What a month! I read and wrote a lot, and I caught up on ALL of my April goals while also managing to read a few extra books for May, so this is full of good stuff. Since we’re almost at the halfway point of the year, too, I checked in on my goal to read all books purchased in 2018 before the end of 2019, and GUYS. Of the 71 books I had leftover, I only have 23 left! I am so stoked about that, so let’s start on this high note and get to the reviews.
What: The Divine Comedy, Vol. 3: Paradiso by Dante Alighieri
Review: This was good, both because it was well done and because it made me furious. Here are my reviews for both Inferno and Purgatorio, and unsurprisingly, I liked this the second best out of the three. Like with purgatory, there were some really questionable morals in paradise. The biggest one that stood out for me was that we are not to question God, nor are we to try to look beyond our station. If we don’t understand The Plan or our Purpose or Literally Anything, that’s too bad, we’re not supposed to. Even the angels have, verbatim, given up their free will so that they may blindly trust in God. Therefore, the reason Lucifer fell (aside: his name was never once said in the entire Comedy, which I find really sad) was because he wanted to think for himself. So yeah, I’m going to hell because fuck that noise.
However, the way paradise was written was very similar to hell in that it had a lot of the same levels to climb through and it was very description-heavy. Purgatory felt like there was a fog on it the entire time I was reading, which was well done, but so annoying, I had to dock it a star. Hell & Heaven both have very clear descriptions, and I can see where I am at any given moment. Beatrice, although a glaringly obvious and kind of obnoxious foil to Virgil, also acted as great guide since Virgil couldn’t continue on. Overall, this was good, but I’m gonna have to stick with Inferno as my favorite.
What: The Near Witch by VE Schwab
Review: This is Schwab’s debut, guys. Her debut. I only hope that when my first novel is published, it’s even half as good as this. The Near Witch follows Lexi as she attempts to uncover who is stealing children from their beds. Along the way, she meets Cole, a stranger in a place where strangers don’t exist, and thus by his nature alone, he’s the sole suspect of the missing children. Lexi, however, knows how to listen to the moor surrounding Near, and she trusts that Cole is here to help, not hinder.
If I had to describe this in one word, it would be musical. I felt like I was floating, or perhaps sinking, as Schwab’s words twisted around me, as they pulled at my heart and slid into my soul. We know her writing is masterful, and now, looking at her debut, I am astonished. It was so interesting to be able to see her roots, to see what she’s grown from, and to still be so thoroughly enthralled. I am just truly amazed at how lovely this was, from the whispering plot to the magical moors to the full and wild characters. If you’re a fan of Schwab, pick this up. If you’re a fan of magic and strangeness and soft stories, pick this up.
What: Locke & Key, Vol. 5: Clockworks by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
Review: I only have one volume left in this series, and I am 100% avoiding it. This was a really interesting addition to the story, as well, as it was mostly in the past. We got a lot of information about Dodge before he was Dodge, and got to see Rendell, which I thought was pretty neat. I liked the placement of this story set in the past toward the end of the series, too. We’ve been able to get to know the character of Dodge as he is now, and so this was like a punch to the gut a little? Like, HA you thought he was completely bad? Like wow, Joe Hill, way to pull a YA trope out and smack us over the head with it. That’s not to say it wasn’t done well, either, because while I definitely still hate Dodge, I’m a little sad for him, too. I did miss getting to see our regular characters, but I also really, really enjoyed all of the information we were given in this one, and I can’t even imagine what insanity is going to play out in the next one. Oh, and also: LEAVE BODE ALONE, DAMN IT!
What: All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queen Teens Throughout the Ages by Various Authors
Review: I’ve always been a huge fan of short story collections, but ever since I started Thursday Thousand again, I’ve been itching to get my hands on one, and I couldn’t be happier to start with this.
Okay. So I wrote the introduction to this review probably on the first day I started reading this, and my opinion has changed drastically. The representation of queer teens in this is pretty bad. There are queer teens, but don’t let that title fool you into thinking this is diverse. Of 17 total stories, there were 2 trans characters, 1 ace character, 4 gay characters, and 10 lesbian characters. TEN. Oh, and bi characters? Nonexistent. Not to mention the sheer level of homophobia displayed in a lot of the stories, which, given the different time periods these take place in, is understandable, but almost all of the stories that contained traces of homophobia could have definitely been told without it.
