The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Nemesis (n.)
1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome;
2) A person’s undoing;
3) Joshua Templeman.

“Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review!

“The trick is to find that one person who can give it back as good as they can take it.”

Stars (Out of 10): 10/10 Stars

Lemme preface this by saying that romance and contemporary generally isn’t a genre I read a lot of, so I’m often both much easier to please in terms of tropes/plots/romance but also much more way going into the book. But on the recommendation of nearly every single reader in The Book Coven discord, I knew I just had to pick this up. (Link here if you want to join! We talk all things bookish: https://discord.gg/rmaeNe8 )

Following their advice and recommendation was probably the best idea I had this month. I’ve been slogging through books recently, a mix of both reading too much of one genre and of being overburdened with reading work in uni, but this book seemed to ignore all of that and hook me from page 1. I originally picked this up on a long, tiring trip home from a concert, when my mind was far too sleepy for something as intense as a fantasy, and even in that state, I found the exact book I needed.

Firstly, I must commend Thorne on her pacing. I’m the sort of person who always needs to finish a chapter before putting a book down, but The Hating Game simply doesn’t let me! Most time jumps are planted within the chapters themselves, with the ends and beginnings of chapters lining up so perfectly that you physically cannot stop reading. You just need to know what happens next, and turning that next page to find out is just way too easy. I’ve almost missed my stops on both buses and trains thanks to this amazing, evil book.

The story itself was also just composed of my favorite things. Like most people, I’m weak for the haters to lovers/enemies to lovers trope, and any hint of it within a book gets me hooked almost right away. Additionally, the setting was also one I found interesting. Rather than just some plain office setting, Thorne brings the publishing house setting to life within the story, even though it is far from the focus. And as someone who hopes to work in that industry in the future, it was just an extra thing to love.

Another thing was the layers to the story. It wasn’t just two flat characters who hated each other for no reason that suddenly went to love “just because.” The relationship developed in a pretty realistic way, even if the whole playing games with your rival thing may have been a smidge far-fetched at points (not complaining though, I still loved it). Additionally, both characters had some pretty complicated pasts and family lives, and the connection of this to the main story made it so much more addicting, and that much more amazing.

The Hating Game has blown my admittedly high expectations away, and I cannot wait to see what Thorne writes next.

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The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

“The final, thrilling installment in this extraordinary series from bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

A generation ago, powerful mage Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn’t succeed . . . but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt.

Facing up to what he is, Callum has battled chaos and evil across four years of magical training at the Magisterium, eventually defeating the armies of chaos in an epic battle.

It came at a cost.

Now, triumphant and heartbroken, Callum Hunt has just about had enough, and is ready to complete his training. But the evil Callum faced has not given up just yet…”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review!

Stars (Out of 10): 3/10 Stars

I had such high hopes for this book after the redeeming of the series (for me) in book 4. Just in general, there was so much potential for this series, and I had such expectations both from books 1 and 2 and from Clare’s and Black’s prior works.

Now, I get this is a middle grade series. It won’t be as deep as Black’s The Cruel Prince/Tithe/etc. or Clare’s The Infernal Devices/The Dark Artifices/etc. I also get that these books are not necessarily aimed towards me, and both the humor and plot are aimed for those younger than I. However, this series, this book, being a part of a younger genre does not excuse some of the issues this series had, especially in terms of pacing, plot, and characters. It does not excuse the illogical nature of some of the decisions in this book, or the lack of effort (it seems) in the planning of this book, and series as a whole. I was honestly surprised when it seemed as if this book left things purposely open for a sequel series, as it honestly felt, while reading, that the author duo seemed to be less and less interested in these books.

You can possibly blame my earlier love for the series on my younger age, but I’d argue that those books were just overall better, in terms of character dynamics, plot, and pacing (oh god, especially the pacing). Yes the trio and world heavily mimicked Harry Potter, and the series definitely needed to move away from that, but that doesn’t mean that the series needed to lose the normal pacing it had in books 1 and 2. And yes, the plot was not complex at all in the earlier books, but it doesn’t need to be, as that’s not necessarily what I expect from a middle grade book.

