A Poison Dark and Drowning

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Title: A Poison Dark and Drowning
Author: Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 4/5

The magicians want her to lead.
The sorcerers want her to lie.
The demons want her blood.”

Cue intense trailer music! In all seriousness, this book is a formidable sequel to it’s predecessor and definitely continues to impress and shock readers. We see young Neville, I mean Henrietta, (read my review of book one to get that joke) in the aftermath of her defeat of Korozoth, living as a sorcerer (technically sorceress, I suppose, but I don’t think they ever refer to her that way in the book) and adjusting to life after training. The war on the demons continues, Rook gets worse by the day and Henrietta still carries that damn world on her shoulder.

I found this book to be very interesting with a lot more depth than the first. I enjoyed getting to know family secrets, more about the prophecy and the origins of how this war against demons began. I honestly wanted to give this a 5 star rating but I just cannot do that in good conscious because of the romantic subplots!

Okay look — I know that 16 year olds are hormonal little monsters but why did we have to introduce ANOTHER romantic sub-plot into an already overplayed love triangle scenario? We’ve got boring mcshadows, sassy mccharming and now we throw in brooding mcmiserable into the mix? Ugh. Like, can Henrietta just live for a second? Girl is trying to save all of London from horrific demons who plan to destroy everything all while dealing with a horrible family history realization and now she’s got a man telling her “oh hey… you’re gonna be with me” as though she would ever agree to that crap. Witch, please. (Also — if I thought this reminded me of the Mortal Instruments before, it’s basically Clary/Simon/Jace/Sebastian with different names and less incest…maybe…I’m still not convinced that Henrietta isn’t tied to the Blackwood family in some way — also Blackwood is literally the name of a family in TMI…. okay I’m done.)

Though I understand her connection to Rook, it seemed like their relationship really progresses out of nowhere, as well. They went from awkward, friend-zone flirting to unyielding love and adoration in a hot minute. Meanwhile, Henrietta is getting her flirt on with literally everyone while Rook is ya know, becoming a horrific demon monster. It was hard not to be frustrated with her blatant neglect when it came to Rook’s condition and when everything goes down at Eliza’s party, I seriously was ready to stab her myself after what poor Magnus endures because of her stupidity.

Overlooking the irritations I have with the above paragraph, this book was filled with a lot of awesome mystery and backstory that gave more meaning to the impending doom surrounding London. As I said before, the tropes in this book are not something readers haven’t seen before, but I think this author does a good job of taking ideas readers have seen (and loved) from other book and making them their own within the world and narrative of this story.

The introduction of Maria is perhaps the best part of the whole book and is definitely the most intriguing mystery left unanswered at the end. Maria reminds me of Amren from ACOMAF in that she’s mysterious with secrets of her own, but is resourceful and able to fend for herself. She’s a loyal ally and someone who chooses words carefully. She’s not experiencing the dramatics of being a 16 year old caught in a love nest, but she has just as much riding on this whole war as everyone else, yet remains a calm and strong force throughout.

As we learn more about the prophecy, I think this story is going to end differently than readers will assume. Comparing again, you get Voldemort vibes with the whole “the girl and women two in one, one must die to unite the three” situation but I don’t think that’s going to play out as black and white as it seems. Admittedly, the prophecy has been pretty literal up to this point so what do I know.

Again, this book is great and it’s done well. It’s hard for me not to compare it to Harry Potter and The Mortal Instruments because honestly it’s so similar in so many ways, but it definitely is enthralling and worth your time to read. I loved those other stories so I can’t knock it for having elements that remind me of those books. I’m hoping I’ll see a lot more originality in the next books and get surprised a lot more than I did in this one, but no matter what, this author knows how to write a fantasy that will appeal to her readers and give them what they crave.

 

 

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A Shadow Bright and Burning

Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning
Author: Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Rating: 4/5

“Henrietta can burst into flames….But Henrietta is not the Chosen One”

Admittedly, anytime I see the words “chosen one” I immediately roll my eyes and say to myself “of course…. I bet they’re sixteen too”. Spoiler alert: Henrietta is sixteen.

