Sibling rivalry is brought to a whole new level | Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark CrownsThree queens are born, but only one can survive. Every generation, triplet queens are forced to fight to the death. Whoever survives reigns as the new queen. Arsinoe, Mirabella, and Katherine have known this their whole lives. Unfortunately, both Arsinoe and Katherine are still working to master the gifts that the goddess has given them. Everybody knows that Mirabella is going to end up queen, but Arsinoe, Katherine, and the families that fostered them aren’t willing to go down without a fight.

TL;DR – Great main characters and plot, but the world building could use a little work/additional explanation. Also, get ready to be overloaded by secondary characters.

This book had been sitting on my shelf forever it seems. I finally got around to reading it, and immediately after I finished I made my husband go to Barnes & Noble to pick up the second book. I didn’t really think that I’d like it as much as I did–I think I might have heard a couple of negative reviews about it.

The first thing I noticed is that Blake did a really good job making all three queens likable. I didn’t necessarily have a favorite and I was really torn about which queen I wanted to end up winning. I think it could have been really easy to paint one queen as the hero and the other two as villains, but the whole premise of the book means their relationships and decisions are so complicated. I love how each sister has her own conflicting desires. It really makes you wonder how previous queens felt and reacted.

The overall plot was great and I really liked how politics played so strongly into the story line. I’m really intrigued to see how this series ends and I appreciate that the author is taking her time. I wouldn’t have been surprised if this book had ended with one of the sisters killing another, but it seems like that kind of thing won’t happen until later books. I will say, though, that the ending was very unexpected for me and was part of why I was so eager to get my hands on the second book.

The world building is the only part that I find a little weak. This is a very complicated world and it’s not fully explained. We’re not really given any history or background for how this place came to be or who/why the goddess is, etc. Why triplets? Why don’t queens reign longer? Who reigns while the triplets are growing up? How does the queen know what gifts the babies have? Why do people live in groups based on ability? Is it possible for a poisoner to be born to elementals? What would happen to them? Just so many questions.

My last little issue is that there were SO MANY secondary characters. Seriously. I only started to figure out who everyone was after about 2/3 or 3/4 of the book. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this book and am also enjoying the second book so far. I would definitely recommend.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate (a couple of scenes, no explicit descriptions)

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BLOG TOUR: The Sweetest Kind of Fate by Crystal Cestari [GIVEAWAY]

The Sweetest Kind of FateThe Sweetest Kind of Fate
by Crystal Cestari
Release Date: February 13, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy

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SYNOPSIS: GREAT. I’ve somehow found myself tangled up with a siren, a mermaid, and a homicidal wicked witch who once tried to strangle me to death. Way to go, Amber!

Amber Sand, legendary matchmaker, couldn’t be more surprised when her arch nemesis, Ivy, comes asking for her help. Ivy’s sister, Iris, is getting married, and Ivy wants to prove her sister is making a huge mistake. But as Amber looks into Iris’s eyes, there doesn’t seem to be a problem—Iris has clearly found her match.

It seems happily ever after is in the cards, but when Iris seeks out a dangerous, life-altering spell, it’s up to Amber and Ivy to set aside their rivalry and save the day.

While Iris is willing to put everything on the line for love, Amber continues to wrestle with her own romantic future. Her boyfriend, Charlie, is still destined for another, and no matter how hard she clings to him, fear over their inevitable breakup shakes her belief system to the core.

Because the Fates are never wrong—right?

REVIEW: I really enjoyed the first book in this series. I thought Amber was such a delightful character. Unfortunately, I felt like she wasn’t quite as delightful this time around. I think some of that centers around her jealousy of another character. It was just kind of annoying and immature. I mean, what did she expect to happen? I just feel like she should have had more foresight and done something about it.

Amani and Kim were great secondary characters even if we didn’t get to see too much of Kim. Charlie seemed a lot less present in this book than in the last one. His relationship with Amber is kind of weird for me though. Because she knows that he’s not her match, so I don’t really understand how she can justify feeling jealous or why she thinks that their relationship will last.