Let’s just get the worst over with and discuss pacing. In books 1 and 2 this was fairly well done, with the books spanning an entire school year, and sometimes a bit of the summer beforehand. A standard pacing style for a school based series. Book 3 already broke this pattern by ending about half way through the year (if I remember correctly, it’s been a few years now), and that sharp contrast in time period definitely left the book feeling unfinished. The time period of book 4 is honestly a mystery to me, but at the start of book 5, 4 years of schooling have supposedly passed (I don’t know how). Book 5, while when looked at logically, takes place over a few months or something, reads like it all takes place within the first week of school or something. There is almost no build up or problem solving in this book. Nothing stalls the constant moving plot, and this constant action, combined with weird time jumps/lack of focus on anything but events that directly solve the plot, makes the book read really quickly, as well as feel weirdly timed. I’d have to actually study this book to figure out how the timeline all works together, and even then I can’t promise I’d find an answer. Additionally, the allocation of pages to different periods of time didn’t add up at all. There are a few moments of travelling and driving in this book, but the pacing and logistics of them is so ridiculous that I couldn’t even fully take those seriously and as a part of the actual plot/story. It honestly just felt like badly written filler, even when it contributed directly to the plot.

As I’m already on the subject, let’s talk about the plot. Arguably, the second worst part of this book next to the pacing. There is no true conflict in this book. Nothing goes wrong, nothing is lost, and anytime something gets in the way of Call/Tamara/Aaron, even the main evil of the book, almost no effort goes to actually solving the problem, as a solution is almost always presented immediately. Additionally, this lack of struggle means the entire book reads at the exact same amount of tension. There are no highs and lows. It is all action, and since there are no dull moments to make that action exciting by comparison, the action itself becomes boring. Additionally, there is almost no build up to this installment. Book 4 seemed to neatly wrap up everything in a bow for our duo/trio, so this book definitely needed something to bring that evil back to the forefront, some whispers of dark magic or evil returning rather than just a single hint and then sudden entrance of the big bad.

The characters themselves were also just weaker than in past installments. Call’s main focus was staring at Tamara and worrying about college, admittedly mundane worries for someone with an evil soul who also happens to be harboring the spirit of his dead best friend inside of him. Call ended up being such a let down that I won’t even spend more words on him. Additionally, what the heck was this villain? He was ridiculous to the point of absurdity, and nothing close to the level of evil the past books seemed to contain. I mean, Alex freaking killed someone for their powers, and you can’t even meet that level for your finale? Come on guys.  

I almost never say this, but this series should have been shorter. This series would have actually been stronger if things had just ended on book 4. I can’t say much good about this particular book, but at least it was a quick read.

 

The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

“In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here with another review!

“Life isn’t fair, dear one. And sometimes, neither is death.”

Stars (Out of 10): 10/10 Stars

I’ve taken a while to finally get to this review, but I still don’t think I’ll be able to properly vocalize how I feel about this book, and a series as a whole.

This sequel contains everything I loved about book 1, and even more. We’ve got the flip flopping past and present POVs, the same characters and tenuous relationships, and both Tea and the Bard narrate as well. What’s added is more action, more plot, and even some romance. One issue many people have with The Bone Witch is its long build-up and slow beginning, but this book does not “suffer” from those same traits. Both the present and past plots deal a lot more with direct actions and consequences, and the tension between the characters increasing as well. It all leads to a much more intense and exciting book.

Specifically in terms of characters, Rin continues to do such a fantastic job of creating fleshed out and real characters. Our main character, Tea, both in past and present, holds so much conflict within her, and her navigation of the truth and lies within her society is such an interesting path to follow. It also helps that we still aren’t sure if her present actions are explained by her past, or if we, as readers, also turn against her later on. The supporting cast all also stands on their own, with almost all characters developing their own stories and backgrounds further. They also work to complement Tea really well, as they do not work to take away from Tea’s story or distract readers, but also show the depth of Rin’s world, and how differently people view the same set of actions.

The plot was also quite intriguing, though I still found myself more interested in the present than the past portions of the chapter. One of the main portions of the plot was almost too well foreshadowed that it didn’t remain so much a mystery to me, and took away from the suspense of the past plot. However, even with this, Rin was able to fully capture me in her tale and world, and I was as fully in love with this book as I was with book 1.