What’s awesome about this book is that it actually follows a lead character who ISN’T the chosen one. Now, Henrietta doesn’t know that right away so you still get your classic young girl has magical gifts, moves from a horrible life to a lavish world filled with magic and wonder and brooding men blah blah blah but it’s honestly well done and I loved every minute of this book!

This book gets a 4 star rating from me mostly because I wasn’t totally blown away by the writing. The story and the characters are fantastic, but stylistically I think this writer has room to grow and create a more immersive experience for world building. I also knocked off a few points because I called the “which boy do I choose?” dilemma from the moment I met two of the characters and I got PTSD thinking of Alina, Mal and Nikolai (and the Darkling) all over again.

Anywayyyyy…

This story is filled with magic and the classic elements of fantasy that readers love most: prophecies, faeries, impending war, demon monsters, witches, magicians, sorcerers, corsets, a girl who hates being a lady and would rather be one of the boys… oh wait… Henrietta is a character many readers will instantly identify with because she truly has a heart for the underdog and cares about others. Naturally, she carries the weight of the world and she struggles to be the hero they all need and often makes things worse for herself by lying or hiding things rather than just being honest. But hey — if she did tell people things and ask for help, would she even be a lead fantasy heroine?

I feel like my review seems more critical than it is — I loved this book. It had Harry Potter meets the Mortal Instrument vibes and those are two of my all time favorite series. This story is like reading Harry Potter from the perspective that everyone thought Neville was the chosen one and was also a lady. If you like either of these series, you’ll love this book.

What I appreciate about this book was that it focuses so much on all the ways Henrietta isn’t the chosen one, but still shows her as a heroine and someone who sparks change within a demon-controlled London. The girl can literally LIGHT ON FIRE and she still has the mind to be afraid of the unknown before just agreeing to things. So many stories have people all excited to learn they’re gifted in some way and they just accept that as truth and jump right into whatever they’re told. Characters like that annoy me because it seems so careless to just not have questions about the people coming to claim you as their magical savior. Henrietta is relatable in this way. She doesn’t just jump right in and get really excited at the prospect of learning sorcery or fighting demons or learning about magicians. She questions. She argues. She snaps back at people. She ultimately does whatever the **ck she wants because she is a boss.

Overall, if you’re looking for a fantasy that will give you everything you loved about your favorite fantasy books, this is the book for you. Will this become your new favorite world with brand new ideas? No, probably not. Not everyone can just dream up Hogwarts in a coffee shop. This book will have you interested, questioning, rooting for the underdogs and fearing what will happen next. I’m looking forward to the next one, for sure!

 

 

 

One Dark Throne

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Title: One Dark Throne
Author: Kendare Blake
Publisher: Harper Teen
Pages: 464
Rating: 5/5

I hope you’ve fastened your seat belt because you’re about to be take off on an epic roller-coaster ride from the very first page of this book. Where the first book in this series started out slow, ending with the biggest plot twist I’ve ever read in a book, this book takes off like a rocket. I was enthralled from the moment I began and the anticipation only built as I kept reading.

The battle for the throne continues as Katherine, Mirabella and Arsinoe face their fated destinies to battle each other to the death until one is crowned the true Queen of Fennbirn. With the advantage of her secret poisoner abilities, Arsinoe seems to have a leg up on her sisters, but never underestimate a woman scorned. Katherine comes back from the pit stronger than ever with a sinister secret and a raging heart for revenge.

Initially, in Three Dark Crowns, the writing style of the 3 different points of view was hard to follow but I found myself appreciative of that style in this book. Blake’s use of this narrative style allows the anticipation and mystery to build slowly and keeps the reader at the edge of their seat, desperately awaiting each turn of the page. I found the pace of this book to be balanced and fitting to the events happening around the three queens. If you struggled to adapt to the first novel or found yourself bored in the beginning, I promise that will not happen here.

This book gives us much more insight into the relationship each sister has with one another and their respective “families”. We learn that Mirabella’s kind and meek nature is not to be underestimated, as she is genuinely loyal and will protect her friends and sister Arsinoe at any cost, when threatened. Mirabella continues to surprise me in her ability to be both gentle and destructive. I enjoyed getting to see more of her relationship with Bree and Elizabeth as well . I hope we will see more of them in the future.