There are also two stories that were fairly difficult to get through. I could not follow the plot of Willows at all. I was able to mostly figure it out, but we’re left in the dark a lot, and there’s a lot of confusing language used toward the end. There was also a story, which I’ve since forgotten the name of even though I read it last night, that switched tenses every other sentence, and this made it almost impossible to read. Honestly, most of the writing wasn’t that great. A lot of the stories were of the instalove variety, and none of the language actually suited the era that each story was set in. Oh, and, if you’re going in hoping that actual labels will be said, sorry nope. No one is actually called queer or gay or lesbian or ace or trans or anything. At all. And there are no bi characters. I’m never going to let that one go. Thanks for yet another “we don’t want you” vibe.
Look. This got 3 stars because some of it is good. I was really excited about there being a disabled character. (Only one, but still.) Most of the stories were white, but a few had POC. And I didn’t hate all of them. It was just advertised poorly with the inclusive title, and I had higher expectations because of that.
What: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Review: I definitely expected to have a book hangover after reading this, and while it was amazing, that didn’t happen. Before we get into what promises to be a lengthy review, I want to say that I adored this. Truly. I loved the characters. The plot was fantastic. The world-building was one of my favorite parts. All of this was absolutely wonderful. I’ve just already read it.
The first in what promises to be a delightful and dark series, Wicked Saints follows three characters, though we only get the POV of two. Nadya, the last of the magical clerics in Kalyazi, just wants to end the war that has seen her country suffer. Serefin, High Prince of Tranavia, is terrified that his father might be trying to assassinate him and that he’s going to be far too sober when that happens. And Malachiasz, which is somehow easy to remember how to spell, is a Vulture, a dark and twisted cult that lets themselves be warped into monsters and nightmares, who just wants peace and to remember his own name at the end of the day.
The good, first, then. This really was excellent. It’s so grounded in Slavic folklore that I felt completely immersed. There wasn’t a single moment where I thought “now wait a minute, that doesn’t feel right” because, much like City of Brass, I was completely entrenched in the setting and the myths. The characters, also, held on and demanded to be paid attention to. I went into this fully expecting to like Malachiasz, purely based on just the way he’s described in the summary, but it was Serefin that I came out ready to defend with my dying breath. The writing is going to show up in both parts of this review, but let it be known that Duncan has definite skill. She drew me in and didn’t let me go, and I was truly just swallowed whole. I mean, I stayed up until midnight on a work night so that I could finish this.
These points are not bad. Nothing in this book is bad. However, it’s Shadow and Bone. Malachiasz is what the Darkling probably looked like before he went complete psycho. Nadya is Alina, but with less confidence in herself. (I know, Alina already doesn’t have confidence in herself, but Nadya relies heavily on the male characters in this to save her a lot.) Serefin is, now that I’m actually doing comparisons and taking a second to think about it, NIKOLAI HOLY SHIT. He is. He totally is. Parj is Zoya and Kacper is the twins, and all of this is fine, it’s totally fine, I’ve just read it before, and Shadow and Bone is better. You could even step back and say that I’m not being fair, that the tropes the Grishaverse characters have are displayed in novels way before and way after they came out, and that’s true, it is. But let’s be honest here, guys. Nothing was a surprise in this book because we’ve already read it. I have to keep saying this: that doesn’t mean this was bad! There were some parts (most of Nadya’s later scenes) where I was kind of sighing a little. And the ending was so rushed. Things happened so fast with no transitions and no warning. I truly thought this book was actually 500 pages or something, and then when I picked it up and it was 380, I was like, wait what? It could have easily been 500, and I wish it was. I definitely would have flailed over the ending a lot more if it was. The last 150 pages just happen so fast, and I would have liked more time to sit with each of the characters while things were unfolding and been able to see inside their head. You know, more than just “oh my god I love Malachiasz but he’s so broken” inside their heads. We get it. Malachiasz is sad. He’s also an asshole. Move on.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, so I’m going to stop. I loved this book. I’m going to preorder the second one, and I’m going to probably love that one, too.
What: Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott
Review: It’s fine. I wanted to be a blubbering mess this month. I totally wanted to cry AT WORK. Everything is fine. I knew there was no way this could actually have a happy ending where they get together, BUT MY IRRATIONAL HEART HOPED FOR IT. This story follows two teenagers who have cystic fibrosis, and yeah, duh, of course they fall in love. Have you never read a single YA contemporary? From the second I picked this up, I was like “ah yes their impending love will break my heart oh look he’s rude and she’s determined to live OF COURSE they shall make me weep.”
