Soulless by Gail Carriger – Parasol Protectorate #1

Going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the premise contained all of my favorite things: supernatural beings, the Victorian era, and a feisty heroine. That was enough to intrigue me and give this book a shot. After reading it, I am so glad I did. Here is my review:

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Unfortunately, Alexia accidentally kills the vampire while protecting herself – and the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. News on this vampire’s death leads to an investigation that reveals that unexpected vampires are appearing and expected vampires are disappearing. And everyone seems to believe that Alexia is somehow involved. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy?

To define this book by one genre would be doing it an injustice because it is such a mashup! You’ve got steampunk, Victorian social etiquette, comedy, romance, and of course, supernatural/paranormal fantasy. I loved this eclectic mix of themes because it added so much variety to the story! I absolutely adored Alexia. She is funny, and inquisitive, and everything I wanted her to be! She adheres to Victorian etiquette standards only when it suits her and her independent thinking gets her into a great deal of trouble. I love that the author always keeps her in the center of the action and never makes her rely on men to fix things for her. I also loved her romance with Lord Maccon, which I had guessed would happen right from the start; it is VERY believable and not exactly pg-13 (so I would advise younger teenagers to not read this book). The story itself was intriguing, with witty humor thrown in every now and then. I liked the mystery and the action, and the different supernatural beings who were involved. If anything, I wish the organization of the different societies had been given more details, as that would have given me a better understanding of this world that Alexia lives in. I had a great reading experience with this novel because I just found it to be so funny and interesting that I couldn’t put it down. I’m giving it a 5/5 stars for being weird and funny and everything else in between!

Happy reading ~

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Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I thought this would be an interesting take on the way social media allows people to connect with each other, and the way that social media can become a dangerous place. I have to admit that my own social media accounts are quite sparse; I rarely use Instagram or Facebook and I don’t even have a Twitter account. I wanted to get a feel for the Twitter-verse … so what better way than through an interesting teen thriller? Here is my review:

Confined to her bedroom with agoraphobia, Tessa Hart’s world feels very small. But through Twitter and the online fandom for pop sensation Eric Thorn, the world has opened up. She looks forward to his rare tweets to his fans: it makes her feel like his message is just for her.

For Eric Thorn, social media is a nightmare – and so are his obsessive fans. Their devotion can get frightening and he doesn’t feel comfortable engaging with these teenage girls. It doesn’t help that his PR team doesn’t understand his reluctance and wants him to encourage his fans’ fantasies. When a fellow pop star is murdered by an obsessive fan, Eric knows he needs to do something to ruin his online image fast. His plan? Take down one of his top Twitter followers.  But Eric’s plan to troll @TessaHeartsEric unexpectedly evolves into an online relationship deeper than either could have imagined. And when the two arrange to meet IRL, what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish takes a deadly turn…

Wow. I wasn’t expecting this novel to be … so … bad. In the beginning, I was intrigued because the first chapter opens up with a police transcript. Immediately, the reader knows that things get serious. However, as the story continues, it becomes apparent that this is nothing more than just some fanfiction romance. This novel reads like fanfiction. And it’s not even GOOD fanfiction! We have a whiny, condescending pop star with an irrational fear of his fans. We have a PR team with no empathy, or conscience whatsoever. And we have an insipid fandom that apparently consists only of shallow girls. Oh, except for our one unique fan, Tessa, our snowflake. This bothered me so much because fandoms are really not like that at all. I’m not very involved with any fandom but I know that there are a lot of fans who take the time to get to know the celebrities they love, who analyze their work, and who really appreciate the celebrity for their art and for their personality. It’s not just “about the abs” as Eric depicts it in the book. This novel suggests that it is going to be a thriller but is really just a romance. At the 80% mark, we finally see the thriller that we are promised but it is really badly executed. We have the introduction of a random character with their random plan that was not properly incorporated at any point in the story. It was just such a mess, and it was so confusing to read. And then there is another cringe-worthy romance scene, followed by another twist. And the story ends as a cliffhanger, with the promise of a sequel. It was just too much for me to handle. My concluding thoughts? This is just some really bad fanfiction that is full of cringe-worthy and hard-to-believe romance (seriously, these characters DO NOT understand what love is) and a last minute thriller thrown in as an attempt to satisfy readers. I will not be reading the sequel and I will not be recommending this novel to anyone. 1/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

 

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Grandmére Ursule was one of the most powerful witches in her family. But when she dies trying to save the life of her tribe, her magic seems to have died with her. Even so, her daughters do their best to keep the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been a part of their family for generations. Then one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. The story traverses 5 generations of witches, from early 19th century Brittany to London during WWII as they fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, their futures.