The world was also just as gorgeous as when I was introduced to it in book 1, even now that we begin to see more and more of the shadows of the beauty. We gain more depth in this book, as well as knowledge into other kingdoms, specifically in terms of why some of the authorities in this book do what they do as well as the stark differences between the mindsets of the different members of the world. Additionally, since this book carries more moments of tensions, and actions that bring across consequences, we see more of the world in how they deal with these situations of tension.

But for some reason, grading this book on its individual parts isn’t something that sits right with me. The Heart Forger is so much more than the sum of its parts, and something needs to be said for how well it immerses the reader, and how at home I begin to feel in the world and heads of these characters. In two quick books these characters have attached themselves so strongly to my heart that the characters of much longer series can’t even compare. There is something so compelling and enchanting about the way Rin writes and builds her world that keeps a reader enraptured, even during the less intense, thrilling parts of the book. Simply learning more about Tea’s past, and discovering more about her and her perception of the world and events that lead her to her future is just so interesting.

The Bone Witch world seems to be a world I can revisit and love at any time, and is a book that, to me, can be read at any pace. I’ve admittedly taken longer than I would’ve liked with both The Heart Forger and currently the finale, The Shadowglass, but that somehow does not diminish my experience like it does for some books. All Rin needs is a few lines, maybe a paragraph, to fully suck me back into Tea’s story, and I love this series for it.

 

Thief of Cahraman by Lucy Tempest

The Selection meets Aladdin 

ONE MONTH. FIFTY CONTESTANTS. ONE PRINCE. AN IMPOSSIBLE HEIST.

You have been summoned to Sunstone Palace to compete in our search for the future Queen of Cahraman.

After years on the run, Adelaide thinks her lonely and dangerous life as a thief is finally over. But her world is upended when a witch steals her away to a faraway kingdom, to perform an impossible heist. If Adelaide fails, her newfound family would be sacrificed to a beast.

To complete her mission, she’s forced to assume the role of a noblewoman and enter a royal competition. The prize is the hand of the elusive Crown Prince. Elimination means certain death.

As the witch’s literal deadline approaches, Adelaide has one last gamble to save the day, and to escape to a new life with Cyrus, the handsome and mysterious fellow thief who stole her heart.

But everything falls apart when the prince finally reveals himself…

Fairytales of Folkshore is a series of interconnected fairytale retellings that starts with the Cahraman Trilogy. Ada’s story continues in PRINCE OF CAHRAMAN. “

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here with another review!

First off, I would like to thank the publisher and author for providing me this ARC to review. Please note that the version I read was an advanced copy, and certain events/language may be changed in the published edition.

Stars (Out of 10): 5/10 Stars

I took a few days to think over this book, and what I thought of it, as different parts of this book spoke to me more than others. All in all, I’d say it had a pretty weak start, and didn’t play up the plot points I thought it would, but I still found myself sucked into the story by the end of it.

I’m just gonna start off by saying that the synopsis gives away the entire main twist of the book (I had guessed it before I had even started reading), and even when I started reading, the foreshadowing was a smidge too obvious. Since that twist ended up being the climax of the plot as well, it led to a subpar finale overall. It also made the book feel as if it didn’t truly have an ending, as both the knowledge of the twist and reveal of the twist made it feel like more was needed to tie everything together.

Additionally, the beginning was fairly weak too. We spend a few chapters learning a small bit of the world, and of the main characters in Adelaide’s life, as well as the mundane worries in her day to day life, including of wanting to be liked by a boy. It wasn’t an intriguing start at all, and the only thing that kept me reading was the whispers of something grander and more magical later on. Additionally, the beginning was so heavy with obvious fairy tale references that it became tacky, especially in regards to the Cinderella character. I assume this is to either introduce the author’s other future works in the world, but it felt out of place here, since she never came again, not even in the narrator’s thoughts.

