It’s bittersweet for me to think that the Skyhunter duology is coming to a close. But Steelstriker was a sequel that was just as heartbreaking, intense, and wholly special as its predecessor. Thank you, Marie Lu, from the bottom of my heart. 4.5 stars!

Steelstriker is the final book in the Skyhunter duology, preceded by Skyhunter. Marie Lu is also the author of the Young Elites trilogy (The Young Elites, The Rose Society, and The Midnight Star), The Kingdom of Back, the Legend series (Legend, Prodigy, Champion, and Rebel), and the Warcross series (Warcross and Wildcard.)

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (10/12/21) – A Darker Shade of Magic

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

I’d heard of this novel now and then before reading it, but it managed to escape my periphery for years. It then got selected for November’s pick for my high school’s book club, so I decided to pick it up before the library ran out of copies. I had no expectations, but I was surprised at how dazzling of a book it was! Automatically on my favorite books of 2021.

Enjoy this week’s review!

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) – V.E. Schwab

my library copy on my windowsill ft. a cool filter

Kell has lived a life caught between many worlds—in a literal sense. As a fabled Antari magician with the ability to travel between worlds, he works as a royal ambassador for his homeland of Red London, traveling between his home, Grey London, and White London. Black London fell long ago.

A chance encounter with an artifact containing dangerous magic and a skilled thief named Delilah Bard throws Kell off course. Now, he must wrestle with magic that could potentially swallow his home–and an alliance that could result in his undoing.

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TW/CW: murder, blood, graphic violence, public executions

Going into this book, I had little to no expectations. I read This Savage Song about four years ago and remembered next to nothing about it, and so I had no sense about how I would feel about V.E. Schwab’s other books. To my surprise, A Darker Shade of Magic hooked me almost instantly with its unique characters and dangerous magic!

Schwab’s writing was the star of the show here, no questions asked. Her prose was so immersive that I could feel magic in the air, smell rain and ash, and see a river tinted red as though it were all surrounding me. Each London had its own intricate mythology, and each was fleshed out to the degree that none of them felt rushed over. (I have no sense for Black London, though, but I have a feeling I’ll learn more about it in the coming books. Hopefully.) Her imagery is nothing short of magical (no pun intended), and the worldbuilding to support each London made the environment that much more believable.

The central plot of A Darker Shade of Magic was a little bit weak, but it made up for it with tons of action and snappy dialogue. Having a good portion of the plot center around a ✨magical rock✨ is dangerous in and of itself, and even though this ✨magical rock✨ had some serious ✨magical consequences✨, it did feel a bit like a sorry excuse for a plot. Lucky for us, there’s far more than that; Schwab supplies the book with enough political intrigue, fantasy lore, banter, and intense conflict to make the plot full enough to sustain a gripping story. And gripping it was–yeah, I know I just griped about the ✨magical rock✨, but I seriously couldn’t put this one down.

For the most part, I adored the characters! Kell was a fantastic protagonist. From his distinct appearance (MAN I need to draw him) to his quiet loyalty to his magic prowess, it’s hard not to love him. Yeah, he’s more than a little edgy, but it was lovable in a Kaz Brekker kind of way. All of the supporting characters were similarly charming, bringing all sorts of unique elements to the plot.

All of them except for Lila.

Lila…

I loved almost all of the other characters, but I hated Lila. She fell straight into the “not like other girls” trope, and most of her mannerisms didn’t fail to make me cringe. What I didn’t care for in particular was her motivations. Nothing Lila did made any sense. I get that she’s a teenager, but wouldn’t leading a life of crime and starving on the streets give somebody some semblance of direction in life? Every decision that she made hinged on the fact that there would be no consequences, and most of it was fleeting, shallow, and far too spur of the moment.

The worst example: why she wants to travel through all of the alternate Londons with Kell? “Because I’m bored.”

SHUT Blank Template - Imgflip

…okay, maybe I’m giving her too little credit. Maybe that was a cover for her actual motivations. But do we know any of these motivations? NOPE. Thus why her character made no sense. The only upside is that I imagined her looking like Maeve from Sex Education with a cool fantasy outfit.