I really wanted to love this novel but I didn’t. The book is broken down into multiple parts such that each witch from the next generation gets her own story. I love the idea of magic being passed down from mother to daughter but I think that is where the problem of this novel lay: for each generation, the story from the previous generation must be recounted, and the same reactions from the newest witch are described, and it just starts to become repetitive. It’s hard to break from that cycle when it is that very cycle that is being described in the novel. I think that out of all of the witches that were described, there was only one that was truly different from the rest. While I get that the same traits and powers will run in the family, the personalities of the different witches were too similar for my taste. And as I mentioned, the concept was interesting in the beginning but the story itself was too cyclic and repetitive to maintain my interest. The author did put a valiant effort in trying to tie in different historical events to change things up between generations, but the scenarios remained the same. I also wish there had been more supernatural elements; I would have loved to read about the different spells and things that they learned and the reasons why they did certain rituals. For me, there was just not enough of a unique story and so, I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

One of the first classics I ever ready was Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I loved it so much that I read a bunch of her other novels. While I may not have loved all of them, I have fond memories of curling up with an Austen book. The title of the novel caught my attention and the premise held it. So here is my review:

Mary Davies enjoys her job as an engineer. It doesn’t hurt that there is an adorable and intelligent consultant working alongside her. But things aren’t perfect. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel, offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

This book is not like your typical Austen-style book. It doesn’t try to be a modern version of any Austen classic; instead, it takes the Austen characters and analyzes them through the pretense of an Austen-themed costume weeklong getaway. I loved the concept behind it: strangers sign up to live in a manor that is set up in the Regency era, and each person chooses a character from Jane Austen’s novels and pretends to be them for the duration of their stay. It’s the kind of adventure I would want to do! I really loved Mary’s character; she was one of the most realistic characters I have ever read about. The thoughts and feelings she has are ones I could relate to, and her actions make a lot of sense. She isn’t overly dramatic and doesn’t live in her own fantasy world; she is a quiet character who has her unique strengths and weaknesses. Mary was the kind of character I could envision as my friend because she was just so real! I also loved all of the other cast members of this novel, and how each played their part in telling this story. I thought that Isabel’s memory loss could have been done better (it was a little wishywashy in its appearance and disappearance and just didn’t have as strong of an explanation as I would have liked) but this did not detract from the novel’s story. The romance was done very nicely in this novel; again, it was not too dramatic and the misconceptions that occurred here were ones that I could see happening in the real world. I guess what I loved about this book so much was that it was so realistic and plausible that I could easily fall into the story and believe in it. All in all, I had a great time reading this book and would give it a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst – Queens of Renthia #2

I loved the first book in this series Queen of Blood and I knew I had to get my hands on the second one. As soon as it came out, I went and bought it. But that’s where I made the mistake. You see, when I buy books, I get really excited to read them… but then they end up on my bookshelf and never get read. I get so overwhelmed by ARCs and books I’ve borrowed from the library so I prioritize those over books I’ve bought. I tell myself I’m going to get to it eventually … but I never do. This time, however, I tricked myself (sort-of!); I bought the book but also placed a library hold on it. When the library hold came through, I took the physical book from my bookshelf. I outsmarted myself …  I think! Either way, the book has been read so here is my review:

Just 6 months ago, Daleina used her strength and skills to survive the spirits and become Queen. Since then, she has worked hard at keeping the peace between the spirits and humans. However, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she dies before an heir is chosen, the spirits will take over her realm and kill everyone. Naelin is a woodswoman who could be the heir Daleina so desperately needs – but she doesn’t want to be Queen. Her world consists of her two children, her husband, and the remote village she lives in. But when Ven, the Queen’s champion, passes through, Naelin’s boastful husband can’t help but let slip of his wife’s abilities. For Ven, this is the best news; he can find someone to help Daleina through this difficult time. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.