The plot itself was interesting, but I felt like it got pushed to the side at times to deal with Amber’s drama. There seemed to be an overarching theme of “love” throughout the book and the author hit it pretty hard a few times–I’m just not exactly sure why. It almost felt like this book had some kind of deeper meaning, but if it did, it went over my head.

Overall, this book was still pretty good, but not as good as the first in my opinion. I still love the descriptions of Chicago and all the baked goods, but there were just some other things that weren’t quite as enjoyable.

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


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Crystal Cestari 2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
With rainbows in my hair and stories in my head, I am a writer drawn to magic in the everyday world.

My debut novel, The Best Kind of Magic, arrives May 16, 2017 from Hyperion. Follow Amber Sand, a magical matchmaker who can actually see true love, as she takes off on a fun and romantic adventure toward happily ever after.

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Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tour in exchange for an honest 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.

This book was pure magic | Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the DreamerLazlo Strange has always been obsessed with the city of Weep. Abandoned as a child and raised by monks, Lazlo is ecstatic to receive an apprenticeship at the library where he is able to continue his research on the mysterious city. When a band of warriors from Weep arrives, Lazlo knows that this is his only chance to lay his eyes on the city he’s heard so much about. The leader of the group from Weep is named Godslayer and he claims that they have a problem and require outside help, but he won’t divulge any information beyond that. What kind of problem could cause the great warriors of Weep to leave their city? Lazlo isn’t sure, but he knows that he must go with them.

First of all, I had no idea this was going to be a series (duology?) but I don’t necessarily mind. I just wanted to say that first thing so anyone who only likes stand-alones can go into this review with their eyes open. Right away, it’s obvious how GOOD a writer Laini Taylor is. I love reading books by other YA authors because I’m not really looking for super high quality writing (don’t get me wrong, they’re good for sure, but it’s nothing AMAZING) but I feel like Laini Taylor is on another level. I’m not usually one who really notices the quality of the writing (unless it’s really bad) but reading this book…I couldn’t NOT sit up and notice. Honestly, it makes me want to reread her first series to see if I just missed that the first time or if she’s really stepped it up with this book. Everything about this book is interesting and beautiful but the writing is SO BEAUTIFUL. The way that Taylor describes things…it could be the most ordinary thing, but she can pull the beauty from it. The writing just flows throughout the book in a really elegant way.

But enough gushing about the writing. I thought the plot moved a little slow at the beginning. I wasn’t super into it and I kept finding myself reading a few pages and putting it down. It probably didn’t help that I had literally no idea what to expect from the book. I just knew that it was getting great reviews from everyone and it was written by an author I had enjoyed in the past. I honestly don’t think I read the synopsis once. With all that being said, once the pace picks up a little bit, I was hooked.

I thought the characters were all amazing. They are all super complicated and have a certain depth to them. None of the characters have just one motivation–no cardboard cutouts here. The book is in third person and so it jumps around between characters letting the reader get a deeper glimpse than we would have if it had been written from a different perspective. I really enjoyed Lazlo as one of our two main characters because he is just so…GOOD. Like, seriously good in this really pure and innocent way. There’s just something about him that makes you want to take care of him, but at the same time you have complete trust that he could take care of you too and wouldn’t expect anything out of it. I also loved Sarai and how she develops throughout the book. Her and Lazlo’s relationship was intense but it still felt real and I thought it grew at a realistic pace. I can’t get into all the secondary characters here, but they all rock (except for the ones who suck).

I definitely saw the “twist” at the end coming, but I also think that maybe the reader is supposed to be able to guess? It will definitely make things a lot more interesting in the next book.