Katherine was the queen I was most drawn to in the first book because of her struggle with her poisoner abilities and the cruel training she was forced to endure. The Katherine we knew in book one is long gone and has been replaced by the ruthless and truly vile person who emerged from a pit of betrayal and despair. Consuming poison at every turn, though still not truly immune to it’s effects, readers are left to wonder what Katherine’s abilities really are and what happened in that pit. Blake does a excellent job keeping Katherine’s new personality a mystery. We are given explanations but yet still know very little about what the future holds for Katherine and what she’s become. Her moments with Pietyr show us that the tender hearted girl who craves love still lies buried beneath her newfound bloodlust and rage.

The most interesting and mysterious characters come from the Naturalists. Now that we know Arsinoe is truly a poisoner, so many questions emerge as to why she was given to a naturalist in the first place. We have some of these questions answered, but we see through Jules’ family tree that there is much more unspoken behind the Naturalist line and events at the Black Cottage. Jules’ family is riddled with secrets and betrayal, leading me to think that there is yet another major plot twist still to come in future books. Jules alone remains the most interesting character in the series, as we learn of new powers and her mothers secrets. I would be willing to be that our next book will feature Jules at the center of what’s to become of Fennbirn and the future of the Goddess’ plans for the island.

As far as romantic sub-plots, I was so pleased to see the relationship development with Billy and Arsinoe. After everything Arsinoe has to go through to pretend she’s a naturalist and having to have someone as strong as Jules by her side, I was glad to see her get the forefront in this romance and have things actually work out (so far). I found myself annoyed with Jules and Joseph, however. I just felt like it was unnecessary and annoying, especially after everything he did in book one. I understand the purpose behind it, particularly the role in plays in the end of the book, but given that this book is supposed to focus on the story of the queens, I could have done without the focus on Jules and Joseph. This is yet another reason I believe we will see a lot more focus on Jules in upcoming books. I would argue she is as much a main player in these stories as the 3 queens are.

Overall — the writing style, the characterization, the mysterious unknown backstories and the open-ended futures make this book a delightfully exciting sequel to the first book. I am anxiously awaiting the next installation to immerse myself back into the magical and deadly world of Fennbirn to see what lies in store for our queens, Jules, and the remaining parts of Fennbirn.

 

Read-a-thon: Worth it or Worthless?

If you’ve ever gone on bookstagram or bookish twitters (is there a word for that? Bookter? Twittooks?) you’ve likely come across people participating in read-a-thons.

So for those who may not know, a read-a-thon, as I’ve come to understand it, is when a group of book loving individuals, like myself, read as much as they can in a certain time-span. Usually I seem them as 24 hour read-a-thons, but I’ve also seen some where they last a week. Now, you follow your own path here, reading whatever you’d like (unless your group is specifically dedicating the read-a-thon to a specific genre/author/book series) but the goal is to read as much as you can. You can eat, drink, live your life, whatever you want really.

What’s nice about read-a-thons is that others are doing it with you and you can all talk to and support one another throughout it, making it more fun. Initially, I questioned if this was a reasonable thing to do in the real world since I have a full-time job and as a result have limited free time to devote to 24 hours of reading, but I have done two (one week-long and one 24 hours) and I found that they actually were wildly beneficial to me.

I don’t know about you but I sometimes get into reading slumps where I can’t read a book to save my life, even if I’m wildly interested in it. This was happening to me when I participated in my first read-a-thon which was a week long. I found that although I didn’t devote nearly as much time to reading that week as others did, I was actually able to get out of my reading slump!

I think what helps is that it gave me a reason to read, even if I didn’t necessarily “feel like it”  — I made a commitment so I wanted to put forth some effort and once I got through the first little bit, I was back to wanting to read rather than feeling responsibility to read. Having others to to talk to throughout the week about our progress, our annoyances etc. really helped me feel like I had a support system as well!

The 24 hour read-a-thon was nice because it justified taking a day for myself and just relaxing and reading books. I think I have a hard time allowing myself time to just not do work and focus on what I want to do and this helped me justify taking that time for me. I didn’t talk to people as much this time around because I really did just read the entire time, but I was able to finish two books off my TBR and I felt really accomplished after that!

Overall — I find read-a-thons can be helpful for anyone looking to tackle an large TBR stack, get out of a reading slump, connect with friends, or even just take time for themselves!