I really loved this sequel, perhaps even more than the first book. This novel had everything I have ever wanted from a fantasy story: adventure, magic, strong characters, and lack of cliches. I loved how the story was more mature this time; the characters aren’t children anymore. They’re adults making difficult decisions about life, death, safety, and duty. Everything was perfectly balanced: the adventure, the romance, the tension, the mystery. I loved all of the new characters that were introduced and I loved how well they interacted and played their part in this story. As a reader, I love when you get characters that have depth to them, and this was the case here. I also found the story itself compelling, and I literally could not put this book down for a minute! I think that this is a real gem of a fantasy series that more people need to be aware of; it is fast-paced, well thought out, and it will leave you wanting more! 5/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love historical fiction but I really don’t read much in the genre. Maybe because the most recent novels out there always seem to be either sci-fi/fantasy or mystery/thrillers. Either way, I relish the chance to read a historical fiction novel every now and then and this was one of those opportunities! So here is my review:

London, 1662:
There was something the Winter Queen needed to tell him. She fought for the strength to speak.
‘The crystal mirror is a danger. It must be destroyed – ‘
He replied instantly. ‘It will’.

Ashdown, Oxfordshire, present day: Holly gets a call from her niece saying that Holly’s brother, Ben, has disappeared. As Holly desperately tries to find Ben, she finds out that he was researching their family tree. And he has left Holly 2 clues: an ornate antique mirror and a diary of Lavinia, a 19th century courtesan who lived at Ashdown House before it burned to the ground 200 years ago. Intrigued, and determined to find out more about the tragedy at Ashdown, Holly’s only hope is that uncovering the truth about the past will lead her to Ben.

This was a historical fiction novel with romance and some magical elements to it. And I loved this blend of genres! I was definitely interested in the events happening in the past, but Holly’s story is also very intriguing. The author did a great job of tying in the two different time points and creating such memorable and unique female characters. I loved the diary entries featuring Lavinia and how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I wish there had been more of a focus on the supernatural elements; it was such an intriguing feature what with its historical significance, and I felt that the author could have allowed it to play a more prominent role. It would have made the connection between the past and the present a bit stronger, and also give the myth behind the objects a little more complexity. Surprisingly enough, I really liked the romance between Holly and Mark, which occurred in the passages focusing on the present; it was at times cheesy but the intensity was believable and the attraction felt genuine. All in all, this was a solid piece of work and I really enjoyed reading it! 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

The Empress by S. J. Kincaid – Diabolic #2

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I remember when I read The Diabolic that I didn’t enjoy it and wasn’t planning on reading the next installment in the series. Well guess who received an ARC for the sequel??? That’s right, it was me. In order to ensure I was giving this book a fair review, I put aside my past assumptions and read it with an open-mind. So here is my review:

The Empire is finally changing. Tyrus has ascended the throne as Emperor, with Nemesis by his side. Tyrus has declared his love for Nemesis and his intentions in making her his Empress. Their visions for the new world is a positive one – it will be a place where science and information is shared with everyone, and creatures like Nemesis will be treated like humans. But having power isn’t the same as keeping it. Many of the ruling class are not happy with Tyrus and Nemsis, and will stop at nothing to ruin their plans. Nemesis plans on protecting Tyrus at any cost; he is the love of her life. But she can no longer act like the killing machine she once was; she needs to prove her humanity to the entire Empire. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must commit inhuman crimes, is it even worth the fight?

Since I had read The Diabolic, I knew to expect the novel to be more centered around romance than science fiction. I think that’s why I enjoyed this novel more than its predecessor; I no longer felt tricked because I knew what I was getting into. That being said, this novel had a lot of political intrigue and romance angles to it. I still preferred the political conflicts over the romantic ones. I also thought that the author brought in some interesting points on what it means to be human and to have empathy; it was quite philosophical and I enjoyed seeing the author bring these issues up in a teen novel. There wasn’t as much action or gore and I wish Nemesis had been a bit more of a badass killing machine. My overall verdict is that this novel is better than its predecessor but only because I knew what to expect and it had good political intrigue and philosophical questions. My rating is 2.5/5 stars, rounded to 3.

Happy reading ~

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake – Three Dark Crowns #2

When I had read the first book in the series, I had not liked it. It had been too slow and I did not feel a connection with the characters. I wasn’t planning on reading the sequel … but I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

The Quickening was an unforgettable time that revealed many hidden secrets and plots revolving the three queens. Now that the Ascension Year is underway, all bets are off. Katherine, once the weakest sister and the least likely champion for the throne, is proving herself to be stronger than ever. Arsinoe, who has finally discovered the truth about her powers, must figure out how she can use this to her advantage while keeping it a secret. And Mirabella, once thought to be the certain Queen Crowned, is facing attacks that she cannot seem to fight against. Only one thing is guaranteed: this year will be the bloodiest yet.