I decided to wait all the way until the very end of the book to cry not once, but twice, and I also decided to read half of this in one sitting because once I got going, I couldn’t stop. Wow, this was good. This reminded me a lot of Everything, Everything in that it’s snarky, it’s full of 21st century quips and tech (I love when characters text in books okay it’s a weird thing that I like), and it’s got A++++++ characters. It’s a good read when you just want to shut off the “trying to figure out this damn pantheon of gods lore” fantasy brain and read a book that’ll make you Feel Things. I loved it. I cannot wait to watch the movie and cry over that, too.
Annnnnnd, I’m still not going to read John Green, sorry bye.
What: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
Review: I don’t know why this took me so long to read. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I was going to (again), and I think we can officially consider me an Austen convert because now I want to read her other four novels. I was completely enamored with Elinor throughout this, and I’m a little miffed she ended up with who she did at the end. She deserved so much more. I couldn’t stand Marianne, either, but I did love Colonel Brandon, and he also deserved so much more. Overall, though, I’m an Austen fan now, so expect the rest of her novels throughout the rest of the year.
What: The Wicked King by Holly Black
Review: I AM SPEECHLESS. Okay, first, here’s my review for The Cruel Prince, and seriously? What happened in between these two books? I felt about The Cruel Prince as I did the other miserable Black book I read, but I liked it enough that I wanted to read the sequel, and WHAT IS THIS? WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? I AM SPEECHLESS. I honestly could not stop reading this. It was so good. I still really, really wish Black would stick with the third person/past tense that she uses in her prologues rather than switching to first person/present tense, but other than that, I absolutely devoured this, and now I have The Queen of Nothing preordered, and I am so confused.
I don’t even know what to tell you this is about. Very vaguely, it’s about Jude’s first several months using Cardan as her puppet king. I guess that is really just what it’s about, but wowza, prepare yourself. This is a wild ride from start to end. The writing was much improved, the story was fantastic, the faery lore has always been good, so that was no surprise, and the characters made me do a double take. Don’t get me wrong, Cardan is still an asshole and Jude still makes me question everything, but they actually have honest conversations this time around and kind of talk about their feelings and it made me hate them less? I think my feelings about this book can be aptly summed up to Jude’s feelings about Cardan.
What: The End by Lemony Snicket
Review: And so comes the end of a very long journey! Unfortunately, I started reading these long before I started reviewing them (dear god I just looked at my Goodreads, I start reading this series in MAY OF 2015! IT HAS BEEN FOUR YEARS!
that is appalling), so I can’t link all of them, but we’ve finally arrived at the end! I honestly cannot say how many times I have vowed to start other middle grade series after I finish this one, and wow, the list is long.
I enjoyed the first twelve chapters of this book. The thirteenth (and epilogue, just call it what it is, Snicket) are some of the worst writing I have ever seen. None of my original questions were answered. I have more questions than when I started. Nothing happened at all to act as a conclusion. And that was a complete waste of time, not to mention the biggest cop-out ending ever. This series sucks.
What: The Blood Spell by CJ Redwine
Review: This is the last currently published book in the Ravenspire series, and I am so sad. I want more now! My review for The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and The Traitor Prince are all linked. Now, these are marked as standalones, and you can read them without having read anything else, but I definitely recommend reading them in order because there are Easter eggs for each of the different tales. The Blood Spell is a Cinderella retelling, and while all the expected parts are there–the evil stepsisters (kind of), the awful stepmother (definitely), the glass slipper (it’s so cool), the fairy godmother and the pumpkin turned carriage–Redwine’s version of these fairytales are always much darker, much more imaginative, and much more feminist.
After sixteen years of Balavata’s blood wraith trapped and caged, children are starting to go missing again, strange and fatal spells are starting to resurface again, and there is a wicked plot to destroy the royal family. Blue de la Cour, alchemist and commoner, has no time for the crown prince or his antics. She’s too busy trying to figure out how to rehome all of the orphaned street kids, tutor the mute princess while still keeping her safe, and keep her shop afloat.
Man, this was good. It was so dramatic, as they always are, but in a really good way. There was one super adorable scene where our Cinderella characters are present, the royal family from the Rumpelstiltskin story have arrived to visit, and Hansel & Gretel are just docking their ship. Plus, Kellan, crown prince of Balavata, had a very small role in The Traitor Prince as Javan’s best friend and roommate, so it was really awesome to see him again. Even outside of the characters, whom I am going to love every time, Redwine twists this complex and compelling plot, taking a pretty standard, white fairytale and just dumping it on its head. And after making it diverse and engaging, she also gives us a damn good story. I get all warm inside at the expected fairytale parts and equal parts terrified and awed at all the unexpected parts. This is truly one of my favorite series, and I can’t wait for the next one.
