Based off of Clue, but somehow not as fun | In the Hall with the Knife by Diana Peterfreund [ARC]

A few students are left behind at Blackbrook Academy tying up a few loose ends. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem, but when a harsh winter storm hits, they’re left stranded in one of the school’s dorm houses and have no choice but to bunk down for the night. When they wake up the next morning, they find that Headmaster Boddy has been stabbed! Was it suicide? A looter? Or someone in the house?

TL;DR – The mystery itself wasn’t super compelling and in the end it came out feeling half-baked.

I requested this book for two reasons: 1) I like Clue and 2) I’ve really enjoyed some of Diana Peterfreund’s other books (the Jane Austen retellings). Unfortunately, this book fell extremely flat for me. First of all, I couldn’t figure out what this collection of students was doing on campus? Why wasn’t anyone else there? This may have been explained and I just missed it, but that question was hanging over the entire book for me.

Another problem was that I didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters. They all had these backstories, but none of them got enough screen time to get fleshed out. Instead, tragedies were hinted at (repeatedly) but never explained. This just ended up making me annoyed with all of the characters for not explaining themselves. There were also two random characters that were completely unnecessary? I guess this is supposed to be the first book in a series, so maybe they’ll come into play in later books. But honestly, this book does not make me want to pick up the rest of the series. If I had to pick a favorite character I guess I would say Orchid? She was the least annoying.

And then we come to the “mystery”. It felt extremely light. A murder occurred IN THE HOUSE that all of these students were sleeping in and I felt like there should’ve been a more…horrific tone to the book perhaps? But that just wasn’t there. I didn’t find the mystery compelling at all and wasn’t super invested in figuring out who the killer was. Too many of the characters were like, “Well, I know it’s not ME”. With the actual game of Clue it very well COULD be you, so that may have been something interesting to play with (sleepwalking? bad reaction to sleeping pills?). Unfortunately, what we actually get is an unsatisfying, half-baked solution tacked on at the end.

Overall, I felt like this just wasn’t a great book. I didn’t feel like it was written very clearly. I thought it did fairly well as a Clue tribute, but it even had some room to lean into that a little more too. In the end, I think they should have more firmly chosen what direction to take this book in (Clue tribute or murder mystery) without trying to do both. That may seem contradictory…but that’s how I feel.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received a copy of this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

Wait…is this Grisha fan-fiction? | King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of ScarsIt’s been a few years since the Darkling was defeated and Nikolai’s still trying to figure out how to keep Ravka afloat. This task is made much harder by the fact that Nikolai seems to turn into a monster most nights. A literal monster. He’s desperate for a solution and when a Darkling-loving monk turns up with a possible answer, Nikolai has no choice but to listen to what he has to say.

TL;DR – So much of this reads as Grisha fan-fiction. There were definitely parts that I liked, but a lot that I didn’t as well.

Purchase: Hardcover | Paperback (preorder) | eBook

It took me so long to finally read this book. I think I was just a little scared maybe. I really loved Nikolai from the original trilogy and I didn’t know how this was going to go. Starting off, I felt like I needed some kind of recap for the Grisha trilogy. I literally could not remember a single thing about Zoya. This book leans heavily on the assumption that everyone who picks it up has read Bardugo’s previous series’ which isn’t necessarily going to be the case. So yeah, I think it would have been wise to include at least a recap for the trilogy for those who don’t remember what happened in the original series or for those who never read it in the first place.

The narration mostly rotates between Nikolai, Zoya, and Nina but Nina is over in Fjerda so she’s got a different storyline than the other two. Honestly, I didn’t love Nina in the Six of Crows duology and this book possibly makes me like her even less. Her storyline was not compelling to me at all and I don’t see how it ties in with Nikolai’s main storyline. Honestly, it kind of felt forced as a way for Bardugo to bring her two series’ together (and every time Nina made some name-drop-y reference to the Ketterdam crew, I cringed). And then there’s the whole Nina/Hanne relationship that’s obviously coming and that started approximately five seconds after Nina buried Matthias’ body. I’m sorry, is this fan-fiction? Did someone write some f/f Nina fan-fiction and it accidentally got published as part of this book? I’m not trying to knock fan-fiction at all, I’m just trying to convey that this aspect had an inauthentic feel to me.