I wanna hear from you! Have you done any read-a-thons before? What do you like/dislike? Did you incorporate anything fun into them? Comment and let me know!

Echoes

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Title: Echoes
Author: Miranda Marie
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 474 (paperback)
Review: 2/5 Stars

** I received this book free in exchange for an honest review. That in no way impacts my thoughts below**

Echoes is a story of Emma White, a girl made into a deadly weapon who endured memory loss after nearly drowning during a hurricane. Emma is perceived as timid, shy, innocent and fragile, though inside her mind a storm rages seeking release from it’s cage.

Lost in her mind are the memories of who Emma really is and those who made her into this destructive weapon. When Emma is approached by a brother and sister claiming she belongs to a different life, offering to help guide her, she is unable to decipher what is real. Adrae is cool and cunning, dark as night and just as dangerous but her brother Natan is golden like the sun, spreading warmth and protection in his interactions with Emma.

The story follows Emma as she tries to keep her raging storms calm within as she struggles to escape the control of Adrae. Emma battles with her relationship with Natan, longing to protect him from Adrae and from herself.

 

This story has so much potential to be great. The idea of a girl who was raised and altered to be a deadly weapon and machine of destruction is not a new concept and one that has the potential to captivate readers. Emma’s mysterious past and abilities are intriguing and have the potential to hook readers into craving the next page, desperate for answers to the burning questions racing through their mind.

The most prevalent problem with this story is that there is too much mystery. From the very beginning, readers are introduced to characters with very little information. Adrae and Natan, major players throughout the story, are thrust into the plot without any inclination as to who they are or why they’re there. We know that they were hired by Daniel, Emma’s brother, and that they live with their parents who we learn are very rich. Other than that — we know quite literally, nothing.

Now, this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if we at least knew why Daniel’s character is important to the story line. Daniel is Emma’s brother who hires Adrae to take care of Emma, but we never learn anything about his relationship with Emma. Why doesn’t he want to be around Emma? Why would he abandon her? Why does he have ‘government contacts’ that are referenced in the end? Why does he help Emma after everything that happens? How does he know what she really is? These are all questions that should have been answered in order to justify much of the reasoning behind why people are looking for Emma.

Additionally, as we learn more about Adrae and Natan, we learn that Adrae is cold and manipulative, but Natan is kind and endearing. That’s all we know about these two characters throughout the entire story. We know that Adrae want’s to use and exploit Emma and her powers, but why? What is her job? What is her overall goal? How did she even learn of Daniel and Emma and how does that all play into the overarching plot of Emma losing her memories?

Natan and Emma’s relationship is the only thing that truly seemed planned out completely from the start of the story. It was evident from the beginning these would be our “love interest” storyline characters. What’s confusing about this relationship is that it comes out of nowhere. Emma speaks very little due to her constant restraint, yet Natan seems to fall for her without any interaction between the two of them. I can appreciate the fragility Emma has, and the desire to want to protect her, but to seemingly jeopardize his entire world for this girl he knows for mere days without any spoken dialogue between them seems like a stretch and unrealistic even for fiction.

What takes away from this story the most is the writing style. This story was 474 pages long and I would argue that around 200+ of those pages were devoted to unnecessary metaphors and simile descriptors that took away from the story rather than aided it. Dialogue often drives plot through characters and because our main character is basically mute for most of the story, it doesn’t surprise me that we’re given a lot of insight into her thoughts. The problem is that the insight we’re given is so full of metaphor that the reader is left confused to what is actually happening.

I found the overuse of the metaphor of Emma’s “hurricane” and “echoes” to be exhausting towards the end of the book. Yes, this is the title, and yes, that is how her memories were wiped, but it felt so forced and contrived to continuously refer to her conflicting thoughts in that manner. I think the beauty of good writing is the ability to leave subtle references to things that leave the reader saying “aha! there it is!” yet nothing in this book was subtle. Repetition clogged all of the descriptions leaving the reader bored by the time they are able to get to the actual point of the description. This is especially difficult to read through because there is so little dialogue happening.