While Adelaide was interesting in her unique motivations, wanting to settle rather than travel and explore, it didn’t make for as interesting a narrator. Adelaide wasn’t interested in learning about the rest of the world + her/her mother’s past, even as more and more clues were laid before her, which made the reader less interested in it all as well. Adelaide also has the tendency to steal, and is seen as a successful thief, due to her rough childhood after her mother’s death. However, I had two main issues with this. Firstly, she doesn’t seem to be all that successful at all. The book starts with her in the middle of a robbery, and she explains how long it took to plan, but she still makes a mistake (just to introduce the Cinderella character). Then, throughout the rest of the book, she almost never is able to be successful alone, in terms of stealing and sneaking, and always requires being led by other characters. Secondly, Adelaide seems to randomly steal things, even though she doesn’t need to in the competition, as she’s surrounded by gowns and jewelry that were given to her as well as entirely taken care of. Since her stealing habit was born out of need, it feels weird to see it continued as strongly throughout the book, though I get it is a habit. Additionally, it seems to be an active trait as well, in the sense that the author needs to continuously remind us that she does this, with the moments sometimes breaking the flow of the story.

In terms of plot, it felt like there was both too much in focus and not enough actually happening. We seem to have two main plots, the competition and the heist, but instead of blending together well, they fought with each other instead. And still, even with two main plots battling for the domination of a scene, there were many dull moments, of simply characters hanging around or just to show time is passing. Also, even though the pacing didn’t feel weird, in hindsight it all moved rather fast. There was more than a week between stages of the competition, but we almost never saw any of it, making it seem like people were getting eliminated every other chapter.

However, despite all the issues I had with it, I still ended up getting hooked into the story around 50% of the way in. Something about the writing kept interested in the story (once the competition started/Adelaide left Ericuria), and it all seemed to move by really fast, perhaps due to how the story was paced. Most of the individual parts were fairly well planned and written, I just wasn’t a fan of how it all came together to form the overall novel. I’m curious about where the story will continue to go, but I’m not sure if I’ll be picking the next books up yet.

Warcross by Marie Lu

“For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review.

“They think that you won’t hit back – that you’ll just lower your eyes and hide. And sometimes, to protect yourself, to make it go away, you do. But sometimes, you find yourself standing in exactly the right position, wielding exactly the right weapon to hit back.”

Stars (Out of 10): 7/10 Stars

Favorite Character: I ended up really liking Emika!

Spoiler Free: I picked this up on a whim after finished War Storm, as I had just come off of a wave of YA Fantasy and really needed a genre cleanse. This ended up being the perfect choice! Like most of Marie Lu’s books, the simple writing in combination with exciting plot/world ideas often leads to quite a quick, but extremely enjoyable, read, and Warcross was no exception!

Firstly, the plot was exciting and action-packed enough that putting the book down was always difficult, as I knew some intriguing or shocking revelation would probably come from the next few chapters. This, combined with the fairly short chapters, created a book that I never wanted to put down, and flew like a breeze. While the plot was fairly twisty, only the cliffhanger at the end actually managed to surprise me, as I was too suspicious to be all that surprised by the others (even if I didn’t exactly guess what was going to happen). Additionally, an action-packed plot also has its downsides, as it means the book almost moves too fast during some moments, and some moments don’t necessarily have enough build up.

Secondly, the world itself was quite thrilling, though many things felt unexplained, or nonsensical, but I feel that did not necessarily detract from the plot. I was entranced by the two sides of the world, real and alternative, and even by the two sides to the alternative world. The descriptions were enough to make me wish the Neurolink was a thing in our age, even if some certain scenes got repetitive (specifically the night sky imagery/usage).

Lastly, the characters themselves were also quite interesting, even if Emika was hard to connect with at first. Hideo was an interesting character as well, especially with the mystery surrounding his past and interest in Emika. I also became quite attached to the characters on Emika’s Warcross team, even if they didn’t really see the spotlight in this book! While none of them are the best developed nor interesting characters ever, they all complimented the world and plot really nicely, and made a nice balance within the book.

I’m quite excited to see what happens with the next book, Wildcard, and where the story continues from here! (Though I am sad it won’t contain the Warcross games, as I am always a sucker for books with a competition!)

Careful! Spoilers beyond this point!

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War Storm by Victoria Aveyard

Victory comes at a price.