My other issue with Nina is that she’s selfless in this really selfish way. She doesn’t trust that people will help her if she gives them all of the information or tells them her whole plan. Nina puts people in tough situations and sometimes even in danger because she has her own agenda regardless of the consequences. She’s just not a team player and was a really frustrating character for me to read.

Nikolai, on the other hand, continues to be his most charming and lovable self. I appreciated getting to see some of his and Zoya’s respective backgrounds. I thought his storyline was a lot more interesting. His quest to find a cure was really interesting but I would have also liked a little more of “the bachelor” stuff to be thrown in–we didn’t actually get much of that. I really liked Isaak as a character and wished he’d been a narrator from the beginning. He deserved more than what he got and that’s all I’ll say about that.

And the ending…I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who DOESN’T have a strong opinion on the ending. Without being too spoiler-y, I’ll just say that once again, this reads like fan-fiction. That was a fan-fiction ending and I hate it.

Overall, I liked most of this book. I didn’t like Nina’s storyline or the ending, but everything else was great! I like the way that Bardugo seems to be expanding on the powers of the Grisha and I like the interesting political climate. I just think she’s spending too much time on things that aren’t relevant or wholly original instead of developing these interesting facets of her story.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

I ate so much toast while reading this book | The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the StoryEmma Saylor has never really spent time with her mom’s family (except for that one Summer when she was four, but she doesn’t really remember that). But when all other options fall through, Emma finds herself heading to Calvander’s–the motel on the lake that her mom’s family owns and operates. As she arrives and the Summer progresses, Emma (or Saylor as her mom’s family calls her) finds out things she never knew about her mother and herself.

TL;DR – Another great Summer read from Sarah Dessen. It doesn’t blow your socks off, but it’s comfortable and the new setting of the lake is fun and I can’t wait to see what else she does with it in the future.

Purchase: Kindle | Hardcover

While this book isn’t going to break into my top five Sarah Dessen books, I still found it enjoyable. Saylor (or Emma) is a likable character even if she’s quite similar to past Dessen protagonists. She battles with identity in the form of her name throughout the book (reminiscent of McLean in What Happened to Goodbye) but I’ll refer to her just as Saylor throughout the rest of the review. I liked the cast of secondary characters even if some felt mildly superfluous (Taylor, April, and Vincent). I might be wrong, but I think this is our first Dessen protagonist who has a large extended family? That we get to see anyway. And I liked that dynamic. I’m someone who comes from large extended families on both sides, so I enjoyed seeing the cousin interactions. I didn’t always love Bailey (she’s pretty self-centered) and we don’t see a ton of Jack, but I loved Trinity. I thought she was a really fun and dynamic character and I would have loved more interactions between her and Saylor. I also thought Gordon was extremely precious and I wanted more of her as well.

As for the characters on the Emma side of things, her friends Bridget and Ryan, again, seemed mildly superfluous. I love that Dessen’s characters usually have strong female friendships, but this time that was mostly shown through the cousins instead of Saylor’s school friends. Tracy was nice enough and I like that she didn’t try to insert herself into things. Nana rocked. I thought she was going to be stuffy and annoying, but she’s actually the best. Saylor’s dad however…I had such a hard time with him for 95% of the book. I never felt like I totally understood his perspective and some of his actions completely enraged me. That being said, I still felt like he was a good guy and I was glad that Saylor had a good father in her life.

I’m realizing now that this is like three paragraphs on characters when I usually just do one, but there were a ton of characters and this book was seriously character driven. Anyway, here we go: Roo. I liked Roo as a person–I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love how almost all of Dessen’s romantic leads are GOOD GUYS. Like seriously, just nice boys. So from that perspective, I really liked Roo and I liked that Roo and Saylor had history. However, I don’t feel like we got to see Roo and Saylor spend much time with each other. In contrast, in The Truth About Forever (my ultimate Sarah Dessen fave), Macy and Wes spend a TON of time together and the reader gets to see it. But because of how busy Roo always was among the other things that Saylor was dealing with, they didn’t spend that much time together. So while I still bought their relationship, I didn’t feel super invested in it.