What: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Review: OKAY WOW so Amanda Foody is now an auto-buy author. I still have King of Fools by her waiting to be read, but this was on my April TBR list, so I decided to read it first and oh my gosh. Before we get into it, though, this story follows Sorina and her life in the traveling city of Gomorrah (think gypsy caravan meets wandering carnival). Sorina, adopted daughter of the proprietor of Gomorrah, City of Sin, has an unique jynx-worker magic–she can create illusions so real that they’re actual living, breathing people. But they’re just illusions, so they shouldn’t be able to die. Right?
First of all, okay, guys, the plot twist in this? Oh my god. I started to kind of suspect it, like, pages before it started to unravel, and then, when it did, so much made sense! I love these plot twists, where they’re littered all throughout the story, and then when you finally get to them, they just fit intrinsically into the story. The characters in this were equally fantastic–from Sorina’s illusion family, all of whom had their own very detailed and specific personality, to the various side characters (like Villiam, who I kept calling William in my head, I couldn’t stop; Kahina, who I let out a little sigh of happiness anytime we had a scene with; even Agni & Chimal, who were so well developed for what little page time they had), right down to Luca, who stole my heart from the moment we met him. I mean, come on. I want to insert fanart so bad, BUT THERE IS NONE! GUYS! WHY??? He is the stuff of fandom dreams. Sarcastic demiromantic asexual boy with floppy blonde hair and bedroom brown eyes who lets himself get killed for money because he can’t die and oh wears vials of poison around his belt AS WELL AS wears a stupid velvet clockwork vest with a completely Aesthetic™ silver-tipped walking cane? I’m here for it. Give me Luca von Raske, or give me death.
What: Locke & Key, Vol. 6: Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodríguez
Review: And it’s over. A couple weeks ago, I was definitely avoiding going anywhere near this final volume, but I’ve just been so curious about how it ends, so decided to just wrap things up. That, and I’ve got a lot of outstanding series that I’m trying to get through right now, and this felt like a quick one to nip in the bud. And oh man, did it deliver.
I love this series so much. I can’t wait for the TV show to come out, especially because they seem to be picking a truly perfect cast. This ending was riveting, full of drama and moments where I really almost threw it at the wall, and just so overcome with heart. I love these characters. I love this story. And I love, love, love the ending.
What: Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett
Review: Okay, y’all, why have I seen no one talking about this duology, especially with the sequel coming out next month? This reminds me so strongly of LOTR’s Rohirrim that I just want to listen to the Two Towers soundtrack over and over again. Also, I preordered the sequel halfway in because my goodness. This follows Kate & Corwin, a traitor’s daughter and a crown prince. Kate has lived these past years under the shadow of her father’s treason, even on the outskirts of her country. She’s managed to carve out a little life for herself, though, riding in the Relay to deliver messages between cities and finding friends who don’t look at her past and see her present. Corwin, after years of absence from the capital, has returned hardened and sure of his place, which is not on the throne. Determined that he’s not worthy to rule, Corwin prepares to hand over all control to his brother when an ancient sign from the gods appears–the uror, which must be answered in trials set before the princes to determine who is the most worthy to sit upon the throne and become high king.
Seriously, replace Rohan with Rime and the Relay with the Rohirrim, and there you go, that’s this story. Even go so far as to switch up Éomer with Kate and Eowyn with Corwin. (Yes, you read that right.) OH MY GOSH ACTUALLY. Théoden before Gandalf heals him is Orwin, the ill high king, and there’s totally a Gríma Wormtongue, but spoilers. Now, all of this is super interesting, because you remember my review for Wicked Saints and how I was kinda meh because it was so similar to Grishaverse? Onyx & Ivory is how you do that kind of thing and do it well. I honestly didn’t even realize until I started writing this review how similar it was, and maybe because the story of Rohan is so original that both of those things work to make this really excellent, but guys. This is such a well done fantasy. It feels really original, even if I’m now realizing it definitely isn’t, though some elements also definitely are–the magic system was unique, the creatures were different than I’ve ever seen, and the characters were so well-developed and given both high and low points. Like, when was the last time you saw a character with a flaw that kind of made you dislike them a little? And then they were given the space to right their wrongs. This was just so good, and I absolutely cannot wait to read the sequel.