Mare Barrow learned this all too well when Cal’s betrayal nearly destroyed her. Now determined to protect her heart—and secure freedom for Reds and newbloods like her—Mare resolves to overthrow the kingdom of Norta once and for all… starting with the crown on Maven’s head.

But no battle is won alone, and before the Reds may rise as one, Mare must side with the boy who broke her heart in order to defeat the boy who almost broke her. Cal’s powerful Silver allies, alongside Mare and the Scarlet Guard, prove a formidable force. But Maven is driven by an obsession so deep, he will stop at nothing to have Mare as his own again, even if it means demolishing everything—and everyone—in his path.

War is coming, and all Mare has fought for hangs in the balance. Will victory be enough to topple the Silver kingdoms? Or will the little lightning girl be forever silenced?

In the epic conclusion to Victoria Aveyard’s stunning series, Mare must embrace her fate and summon all her power… for all will be tested, but not all will survive.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review!

“I am different from what my world demands I be. And I am not worse for it.”

Stars (Out of 10): 7.5/10 Stars

Spoiler Free: Surprising myself and everyone I know, I actually really enjoyed this book? Which is surprising considering I wasn’t a fan of book 2 at all, and book 3 ended up frustrating me a lot. However, that did mean I went into this book with either low expectations (in terms of characters/relationships/etc.) or no expectations (in terms of plot, as I never actually spent any time theorizing what would happen), and this could be the reason why I enjoyed it so much.

Firstly, I loved the plot itself. Due to aforementioned lack of theorizing, not only did I not have any idea what to expect going in, I also wasn’t stuck on certain hopes or wishes for how it would all go down. Additionally, this installment, compared to book 2 and 3, was much more action-packed, and didn’t have any of the lulls I had issues with the other sequels. The battles were really fun to read, as not only did all the Silver powers get showcased, but they got played off Ardent/Newblood powers in interesting ways. To continue, these battles also had twists within them as well, keeping my eyes glued to the page to see if these characters would make it out of these tense situations alive and well. I’m also quite happy with how it “tied up”, even though the ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered/open for developments.

Secondly, I both loved and hated the characters. To preface, the hate mainly comes from prior feelings in books 2 and 3, as everyone was at least bearable in this novel, whether it be bearable as a villain or as a hero (as I have different standards for each). I also loved how snarky everyone was towards each other, especially in the beginning. The constant tension and competition between the Silver/Newblood/Red Alliance was constantly offset with these sarcastic/snarky comments towards figures of authority/parents/each other, and it really helped with easing me back into the storyline. The romance was also an interesting one, and while I was extremely frustrated with it in the first few books, as I was trying to read it and cheer for it as a normal YA romance, I did not feel that same frustration in this book. While that may just come from me detaching from it/realizing it is a much more complex and complicated romance than most YA fantasy, I think I was also just happy with how it tied up/was used within the novel. Lastly, I also felt that most of the characters held to their ideals/developed in logical ways all throughout the book, meaning that this feeling also extended to their actions/how the book ended because of them.

Additionally, this book saw the introduction of a lot of new viewpoints, but I think Victoria also did this fairly well. She didn’t worry about balancing them at all, and only utilized them when it was actually necessary. For example, Cal and Maven only really had POV chapters near the ending, and it ended up adding to the story rather than making it seem more confusing. We also got quite a variety of viewpoints, and everyone sounded quite distinct within their own chapters. It gave us a larger view of the story and conflict as a whole, and how it would affect each individual party. I also enjoyed the addition of Iris as a POV, even if I don’t like her as a person/agree with her, as it added another level of depth to the new players on the battlefield that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get, especially considering the Lakelands didn’t play as active roles in the other books.

Lastly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the world building. There was a lot introduced, and a lot that was skipped out on. Since this war contains almost all of the kingdoms/countries within the geographical area, we had a lot of culture and people to catch up on. While we did get some of this before, a lot of the countries hadn’t played all that big of a role yet, leading to readers needing to learn a lot. Not all of our questions were answered either, specifically about how the Silver and Red distinction even arose, and why Newbloods are suddenly appearing. This was such a hot topic for foreshadowing, especially by Julian Jacos, so I’m hoping we get a novella or something in the future that finally explains this, even though it was unfortunate that it didn’t make its way into the mainline story.