When compared to Three Dark Crowns, I thought this novel was a LOT better. The story starts up right where it ended, and the scheming begins almost immediately. The author was kind enough to include a list of characters and their connections to each other at the beginning of the novel, which came in handy for me when I forgot someone’s name. If it’s been a while since you read Three Dark Crowns, I strongly urge you to read it before beginning this one or else you will find yourself confused for a good bit of the story. I felt like this time around the author made it easier to understand and identify with the sisters. At least, that’s how I felt! I liked reading about Arsinoe and Katharine the most. Arsinoe has a really great personality and I like how she is connected to Jules. However, I still feel that the naturalist aspects of the story were more about Jules than Arsinoe, and I would have preferred if that had been more balanced. Katharine’s character went through the greatest change (as was hinted through the description) and I really liked that because she got a whole lot more interesting! However, I wish the author had dug deeper into these changes, instead of just having it explained at the end of the novel; there was definitely room for some horror aspects in Katharine’s story but they were muted because they weren’t explored as much as I would have liked. Mirabella didn’t really spark my interest in this story but at least the terrible love triangle from before wasn’t taking front-and-center stage like last time! The romance elements that were included in the story were not too bad this time. Overall, I had a much more enjoyable experience with this novel than its predecessor. Does it still have room for improvement? Yes. Is it the best YA fantasy series I have read? No. But it has potential and it has me intrigued so I will probably keep myself aware of the release of the next book in the series and give it a shot.

Happy reading ~

A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere by Kris Radish

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My journey into the Western genre has been quite recent. While I usually stick to fantasy or thrillers or sci-fi as my go-to genres, I like to change it up a bit and I’ve found that Western novels are quite interesting! I also liked that this novel featured a badass protagonist who goes off to save her husband – instead of it being the other way around. So with all that in mind, I decided to read this book. Here is my review:

Briar Logan has always felt more comfortable alone. It was just a way of life for her, after having survived a terrible childhood, near starvation, and the harsh western frontier. But just as things are starting to look better for her, Briar’s husband is kidnapped by lawless gold miners. Desperate to save her husband, she is forced to accept the help of a damaged young man and a notorious female horse trainer. As they face thieves, whiskey runners, and dangerous men, the unlikely trio must form an alliance in order to survive – and get what they want. 

This is a very detailed novel that focuses on Briar and is told from her perspective. We learn about her and her relationship with her husband and other loved ones through flashbacks. The language is poetic, and Briar is definitely a strong female character. However, I didn’t really enjoy the story. It moved a lot slower than I had expected and it was hard to tell what this novel was: was it a love story? was it more of action? It felt more like a mashup of 2 novels than one independent story. I also found that the poetic language and the flashbacks impeded my reading experience and detracted from the plot. The other characters were interesting but not so much that I felt drawn or connected to them. While I appreciate the author’s attempt to showcase a strong female as the lead, the rest of the story didn’t work for me. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve only read one other book by Alice Hoffman, but I really loved it. So I was super excited for the chance to read this one! This novel is a prequel to Practical Magic, which I have not read before and which the reader does not have to have read in order to understand what is happening in this story. But let me get on with my review:

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Even though it has been hundreds of years, and there have been many changes in the world, Susanna Owens knows that her 3 children are talented – and dangerous. There’s Franny, perpetually grumpy but with an ability to communicate with animals; Jet, who is beautiful and kind, with the ability to read others’ thoughts; and Vincent, charismatic and addictive, with a penchant for getting into trouble. Knowing all this, Susanna has set down rules for her children: no walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they really are. And when they come back home to New York City, each sibling sets off on a risky journey to escape the family curse.

If you think this is just a story about spells and potions, then you would be wrong. This is about so much more than just magic. It’s about families filled with regret, it’s about gaining the courage to live life to the fullest, and it is about daring to love and dream and LIVE. As usual, the author has written a beautiful story about family and love and loss, with gorgeous prose. I really could not stop myself from turning the pages. Every character has been wonderfully created, and it is so easy to feel connected to them; I felt truly invested in their lives and their pursuit for happiness. This novel had me so emotional; I was literally sobbing at times because I could feel their emotions so deeply. One thing is for sure: I am DEFINITELY going to read Practical Magic. If you have never read a book by Alice Hoffman, I urge you to do so ASAP because she is such a talented author and everything she writes is amazing! I’m just glad she’s written as many books as she has, because now I have more books to enjoy!

Happy reading ~