20th century women — ramimalec: EMMA MACKEY as MAEVE WILEY in...
this is Maeve, for reference

All in all, though, an immersive and luscious fantasy that hooked me in from page one. 4.5 stars!

vague gifs | WiffleGif
@ Lila

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy, followed by A Gathering of Shadows (book 2) and A Conjuring of Light (book 3). Under this pseudonym, V.E. Schwab is also the author of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and the Villains series (Vicious and Vengeful).

Today’s song:

the instrumental part at 2:31 was stuck in my head earlier this afternoon and it took me a good hour to remember what it was from

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (10/5/21) – Iron Widow

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

This novel came on my radar a few months ago, and I just had to put it on my TBR–what could go wrong with giant robots, aliens, and patriarchy-smashing? What more could a reader want, really? I preordered it, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint–and it got me out of a week-and-a-half-long reading slump too!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1) by Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow (Iron Widow, #1) – Xiran Jay Zhao

my copy ft. a nice filter and some more red and orange books

Hordes of aliens are invading Huaxia. Their last hope lies in the Chrysalises, supersized robots piloted by the best young boys that the country has to offer–and powered by girls, who inevitably die from the exertion.

It’s not a dream that most of the girls of Huaxia would entertain. But for 18-year-old Zetian, there’s more to the job than certain death. There’s a chance of revenge, specifically for her older sister, who was sacrificed by a Chrysalis pilot. Her murder successful murder plot garners her the rare title of Iron Widow, a role reversal where she pilots the Chrysalis and can only sacrifice boys. With her newfound title, Zetian has one more mission–tear the misogynist foundations of Huaxia’s army to shreds.

What Do You Want Jean Grey GIF - What Do You Want Jean Grey - Discover &  Share GIFs

TW/CW: misogyny, rape, graphic violence, death, past loss of loved one, alcoholism/substance abuse, withdrawal, torture

I’m ashamed that we didn’t think of this solution earlier…DESTROY THE PATRIARCHY WITH ROBOTS

After a long slump, Iron Widow was just what I needed. Even if I’d been on a string of amazing books beforehand, though, this book would have been just as much of a wild ride as it was when I read it. Unapologetically feminist and action-packed, Iron Widow is sure to please sci-fi fans and those new to the genre.

The feminist aspect of Iron Widow is what stood out the most for me. Throughout, there’s unapologetic commentary on the harshest treatment of women in society, from the constraints of the gender binary to rape and institutionalized misogyny. Sure, we have hordes of aliens attacking the country in droves, but the rampant sexism and misogynist violence is the real antagonist here. Xiran Jay Zhao did an excellent job of showing all the facets of misogyny–and then having a character like Zetian tear them down little by little.

Zetian was the perfect protagonist for Iron Widow, and she’s a near textbook-perfect example of a flawed but sympathizable character. She’s ruthless, she’s fierce, she’s fiery, but what’s more important than her traits is why she became the way she did. It’s a perfect example of how oppression can shape a person’s character–Zetian might not have been so blindsided by revenge and filled with self-doubt were it not for the ingrained misogyny of Huaxia’s culture. Her character was such a well-crafted exploration of this theme.

On top of that, Zetian’s character made for the perfect catalyst to drive the plot forward! There was no shortage of drama or action that she either caused or that came in her wake, rocketing an already action-packed novel at a fast but consistently entertaining pace. The combination of Zetian and military drama, robots, and aliens made for a novel that never slowed down–in the best way possible.

Another aspect that Zhao handled well was the balance of plot elements. There’s more than a few heavy topics discussed in this book (see the TW/CW at the top), but they depicted their realness while also reveling in the more fantastical plot elements. I hesitate to call the latter “levity,” but there wasn’t an imbalance of either of those sections of the novel.