Okay, but really, here’s why I like this book. There’s so much push from readers, reviewers, and basically everybody in the book community for more diversity in YA. As a POC, I appreciate that. However, I feel that the push for more diversity has, in some cases, caused diversity to be included in ways that are harmful or disingenuous (see my last mini-review for Hello, Sunshine by Leila Howard for one). With all that being said, Taylor does diversity the right way, in my opinion. She’s created a society where there are two skin colors, brown/white or blue. The dynamic between the two “races” is definitely hostile and I think the next book is set up real nice to address some tough issues in the safe setting of a fictional world. She’s not trying to make overt statements but rather lets the content of the story speak for itself. Taylor also includes an LGBT couple in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Most of all, I appreciate that she doesn’t feel the need to incorporate every single type of diversity that exists into her story (when authors do that I feel like it seems SO FORCED). She includes what feels natural and leaves the rest for another book, perhaps.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. Content-wise it’s pretty clean though there are a couple of non-graphic scenes that may not be suitable for young readers (though it’s even possible those scenes might go over their heads). With that being said, while I feel like this book could definitely be read by younger teens, I don’t feel like they’d totally understand it–I know I wouldn’t have when I was 14. So yeah, older teens would be my recommendation here. If you like beautiful things, you should read this book. And then go read Laini Taylor’s other series.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: None
Violence: Moderate (mentions of child abuse, rape, and infanticide, but no graphic depictions).
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate

BLOG TOUR: League of American Traitors by Matthew Landis [GIVEAWAY]

League of American TraitorsLeague of American Traitors
by Matthew Landis
Release Date: August 8th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical

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SYNOPSIS: Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. . . . 

When seventeen year-old Jasper is approached at the funeral of his deadbeat father by a man claiming to be an associate of his deceased parents, he’s thrust into a world of secrets tied to America’s history—and he’s right at the heart of it.

First, Jasper finds out he is the sole surviving descendant of Benedict Arnold, the most notorious traitor in American history. Then he learns that his father’s death was no accident. Jasper is at the center of a war that has been going on for centuries, in which the descendants of the heroes and traitors of the American Revolution still duel to the death for the sake of their honor.

His only hope to escape his dangerous fate on his eighteenth birthday? Take up the research his father was pursuing at the time of his death, to clear Arnold’s name.

Whisked off to a boarding school populated by other descendants of notorious American traitors, it’s a race to discover the truth. But if Jasper doesn’t find a way to uncover the evidence his father was hunting for, he may end up paying for the sins of his forefathers with his own life.

Like a mash-up of National Treasure and Hamilton, Matthew Landis’s debut spins the what-ifs of American history into a heart-pounding thriller steeped in conspiracy, clue hunting, and danger.

REVIEW: I absolutely loved the premise of this book. Just the idea of the descendants of America’s most hated traitors coming together has so much potential. This book actually made me wonder where the real descendants are and what they’re doing. Beyond that, however, I felt the story needed a little bit of development. On a technical level, the transitions between sections weren’t always very smooth and it made things a little confusing at times. Like, things would be happening, but I wasn’t actually sure WHAT was happening. The book is less than 300 pages long and I really think it could’ve benefited from being longer to fill in some of the gaps.

The characters were likable, but didn’t really develop. I liked Jasper quite a bit as a main character, but I felt like his relationship with Nora came out of nowhere. I didn’t actually think they made sense as a couple and we didn’t really get to see the feelings develop on either side. Jasper thought about her a few times, but I honestly couldn’t tell if his feelings were platonic or romantic until he actually talked about kissing her.

I thought the plot was fine. Maybe some of it would have made a little more sense if I was a big history buff, but I’m not. Pacing was a little bit of an issue because some scenes would go really slow, but then it felt like the story would fast forward all of the sudden. I kind of saw the ending coming…but then didn’t at the same time. It was definitely a plus that I was kept guessing and I liked that it wasn’t some random character that hadn’t been introduced. But why did Jasper’s hair get mentioned so many times? I didn’t really get that.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty good. If you’re into American history, you might really like this book. I thought the premise was AMAZING but didn’t necessarily live up to its potential.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild


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Matthew LandisABOUT THE AUTHOR: 
I love history, but not in the old, awful, kill-me-now-please kind of way. My passion is convincing my students that the past is actually hilarious, shocking, tragic, disturbing, and altogether UN-boring. While getting my graduate degree in History at Villanova, I realized that there was yet one more way to do this: write contemporary young adult books laced with history to convince my students that past isn’t as awful as they think. That’s a huge reason why I wrote The Judas Society.