I think I understand the author’s approach to the use of metaphor and simile considering the lack of dialogue. I assume this was intended to provide context and imagery for the reader to immerse themselves into the emotions and experiences of the characters. Unfortunately, I don’t think that approach was successful. I spent so much time reading about additional ways to describe one emotion that I forgot what was happening in terms of plot and character interaction.

In terms of world-building, I really don’t think there was much attention given to this. We learn that Emma is a girl who was altered to be a weapon of destruction but we know nothing about the world in which she lives. Why is this weapon necessary? What’s happening in the world that requires people to invest in this type of experimentation? How was she chosen? Who are the big villains of the story that Emma is ultimately defying by not going along with being used as a weapon?

There was just SO much missing from this story. I truly couldn’t tell you what the problem is for this world. It’s clear that the sub-plot is that Emma has no memories and is trying to get away from the cruel intentions of Adrae, but without knowing who Adrae is or why she wants Emma, or ANYTHING surrounding why Emma is so valuable to these people with money, it’s hard to understand where this story intends to go. Is this a fantasy? Is Emma powerful in some fantastical way? Is this a dystopian society that has descended into some type of turmoil due to war or economic crisis? Are Emma’s powers more physically based like a trained assassin? Is this science fiction since there are computerized elements surgically placed in her brain? The readers aren’t told and aren’t able to guess based on the information given.

Like I said — I think there is potential here, I just think the author has to decide what type of story this is. I think there is a lot of work to be done developing these characters, giving them purpose and meaning in the story, since Emma is the only one who isn’t sure of her past. I think this is a world that would benefit from being defined. Readers need some background knowledge in order to see the purpose behind these character interactions. I think the relationship between Emma and Natan is missing reason — two people can care for each other but there’s just so much missing as to what draws Natan to Emma that it’s confusing and appears forced.

Overall, I think there needs to be way less metaphorical description and much more real, direct, world building. This story could benefit from dual points of view — seeing situations from Natan’s point of view would give readers access to dialogue they crave and miss from Emma’s point of view, but also give readers insight into his motivations behind his feelings towards Emma. The use of metaphor and simile is ultimately the thing that really made me struggle to get through the first 200 pages. I truly believe that much of what’s written took away from the pace of the novel and actually distracted from the story. Perhaps we will get more answers in the second book, as I assume there will be a second. Unfortunately, I don’t think even a second novel can account for all the gaps presented in the first book.

Ultimately, writing style is important for a reader to engage in a story and I just did not connect with this writing style. Perhaps other readers might connect better to this style of writing and find things that I wasn’t able to.

 

 

I got 99 problems…and they’re all on my TBR

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Who out there sticks to a monthly TBR list?

Like most of you, I have what seems to be a never ending TBR list. I feel like for every book I buy, I have about 3 that I haven’t read. You’ll notice in all these TBR photos, there’s books that repeat…month after month…

Am I alone here? Every month I set a TBR and I feel like the only thing I get out of it is a nice photo for my bookstagram monthly challenge. I usually get at least one or two off that list completed for that month, depending on how addicting the books on my list are. When I finish one or two I always get another book that I’m excited about and bump that up on my list to read next. Thus, a never ending cycle of books I want to read ending up back on my shelf, continues.

Since I’ve gained more popularity on bookstagram, I’ve also received a few books to read for review or post on my account. Now I’ve created an even larger hole in my TBR pile where the books I want to read but don’t NEED to read continue to fall, buried under ARCs and Review Copies and major releases.

You’re probably at the point where you’re like “Okay… welcome to the world of booklovers…what’s your point?” — I realize this is an issue many of us struggle with but I wonder, is there a better way?

Is it better to just not set a TBR and read what “speaks to me” or I’m given to review at the time? Should I put all the titles of books I need to read in a jar and just pick at random whenever I finish a book? How do people actually manage to read the books they want to read AND maintain a decent read/review timeline, AND maintain a job AND take bookstagram pictures AND post blog posts AND have a family or a life….

Yikes. Even typing that was exhausting.

So friends, the point of this post is a cry for help — How do you manage your TBR list? What works best for you?

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A Darker Shade of Magic

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Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Series:
 Shades of Magic (Book 1)
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Language: English
: 5/5 Stars
Do you ever avoid books for all the wrong reasons?