Overall, I’m really glad that this series ended on a good note (for me, it seems a lot of people are polarized by this book like the rest of the series), and that I’m able to say all that waiting and frustration was worth it in the end!

Careful! Spoilers beyond this point!

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Manga Classics: The Stories of Edgar Allen Poe

“‘The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe’ is a brilliant collection of some of his best-known stories:

‘The Tell Tale Heart’ (a murder s haunting guilt)
‘The Cask of Amontillado’ (a story of brilliant revenge)
‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (an ancient house full of very dark secrets).

Also included in this collection are:

‘The Mask of the Red Death’ (horrors of ‘the Plague’ and the most famous of all his poems ‘The Raven’ (a lover s decline into madness).

“Best read in a dimly-lit room with the curtains drawn, Poe s brilliant works come to life in darkly thrilling ways in this Manga Classic adaptation.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review! While this is not the normal genre I review/discuss on this blog, I did receive an ARC of this, and therefore took a step out of my comfort zone to try and write a review of a manga/comic! I also received Manga Classics: Jane Eyre, so look forward to that in the near future as well!

First off, I would like to thank the publisher and author for providing me this ARC to review. Please note that the version I read was an advanced copy, and certain events/language may be changed in the published edition.

The Tell-Tale Heart: Something about the added illustrations adds so much more horror to the story itself. The text itself seemed to be directly taken from Poe’s tale, but the depth and intensity of the illustrations, especially the narrator’s facial expressions, added a whole other layer to the tales.

The Cask of Amontillado: While I still enjoyed the illustrations, they didn’t add as much to the story as with The Tell-Tale Heart. This may be due to how well the original tale already was at inspiring horror, and the illustrations could not top that.

The Raven – While I liked the artistic style of this story, and the illustrations in general, I’m not sure if they were the best match for the story. The narrator/main character almost seems too young, and the lighting of most of the panels seems oddly white/bright for a spooky story. This led to the story being less scary, even though the sorrow and other emotions still came through.

The Masque of the Red Death – I had actually completely forgotten I had read this story until I recognized the opening scene. Once again, I quite liked the chosen illustrations for everything, and especially liked how well they brought to life the descriptions of the revels! However, with such bright color and joy pictured clearly, it obscured the gloom creeping up in the story, which may be both good and bad.

The Fall of the House of Usher: This seems to be the only tale I didn’t have prior experience with. I feel as if this made me focus too much on the text, and working to understand the story, rather than on the illustrations and how well they worked together. The main issue I did notice here was that the story itself is already extremely description heavy, so the illustrations sometimes felt unnecessary. However, the extreme caricatures of Usher definitely worked in the story’s favor, as it allowed me to much more easily picture and understand how affected he was.

Overall, I felt this was a quite solid “Manga Classic,” and I loved what it did for Poe’s legendary tales. Not only did the illustrations add (for the most part) to the dark and gloomy descriptions and settings of Poe’s tales, they also worked to pace the reader, and make us take time with each line, each image, truly letting the emotion and depth of the tale sink in before moving on to the next page.

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

“In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! I’m (finally) back with another review! Sorry for the small hiatus, I went on vacation and got way less reading than I expected done, and had no time to actually write any reviews!

First off, I would like to thank the publisher and author for providing me this ARC to review. Please note that the version I read was an advanced copy, and certain events/language may be changed in the published edition.

“The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken. But I was not a slave and I was not a spare.”

Stars (Out of 10): 9/10 Stars

Favorite Character: Amani

I was approved for this ARC months ago, and I hate that I only just now got to it! It beat all of my expectations, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of the series.

From the beginning, Mirage hooked me. Something about Amani, our main character, felt so genuine and real, yet she was still an incredibly kind and likable person. She’s the type of main character I haven’t seen in a while, as most YA Fantasy narrators seem to all be “stubborn” and “strong” lately, so it was really refreshing to read something new. Additionally, Amani was quite a layered character. She had a heart of gold that truly cared about those hurting around her, regardless of their race, but she was also still a strong character, making decisions for herself and her own happiness. At the same time, she was still touched by the influence of power, and this led to some great inner monologue as Amani struggled between the identity of her past and the girl she was forced to become.