Some other stuff: I love poetry but don’t understand it; I want Gordon Ramsay to give me a fatherly hug at some point; I tend toward the unapologetically dramatic; and (to my great shame) I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until last year. I’m also really good at covering up patent insecurities with self-deprecating humor (like this joke).

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Note: I received this book free from the author/blog tour in exchange for an honest review.

QUEEN DESSEN DOES IT AGAIN | Once & For All by Sarah Dessen

Once and For AllLouna met Ethan at a wedding. That fact on its own isn’t necessarily notable (her mother IS a wedding planner after all). But then she and Ethan shared the most perfect night together, wandering the streets of Colby. For one night, everything in Louna’s life was perfect. Until it wasn’t. Ethan was her ONE and what is a girl supposed to do when that one is gone? So Louna’s given up on love. She isn’t bitter–just realistic. She already had her chance at true love and what are the odds that she’ll get another one?

My expectations are always so high whenever a new Dessen book is coming out…it’s honestly not very fair to her. Except, she always delivers! Louna is such a great main character and gives off so many Remy vibes (which I LOVE). Honestly, they almost could have been the same character except I think Remy comes off as slightly more cynical. This only means that Louna is a fun combination of mild cynicism and general impatience. The secondary characters were awesome as well. I loved Louna’s mom and William–they had such a fun dynamic and often served as comic relief. Also serving as comic relief (in my opinion) is coffee shop guy, so quick shout out to him. I liked Jilly quite a bit as well, though I felt like I was missing that super strong female friendship that is often in Dessen’s books. Jilly and Louna were definitely great friends, but Jilly just wasn’t as present as other best friends have been. That being said, Jilly’s siblings were hilarious and I hope we see more of her little brother in another book.

Ambrose and Ethan…I thought they were great characters in different ways. I liked how we got to meet Ethan piece by piece in flashbacks and that his relationship with Louna didn’t feel forced or fake. I think that’s hard to do since they spent such a short amount of time together, but I was buying the whole thing. Also, thank Dessen for featuring my favorite location that she has ever created–the Pie Laundromat. So happy to see that place again. Ambrose was a completely different character from Ethan for sure and it was interesting to see Louna falling for both guys. I’ve seen some reviewers say they really didn’t care for Ambrose’s personality. I can honestly see why some readers may dislike him, but he’s so different from all of Dessen’s other romantic leads that I found him really interesting. And also the fact that he was so different from Ethan gave Louna more depth as a character, in my opinion.

As is common in Dessen’s books, there wasn’t really a plot since the book is more focused on the characters. That being said, I loved all of the different weddings that we got to see. I live just a couple of blocks from a really popular, local wedding spot and seeing so many brides and weddings day after day really just made me start to think how un-special weddings are. Like, they literally happen every day in the summer! I just found myself pondering the interesting paradox of this being one of the most important days of the bride’s life while for me it’s “just another wedding by my house”. Anyway, that’s a long explanation to say that I’m sure Natalie and William feel the same way to some extent and it’s interesting to view weddings from that perspective.