I avoided this book for the longest time because I was afraid that it wouldn’t be my “style” based on the cover designs and title. If I’m honest, I’m not sure what had me so hesitant when looking at the cover — I mean, they literally say, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Despite knowing this, that’s exactly what I often do. Admittedly, I was also nervous this book would be too dark for me. While I love reading about magic, treachery, impending war and all the wonders of magic, dark and light, I don’t enjoy gore, torture or things of that nature.

You’re probably thinking “why not read a review?” “did you read the synopsis?” “what about this cover suggests any of the things you don’t like?” — listen, you’re right. None of these make sense and I honestly did little to no (definitely no) research on what the book was about beyond “eh, that cover doesn’t speak to me”. Mistakes are made every day, my friends, and I make quite a few of them.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong about this book! V.E. Schwab has such a unique and enticing writing style and I found myself immersed in these characters from the very beginning of this book. Readers are introduced to the magic and ways of antari by watching Kell as he interacts with the King of Grey London. There’s no hand holding or explanations given except through the eyes and narration of the main character as he carries out his responsibilities in traveling between London as a messenger. Immediately you’re craving more information behind the mysterious blood magic of an antari, the strange behavior of the King, and the notion of multiple London’s.

Kell is a deliciously mysterious character with a tortured soul and a habit for bending the rules. From his thoughts you learn that he is devoted to his brother and family despite the tortuous realization that he is not in fact a member of the Royal family so much as their property. Though Kell values the law and order of moving between worlds, he is fascinated by small trinkets with little meaning to others and often risks bending the rules in order to collect these precious items. These small aspects of Kell’s personality show the humanity behind his magical difference from others and allow the readers to wonder more about the man behind the magical black eye.

When you’re just getting invested into Kell and his story, enter Lila Bard — fierce, lethal and likely to steal the glasses off your face before you’ve even finished reading about her. The author chooses to portray her story in the same way as Kell’s, walking the reader through her thoughts and actions rather than providing backstory to prepare you for her arrival. Schwab executes this incredibly well, as I never found myself confused as she shifted between Kell and Lila’s perspectives.

At her core, Lila is an adventurer who longs for a life far more vibrant than the Grey world she was born into. Prone to pick pocketing in order to survive, Lila craves the life of a pirate who serves only themselves and the sea. Despite her rough and tumble, quick draw exterior, Schwab provides the readers with small cracks that show how vulnerable and caring Lila can be. I found myself wondering what led Lila to the life of a thief and who built that wall around her heart that forced her to believe she could only rely on herself.

These characters drive the plot of this story through their incredibly vivacious, competitive and quick-witted relationship. There is a tangible chemistry between them from the very beginning, again showing the brilliance in Schwab’s ability to write dimensional characters. Their chemistry is undeniable, yet it doesn’t distract from the main plot of the novel. They continue to pursue their goal while simultaneously showing that the nature of their relationship is evolving along the way into something more than just a thief and a smuggler who wound up obtaining a rare and deadly artifact that could destroy the worlds they know.

I found myself impressed by all the characters and their ability to subtly hint at what’s to come. We’re given ruthless villains readers easily hate, who introduce us to the main problem of the series — reintroducing the true vitari magic to Grey, Red and White London, potentially leaving them open complete destruction. These villains are tied to Holland, the only other antari to exist, who we long to believe has good inside his controlled soul. Holland’s character reminds me of the Darkling from the Grishaverse in that he is ruthless and cunning, yet tortured and a product of his circumstance. You want so badly for this character to redeem himself.

I thought the end of this novel was the perfect set-up for future books in the series. There were questions answered, resolutions provided, and yet so many little easter egg situations scattered throughout that never really were addressed. This is brilliant writing because it allows readers to feel comfortable and content with the ending, only to likely have their worlds shattered and mind’s blown at the beginning of the next book. I am not convinced that some characters won’t come back to haunt us in the next book, and I love that I have that sense of unease.

Overall, this book is filled with excellent characters, an intriguing and mysterious plot, and dynamic relationships. I was hooked from the start and only craved more with every page turn. This is an excellent read for those who love magical stories but may want a change of pace from the fantastical elements of faeries, witches, wizards and mythical creatures. This book perfectly ties the modernism of present day world with royalty and magic. Definitely worth taking a chance on this book!