Lastly, I’ll just go over a few minor things that bugged or didn’t make sense. There was a lot of reflecting and introspection in this book. Like, Saylor would be out on the porch reflecting on an experience she’d had earlier with Mimi or something. But like…why not just write the scene? Why have it be a flashback? With all of the reflecting and such, the timeline seemed really screwy. I would be reading and think that an entire week had passed only to find out that it had been like…two days. Another thing is that I don’t understand why Calvander’s is so short staffed? I mean, it’s the Summer so it seems like they’d have at least two seasonal hires (which they’ve had in the past). I think maybe that should have been explained. Even if Mimi was just like, “Oh, we couldn’t get anybody this year!” Something like that. Another random thing is that I felt really confused by the Sergeant. Like, why did he even “exist” as a character? We literally never see anything from him but that dang toaster! Anyway, I just found him to be very confusing. The last thing is that I was EXTREMELY disappointed in the number of cameos in this book. I know that none of our previous characters have visited the lake before, but that doesn’t mean they can’t visit it now!

In the end, I still really enjoyed this book even if it’s not quite a top five for me. It’s still a solid Dessen book and I really enjoyed the new setting that she’s created with the lake. I’m excited to see what she does with it in the future. Definitely would recommend!

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: None

This book was a ticking time bomb | Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen [ARC]

Happy Messy Scary LoveOlivia loves horror movies and wants to be a horror screenwriter one day. Unfortunately, she sabotaged herself when she was applying for a prestigious NYU screenwriting summer program so now she’s left with nothing to do over the summer except hang out at her family’s cabin. At least she has her Reddit pen pal to keep her company. She thinks that’s the plan until her mom surprises her with a summer job at a ziplining company knowing full well that Olivia is TERRIFIED of heights. Not only that, but now her Reddit pen pal wants to swap photos. And the summer is only beginning.

TL;DR – So many lies that were easily avoidable and are just not going to end well for anyone involved.

I’m just going to start by saying that I felt like I was too old for this book. There were so many times when I was face palming at Olivia’s poor choices. Now, part of the problem is that this is a book so you KNOW certain things are going to happen. Ordinarily, I might not have had much of a problem with Olivia sending a picture of her friend Katie to Elm, but since this is a book you know that she and Elm WILL meet in real life and that Katie WILL also show up at some point. The same applies to other decisions made throughout the book.

The characters were just okay for me. I didn’t find Olivia to be a super sympathetic main character (perhaps because of all of her poor choices) and Jake wasn’t really a compelling love interest. Their relationship would have been a lot more fun if Jake knew that Olivia was Carrie from the beginning, but then of course we wouldn’t have had a story. Olivia’s parents/aunt were kind of non-characters? I mean, they were there and every once in a while would play a role, but honestly they could’ve been any nondescript adult character. Same with the other employees at the ziplining company–they could’ve all just been “generic summer camp employees”. Katie at times was a really great and supportive friend for Olivia, but then at other times she was TERRIBLE. I wasn’t convinced by their friendship–they both seemed pretty selfish and I don’t actually see how their friendship works.

The plot wasn’t wholly original, like I said, there were many things that you KNEW were going to happen. So while this book was still a ticking time bomb (waiting for all of Olivia’s lies to catch up with her) the book still lacked suspense. You KNOW that Jake is going to find out everything and waiting for the “when” isn’t super suspenseful. One thing I didn’t like is that there was no acknowledgement of how Jake might feel being torn between two girls (Carrie and Olivia). Even though the reader knows they’re the same person, he doesn’t, so I feel like that should have played into it more. Like, he should have had more conflict hanging out with Olivia or he should have been pulling away from Carrie or something like that. Also, it’s ridiculous that Olivia based many of her screenplay characters on her coworkers and then sent it to Jake expecting him not to recognize anyone? Like, come on.

Overall, this book was just pretty meh for me. It took me a lot longer to get through it than it should have. I liked the setting and the overall premise was fine, but don’t be expecting any surprises, because there are none.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Def thought this was the last book in the series (it’s not) | Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard [ARC]

Note: This is the third book in The Witchlands series and may contain spoilers for the first two books.

BloodwitchI’m not going to write a summary for this book. I tried and just couldn’t do it so I’ll just get into the review. To address the title, when I picked this book up, I was under the impression that the series was just a trilogy. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that there are actually going to be two more books AFTER this one. My plan to binge the entire series was frustrated, but I’m not too mad at it. I’ve really loved this series much more than I thought I would, so I’m happy.