Overall, I loved this book just as much as all the others. As long as Sarah Dessen writes, I will continue to read and purchase her books. Honestly, she’s the only author I’ll pre-order for. The ONLY issue I have is that there’s a bonus chapter that exists, but it’s only available in the special B&N edition. For an Amazon addict like me, that’s no good. I’d already pre-ordered the book on Amazon when I found out bonus material even existed! Whatever. I confess to going to B&N just to sit on their floor and read the bonus chapter. I don’t even feel bad about it. But anyway, if you like Dessen, READ THIS BOOK. And if you don’t like Dessen or have never read anything she’s written, READ THIS BOOK.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

I find it weird that these books never mention Dylan Thomas once | This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back [ARC] by Estelle Laure

Lucille and Eden have been friends forever. But the summer before their senior year, Lucille’s mom decides to take off on a solo vacation. She promises to come back before school starts, but Lucille and her little sister Wren are left waiting long after that deadline has passed. Meanwhile, Eden is struggling to come to terms with her future in ballet and the new feelings that have arisen between Lucille and her twin brother, Digby.

Just to start off, I really liked This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back was also enjoyable, but I didn’t like it AS MUCH. I just really had so many feelings about Lucille and Wren. Lucille has to be so tough and is put in this impossible situation. I noticed that some reviewers haven’t liked how mean she is to Eden and Digby after a little while, but I feel like I can understand it completely. She has to be so stressed out and she can’t REALLY talk to anyone about her situation. But one thing this book does do is make me believe in the kindness of strangers. So…there’s that.

The relationship between Lucille and Digby is…a little weird. It feels completely one-sided at the beginning of the book and it’s not completely clear what makes Digby have a change of heart. He’s got a girlfriend at the beginning of the book and he cheats on her with Lucille which is NOT OKAY. That being said, I did end up liking their relationship in the end. Mostly, though, the relationship that I really liked was between Lucille and Wren. I LOVE a good sister relationship and I felt that this book definitely delivered in that area. There’s a sizable age difference between the two girls, but they love each other and are there for each other through everything. My heart was seriously just breaking for these girls throughout the whole book.

There wasn’t too much of a plot beyond trying to survive while Lucille’s mom is gone, but I was okay with that. Again, there have been some reviewers that disliked how the first book ends because they felt like there wasn’t a resolution. I can definitely see that, but I finished the first book and immediately went into the second which picks up right where the first one left off so…I didn’t really mind the lack of a resolution.

The title is something that really drew me to this book initially. The poem it’s quoting is great (who doesn’t love it?) and the girls discuss it a little in the book. But then they never mention Dylan Thomas to my recollection. There’s no real reason why the NEED to talk about him, but perhaps it could have added an interesting layer or dimension to the book.

This is the point where I’m going to transition into my review of the second book, so if you don’t want some things spoiled from the first book, do not continue reading.

I didn’t like Eden as a narrator as much as I liked Lucille. There’s just something a little…chippy about her? I felt like she had this undercurrent of anger throughout a lot of her interactions with people. Then because Eden’s just woken up from a coma, there are some weird things that she sees that almost gives this book a magical realism feel to it where that was NOT present in the first book. It almost feels like a different genre.

The new characters that were introduced in the second book are interesting. I was a little confused, though, because apparently Eden has these two really good guy friends who are over all the time but who are never mentioned in the first book. I didn’t like the way that her new guy friends or even her parents and brother reacted to Eden at times. They got really angry with her when she didn’t want to do something–the girl just got out of a coma! I would think she’s allowed to not want to go to a club or party.

This book was interesting because we really get Eden’s point of view in the whole fallout between her and Lucille. Lucille really isn’t painted in the BEST light in this book, which was hard for me since I liked her so much in the first book. At the same time, I thought it was a great way of showing that there are two sides to every story, you know? I understood why Eden felt the way she did and ultimately why she reacted to Lucille how she did in the first book.

Overall, I thought these books were pretty great. I think it would make more sense to read them in order, but you could definitely read them separately and I think the second book would still make sense…mostly.

Overall Rating: 5 (TRL), 4 (BTICB)
Language: Moderate for both
Violence: Moderate (TRL), Mild (BTICB)
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate for both
Sexual Content: Moderate (TRL), Mild (BTICB)

Note: I received But Then I Came Back free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.