Now, I’m a little torn on the worldbuilding. For the most part, I loved it, especially the Chrysalises. Each one was based off of a creature from Chinese-inspired mythology, and I was so excited to see all of them come to life. Zhao also did a great job explaining the whole qi system without info dumping–there were just the right amount of evenly-spaced tidbits of information that I wasn’t deluged with anything, but by the time that these elements came in, I was able to go “oh, right, I understand how that works.” I just wish the same care was put into the Hundun aliens! Although I can’t wait to see how the twist with them is resolved in the next book, all of the details about them were so vague that I could hardly picture them.

Also, a big selling point about Iron Widow was that there was a love triangle solved by polyamory. I was so excited to see it come into play, but…it never seemed to happen? Maybe I missed something (is it just going to be slow-burn?), but I swear there was only some romantic undertones with both Li Shimin and Yizhi and the three of them haven’t been together for a very long time. Again, maybe I missed something, but I was a little disappointed by that. Maybe it’ll appear in book 2…

All in all, a raw and unapologetically feminist piece of YA sci-fi. 4 stars!

Iron Widow is Xiran Jay Zhao’s debut novel and the first in the Iron Widow series. The series will be continued by an as-of-yet untitled sequel set for release in 2022.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (9/28/21) – Final Draft

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

This book has been on my radar for at least a year and a half. I was drawn to it because of the premise of a character who is an aspiring sci-fi writer (like me!) going through high school. I bought it on my Kindle recently, and though my expectations were high, I found Final Draft to be enjoyable, but a little lacking–both in development and length.

Enjoy this week’s review!

Final Draft by Riley Redgate

Final Draft – Riley Redgate

Laila Piedra dreams of becoming a sci-fi author, and she spends every moment she can crafting new worlds on her laptop. Her biggest supporter is her creative writing teacher, Mr. Madison, who is always there to lend a word of advice or support. But when Mr. Madison gets in a car accident and can no longer teacher, he’s replaced by Nadiya Nazarenko, a renowned author who doles out scathing critiques faster than the speed of light. Pressured to impress her new teacher, Laila stretches herself into places that she never would have dreamed of. But what will it cost her dream of writing–and her mental health?

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actual footage of me once I finished the book

TW/CW: underage drinking, fatphobia, depression, death, descriptions of injury

Final Draft had the makings of a great story, but it only felt like half a book. It left me wanting more in the end–everything felt so crammed and rushed, and as a result, all that could have been good ended up suffering. However, that wasn’t to say that it wasn’t at least enjoyable–it was a decent story, but it felt unnecessarily truncated.

I’ll start out with what I liked–the representation! Final Draft was a very diverse book–Laila is mixed-raced and half-Latina, and her rep made me feel so seen! She’s also plus-size and pansexual, and that combination of representation is always fantastic to see. Additionally, her love interest is Korean-American and a lesbian, and there are several Latinx side characters. So I owe a big thank you to Riley Redgate for all of that great rep!

Now, Final Draft started out with a lot of promise. The setup in the first third or so had the makings of a great story–a clear setup and a difficult conflict for Laila to overcome. But at about the 40% mark, everything felt crammed into a scant amount of pages. Everything happened at almost breakneck speed, shoving key conflicts into far fewer pages than was necessary to develop the events of the novel. (For reference, the Kindle edition of Final Draft was only 272 pages, so there could have been so much more content to bulk everything up and make it coherent!) It all felt so rushed, and as a result, the message came across muddy and underdeveloped. There are so many themes that are so important to discuss–the cautionary tale of the “suffering artist,” mental health and depression, and grief, to name a few–but they were all glossed over in such a short amount of time that they were all unfinished and badly handled.

That being said, although the story was unnecessarily rushed, at least the topics discussed were there. For creative people, mental health is so often neglected in the face of criticism and perfectionism, and having a story like Laila’s is an important one not just for writers, but any young person with creative passions. Laila’s story needs to be told–I just wish it was fully fleshed out.

All in all, a book that had the potential to be potent and powerful, but suffered from excessive rushing. 3 stars.

i love you ! [ 𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗿𝗶 ]. | Anime scenery, Anime gifts, Aesthetic gif

Final Draft is a standalone, but Riley Redgate is also the author of Noteworthy, Seven Ways We Lie, and the forthcoming Alone Out Here, which is slated for release in April 2022.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!