Something I really love about this series is that it’s diverse without trying too hard or feeling like it’s trying to check every box. It does a good job of not being overly obvious and I think that’s the ultimate goal when people are asking for diverse characters and books. Referring to a character’s skin color or sexuality every other chapter almost creates this otherness about them. Specific traits for them are being singled out and consciously brought to our attention. I don’t want an author to tell me about how a character’s diverse, I want them to show me.

The characters in this series are all pretty much equally enjoyable for me. I’ve been surprised at how sympathetic a character Vivia has become. I really liked the sections from her POV and the struggle she’s having to be the leader that her father wants her to be while also reconciling who she actually is and her family’s history of mental illness. I knew from the beginning of this series that I would really enjoy Prince Leopold as a character, so I was THRILLED when he made a reappearance. It was really great to get to know Aeduan a little more in this book and I love him and Iseult together. Safi and Iseult continue to be utterly delightful and I absolutely love that their relationship continues to feel so strong when they haven’t even been together for two books. They’re constantly thinking about each other and ultimately, I think their goal throughout these books is just to get back with each other.

This book really moves the overall plot of the series forward. We’ve kind of thought that the plot was one thing this whole time, but later in the book, we start to realize that there is much more going on. Some hints have been dropped along the way throughout the series, but now we’re seeing bit and pieces of the larger plot start to form. Now, maybe I would know some of this stuff if I’d read Sightwitch? But as I’ve stated in an earlier post, I don’t believe in these supplemental short stories and novellas and prequels. So I’m just going to continue on and see where that takes me. One last minor plot point that I thought was interesting is how Safi and Iseult always seem to be in danger at the same time. Why is that? Because they’re the Cahr Awen? I just really hope that gets explained in a later book.

While I absolutely loved this book, I do have some questions:

  • Iseult says that animals don’t have threads, but mountain bats and sea foxes do. Why is that?
  • I wish we had some kind of background or explanation as to why everyone hates Nomatsis. Maybe in a future book?
  • I feel like deceit is an emotion or something that Iseult should be able to see in someone’s threads.
  • Why do some people have Threadsiblings and others don’t?

I have a couple other questions too, but they’re kind of spoilery, so I won’t ask them here.

Overall, this was a great third installment. I hear fans of the series had to wait a REALLY long time for the third book, so I’ll just be over hear hoping the fourth book gets here a little quicker than the third. If you haven’t already started this series, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT.

eBook | Hardcover

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Note: An ARC of this book was sent to the library where I work.

A book in which I anticipate a love triangle forming pretty much the whole time | Windwitch by Susan Dennard

Note: This is the second book in the Witchlands series and may contain spoilers for the first book. Click here for my Truthwitch review.

WindwitchSafi and Iseult are now separated. Safi has given herself up to the Empress of Marstok and Iseult is left waiting for word from Mathew and Habim. When word doesn’t come, she finds herself making a tentative truce with Aeduan, the Bloodwitch. If he can help her find Safi, she will tell him where his silver talers ended up. Can the bond between Safi and Iseult withstand the miles and trials between them?

eBook | Hardcover | Paperback

TL;DR – A solid follow-up to the first book. Characters are diverse in a natural way and the author does a great job making all of our narrators sympathetic.

This book started off a little bit slow for my taste, but it picks up momentum rather quickly. I think it would have been fine for readers who are reading the series one book at a time, but not so much for those of us who are bingeing the first three books in the series. These books feel really thoughtfully written to me. I really liked how Dennard is able to use things like a storm or an earthquake to help the reader to know when things are happening. Since virtually all of our characters are separated, it helps to know that these two events are happening at the same time and so on. In addition, without giving any kind of spoilers, I knew that Chiseled Cheater was going to play a more prominent role. I waited for him to show up the entire first book and I was thrilled at his appearance.

The dynamic between Merik and Vivia is really interesting throughout. I really enjoyed getting Vivia’s perspective on things because, in the first book, Merik portrays her as this evil, power-hungry person. She’s actually extremely likable, in my opinion, and it’s crazy to me how neither of them can see how manipulative Serafin is. I think Merik said at one point that Serafin wouldn’t waste his time or energy pitting his children against each other, but he very clearly has wasted a LOT of time and energy doing just that. Speaking of Merik… I know this kind of gets explained later in the book, but he’s always talking about how weak his witchery is, but he’s never seemed particularly weak to me. I mean, he can still use his powers to fly so…just how weak can he be?