What: The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
Review: I am never not going to be absolutely in love with this series. It’s just so truly adorable. The original trilogy takes place during the Victorian era in London, and this comes in right at the tale end of that era, just as Edward is taking the throne. It’s full of very prestigious magic that follows the laws, and it’s just so British. I think I’ve said this in my previous reviews of the series that the best way to describe these books is cute. They’re just so cute. You also don’t need to have read the original trilogy to understand this one in the slightest, though the main character of the original, Ceony, appears for one scene, and I almost lost it, I was so excited. The plot of this is also different enough, which I really appreciated. It follows Alvie, who begins her tutelage under the renowned Magician Praff working with plastic as their magical tool. Alvie is eager to work in this brand new field of magic, and her hope to discover new spells is brought to life under Praff’s passionate approach to teaching. Together, they can accomplish great things, but only if Praff’s nemesis doesn’t steal their ideas.
Like, come on, don’t tell me you don’t want to immediately pick that up now. It’s as adorable as the summary leads you to believe, and beyond that, the writing and the characters are just so excellent. Holmberg has superb side characters, works societal and political issues seamlessly into her plot, and develops a well done story that you can’t walk away from. I love this series, and I truly hope Holmberg continues writing in it.
What: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
Review: We have finally reached the end of my TMI series reread! Which means I can now move onto reading the other series and spin-offs in this universe. My reviews for City of Bones, City of Ash, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, and City of Lost Souls are all linked. Though I remembered Lost Souls best out of all of these, I definitely remembered a good portion of Heavenly Fire, as well, and there were a few times I almost said screw it and stopped reading it just so I could move on. But there are so many excellent moments in this finale, and it’s truly been a joy to come back to these books and rediscover why I love them so much. This is a meager review, but I’m keeping the five star rating from before because I think this is an excellent finale and ties up a lot of stories in lovely ways while also leaving some open for the other series. I’m eager to dive into The Infernal Devices now since I own the first two, so hopefully starting on that next month!
What: You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman
Review: I just kind of quietly decided to read this entire book on a Sunday, and it was a good life decision. It was also a mildly panic-inducing one because holy this book is relatable. It brought me immediately back to being in high school (and a little of college) and absolutely stressing about getting everything done in time, staying up late and spending all my time on the weekends focused on schoolwork. I learned a big lesson in high school, too, that I carried with me into college, and that is that there is no chance you can write a 20-page paper the week before it’s due and it’s actually going to be good. Man, spend all the time you got on that thing slowly chipping away at it, and write a few drafts. This was really well written, and I loved the characters, but it did stress me out a lot to read it.
This follows Ariel on his journey through his senior year at high school. He’s set Harvard as his number one choice for colleges, dropped lunch so that he can take an extra AP class, and is slowly coming apart at the seams. When he gets a failing grade on a calculus quiz, he asks fellow AP student, Amir, for help. Though the romance is a little overshadowed by Ariel’s stress at school, both come through really brilliantly and are written in a relatable, realistic, and well done way. The four stars are really because I felt like I wanted to crawl under my blankets and remind myself that I was no longer in school.
Before I get into my excitement for June, I have a small announcement about my wrap-ups. Some months, I’m blessed with absolutely amazing books, and I get so sad having to wait until the end of the month to talk about them. Thus, I’ve decided to start splitting my wrap-ups in half so that they are now bi-weekly(ish; really, I’ll be posting after the first ten). That way, I can share books with you that I love and want to have some attention sooner rather than later. This will also allow the wrap-ups not to be quite as long because, let’s be real, they’re a little ridiculous currently. And now that that piece of housekeeping is out of the way, brace yourselves.
Sooooo, here’s the thing. I’ve got this beautiful reading journal that I obsessively fill out every single night (LOOK AT IT), and it’s got quotes for every month, and next month is a Tolkien quote, SO HI JUNE IS NOW FANTASY MONTH.
What a fantastic idea this is. I’ve always got an overabundance of fantasy books at all times, so I’ve got PLENTY to choose from. And yes, for the month of June, I’m breaking all sorts of rules. My classics are going crazy, my TBR is not backlist-only (almost all of them are 2019 buys let’s not start fibbing), and there are so many options for fantasy rereads that I’m just giving myself permission to do whatever the hell I want. Watch out, world.
- The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
- The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
- The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodski
- Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
- A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
There will probably be some contemporaries sprinkled in so I don’t perish, but at any point and time this month, I may be reading a Tolkien, though I’m definitely aiming to read The Silmarillion and reread The Hobbit. My other options for rereads are A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab and Eragon by Christopher Paolini. If you’ve been paying attention, too, my classics are currently set for the next three months. It’s going to be A Summer in Shakespeare!
It’s also going to be A Month. Y’all ready for this?
Are you reading any epic fantasies this month?