Not only does Mirage have a fantastic main character, the supporting cast is extremely fleshed out as well. The love interest is more than just his looks/love for the main character, but is also seen grieving for his family, and also struggling between his childhood identity and the one first upon him by the conquerors and his need to stay alive. (Also, I must say that this romance feels really well done, as it isn’t the main focus of the novel/does not define either of the characters, but rather adds and builds upon the characters and story that is already there). Additionally, we also have the cruel princess that Amani is a body double for, and while at first she gives off the impression of your standard evil princess, she ends up being so much more. She faces an internal struggle just like everyone else, and reading that was one of my favorite parts of the book.

All of this leads to a book that is rather character driven. The effects of colonialism in this world is explored through the personal effects on the characters, as well as the overarching effects on the native culture of the planet. It gives a new perspective on this topic, compared to recent YA Fantasy novels that deal with this topic, as it aims to show us the pain of the conquered through less overtly violent means. While there is still action and violence, it is mainly kept in the beginning of the tale, and the story seems to move towards a different way of losing yourself in a world conquered.

I also really loved the world and culture built into this book. While we don’t learn a lot at all about the conquerors, the Vath, we do learn a lot about Amani’s own culture and religion. Amani specifically is an extremely religious character, and the stories and poetry built into her culture and religion is a large driving force in the personal narrative of Amani, and even some of the other stories taking place in the book. It adds a whole other layer to Mirage, and works to fully immerse you in both the world and the story, since it is so well intertwined.

The only reason I dropped my rating a little was due to certain aspects of the plot and the pacing of the story. The plot itself was wonderful and interesting, but just occurred rather passively. Most of the events in the story are enacted by others around Amani, rather than herself, and she mainly seems to be reacting towards everything and following the actions and plans of others. However, this is the most realistic option, as Amani is in no position to be making her own plans and choices for most the book. My other issue was pacing. In terms of that, this book felt almost like a flat line. It was an incredible read nonetheless, but there weren’t really moments of surprise or increased intensity, and even the ending had me reading at the same speed and pace as the beginning of the book.

All in all, I absolutely loved this debut, and am so lucky to have gotten the chance to read it early! I highly recommend this novel to those that have found some YA Fantasy novels falling short lately, and want to be reminded what makes the genre so great.

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

“When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review!

“That is a true gift, to help others see the world in a different way.”

Stars (Out of 10): 9/10 Stars

Favorite Character: Cartier or Brienna!

Spoiler Free: I’ll admit, for some reason, I had low expectations going into this book. Even though the synopsis seemed quite intriguing, and unlike other books I’ve read before, I kind of expected it to just read like any other YA Fantasy, and the world and plot to be fairly standard as well. In the end though, I absolutely loved this book, and it hooked me much more than some of my other recent reads. From the first few chapters I was hooked, and kept wanting to read this instead of my other current read at the time.

For me, the book owes its success to its lush and intriguing world as well as fantastic characters. I was wholly invested in Brienna and her story, from how she balanced herself between her two worlds/two kingdoms to her relationships and role in the plot itself.

In terms of the world, I thought the author did a fantastic job of building both kingdoms as well as the passion and magic systems. While magic and kingdoms and tyrant kings are nothing new, Ross definitely put her own spin on this world, and I found myself quite intrigued by how everything worked. For example, magic exists, but it doesn’t dominate the structure of the kingdoms, as only a single family has it. Furthermore, to avoid a dominance of said family, the magic is a fickle thing, and should not be used for violence/harm if the user wants to stay sane. Additionally, the combination of this magic with a different sort of talent, passions, balanced the world while also adding another interesting system. While the story could have technically been told the same with passions removed, these passions did make the world feel more deep, and more thought through. It also just added hobbies to a fantasy world, which oddly, isn’t a thing most fantasy characters have. Lastly, the two kingdoms themselves were quite distinguishable, but not so different that it became hard to believe. For example, differences stemmed from the systems the country were built upon, as Maevana is a country built on physical strength and therefore their customs are less “refined” and both women and men are trained, while in Valenia, a country built more on the system of passions and refining talents in schools, is the more polite of the two kingdoms.