Another thing that I’ve enjoyed in this book and series is that Dennard has done a great job including diversity without hitting the reader over the head with it. I feel like when diversity is so “present”, it kind of defeats the purpose. I think what we diverse readers are looking for is for diversity to be included in an authentic and organic way. Undue attention does not need to be drawn to it. I feel like Vivia’s sexuality is handled really well, in that regard. She obviously thinks about her relationship with Stix from time to time, but it’s not something that gets brought up in every single paragraph. I also appreciated the vitiligo rep with Cam. I don’t think I’ve EVER read a book that included a character with vitiligo.

The plot got a little more confusing in this book. It clearly feels like this book is being used to set up events in future books. That’s not necessarily bad, but there are some things that just feel like they don’t quite make sense yet.

While I really enjoyed this book overall, there were a few things that I didn’t quite care for. Fairly early on in the book, Iseult calls the Puppeteer by name, Esme. I didn’t remember her learning Esme’s name in the first book, so I did a quick Kindle search. The name “Esme” doesn’t appear ANYWHERE in the first book. So…yeah. All of the sudden Iseult knows her name and just casually drops it in there? The second thing is that I feel like Aeduan’s bloodwitchery should work on blood stains. I mean, he can seize blood, right? Stop it circulating in someone’s body? So why can’t he seize dried blood and lift it out of clothes?

The last thing, to address the title of this post, is that pretty much the whole book I anticipate feelings developing between Safi and one of the characters that she’s with. It kind of seemed like things were heading that way. Nothing comes of it in this book (luckily) but we’ll see what happens in future books. All I’m saying is that if Safi is part of a love triangle, that will completely cheapen the ENTIRE series.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Pin this!

Windwitch review

Weekend trip turned nightmare | S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett [ARC]

S.T.A.G.S. STAGSGreer just started at her new boarding school, a posh place called St. Aidan the Great School. As a scholarship student, she doesn’t fit in among the elite upper class–the ones who look born to be wearing the black Tudor coats that is their school uniform. So when she gets invited to spend the long weekend with the “it” group on campus, the Medievals, she leaps at the chance. The invitation says they’re in for a fun weekend of “Huntin’, Shootin’, and Fishin'” and Greer can’t wait to prove to these popular upper classmen that she deserves to be friends with them (and maybe even more in the case of Henry de Warlencourt). What she doesn’t expect is to have the picturesque weekend marred by creepy servants and terrible “accidents”.

TL;DR – There was way too much clumsy foreshadowing. The plot wasn’t as exciting as it initially sounded. Characters were just…meh. Pass.

I had pretty high hopes for this book. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have a strangely specific passion for books about unique boarding schools. This book also sounded like it had some Hunger Games elements to it so I was all in. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the writing was up to par the entire time and the plot was a little weak.

The way the book is written, Greer is essentially narrating the events to the reader. She drops a lot of “hints” throughout the book as to what is actually happening. But instead of creating suspense, as maybe the author hoped, it destroys it and becomes more than a little annoying. There is a time and a place to use foreshadowing effectively, but it was just too heavy-handed in this book–not at all subtle and definitely overkill. Greer keeps referencing how the weekend ends and she makes it seem like a really big deal. By the time we actually get to that point, I was a little let down. It almost didn’t seem like as big a deal as Greer had made it out to be throughout the book.

Like I said earlier, the plot was intriguing to me going in, but once I was actually in the book, it started to make less sense. I understand how the entire plot comes together in the end, but it still seems a little bit of a stretch–just not very believable. I’m not saying that every plot has to be super believable, but in this case, a believable plot would have made the book seem a lot more interesting. I don’t want to get too much into it because of spoilers, but I feel like this same plot could have been done in a much more intriguing and clever way.

The characters themselves were just okay. I don’t really feel like any of them were fully fleshed-out, not even Greer. That made it hard to really care for any of them. It didn’t really matter to me if they made it out alive or not. I think it would have been a lot more interesting if Greer hadn’t been the object of a certain character’s affections. The author made it seem like he might like someone else at the beginning and I think following through with that would have been a lot more unexpected and interesting. And wouldn’t have had a huge impact on the story line.

Overall, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book. There were so many parts of it that just dragged. I was really hoping this book would be so much better than it was.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.