Additionally, the characters and their relationships with each other were also well done. Not only does Brienna form strong female friendships with most of the women she meets, promoting support and friendship instead of competition, she also struggles with a lot of familial relationships. Since she is an illegitimate child whose mother died when she was young, and whose father she knows nothing about, a lot of the story deals with Brienna defining herself through her blood and chosen families, and her navigation of these relationships feels extremely realistic. Additionally, the romance was also done quite well in the story. It wasn’t the main focus by far, and spends about half of the book in the background, but it was a constant thread throughout the story. It was reliable in the story rather than volatile, but it was still extremely sweet and full of love, and blended really well with the beauty of the relationships in this story in general.

The plot itself was also intriguing, even if it wasn’t altogether too surprising or intense. It was also resolved rather easily, without much loss, but then this is also the first book. I was quite surprised at a few twists, but others were a bit too obvious, or given away by the information/maps/genealogy charts in the beginning of the book. However, it wrapped up extremely nicely, so I am curious how Ross will draw more of a story out of this, especially if Brienna is to be the main character again.

Overall, I’m really happy with this book as a whole, and really enjoyed this read! I cannot wait to read what Ross does next, as this world is one I’d love to dive into again.

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

“Everyone knows what happens in the end.
A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss.
But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends.
One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.

The rise of Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic villainess is a heart-wrenching story of friendship, betrayal, and a girl pushed beyond her limits—to become a monster.”

-Synopsis taken from Goodreads

Hey guys! Meaghan here again with another review!

First off, I would like to thank the publisher and author for providing me this ARC to review. Please note that the version I read was an advanced copy, and certain events/language may be changed in the published edition.

Stars (Out of 10): 4/10 Stars

Favorite Character: Nik

Spoiler Free: I really wanted to love this book. From the gorgeous cover to the fact it was about mermaids and witches and magic, my hopes were high. Unfortunately, there were just way too many awkward moments for me, and the plot wasn’t all that surprising (especially considering the fact that we already knew how it was going to end.) While I was intrigued by the world and small village, and was hooked during certain portions of the plot, there were overall too many meh moments for me.

I’ll start with the characters and their relationships with each other. This, for me, was one of the weakest parts of the book. While I generally liked the friendship Nik and Evie had, especially in the beginning, it became less and less enjoyable as the book went on (and jealousy started tainting every relationship). The relationship that Evie has with Iker is also extremely shallow, and was not presented in a good way at all. I understand that the romance needed to start early, but we barely got any background to their relationship before suddenly that was a thing. And everything got worse as the story went on in terms of relationships, as as I mentioned above, almost every single relationship becomes dominated by jealousy. Evie is jealous of Annemette taking Nik’s time, Evie is jealous of the status of everyone else, Evie is jealous over the ease with which Annemette uses magic, Iker is jealous of Nik, Nik is jealous of Iker, and it goes on and on. It makes all the relationships and friendships seem extremely shallow, as no one seems actually happy with their friends/the person they’re with.

The plot also just fell flat. Everything was extremely predictable (which I’ll discuss more in the spoiler section) and the ending also didn’t fully line up with all the events of the story. Besides this, I can’t discuss more of the plot without spoilers, but saying it was predictable and weak about sums it up.

I was intrigued by the world, however, and Evie’s conflict to fit into a town that was not accepting of her, even without knowing she was a witch. The festival and setting felt very realistic and full of the essence of the sea, but without the characters and plot to carry this setting, it felt wasted.

I also quite enjoyed the third person, and I may have even dropped the story without them. I’m always a sucker for these kind of cuts into the book, where they explain past events in a mysterious way that provides both context and foreshadowing for the rest of the story.

Overall, I can’t say I was a fan of this book, and I was overall extremely disappointed. While reading, the awkward character relationships were definitely the most distracting, and after reading I found a lot of issues with the plot and how it was wrapped up. It just wasn’t for me.

Careful! Spoilers beyond this point!

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