Know Why – a review of Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

When the future daughter of a dead girl falls out of the sky and lands in the pond at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, she seeks to bring her mother, who was a student at the school when she died, back to life so she can save her home, a land of sugar and candy. Four students from the school team up with this girl to try and bring her mother back, crossing world of logic and mayhem to try and find the missing pieces of this person’s body and spirit and using the magic of the worlds connected to earth to bring her back to life before the Queen of Cakes can stop them.

Bizzare, I know. And this is probably the most bizzare book in the series so far.

Also, this book is the weakest in the series thus far. I feel like it was because it didn’t know what the purpose was beyond the actual narrative except maybe to go exploring the various worlds of Wayward Children. But this book didn’t have much depth to it like the others did. Every Heart a Doorway was an introduction to the world and a tale of misfits who were very different still coming together and finding peace. Down Among the Sticks and Bones was commentary on poster children and the art of finding where you belong. Beneath the Sugar Sky had all the bells and whistles but lacked that deeper connection for me to be truly invested.

The whimsical writing style was back and I was so here for it! It very much suited the quests and adventures kind of plotline McGuire decided to take our characters on, especially as the worlds travelled to turned unique and bizzare. It very much suited, and I was so glad to notice this. This writing style made me feel like a kid again even with mature characters and concepts to discover like body positivity, gender and sexuality.

Speaking of, I loved the characters and the diverse range they had to offer. This is not only in terms of backgrounds and the ranges of characters most people would call a diverse cast, but their personalities too. Rini, the girl out of the sky, and her neverending curiosity, Kade’s nobility and how he looks out for everyone, Christopher’s near constant joy, and the connections between Nadya and Cora as they share similarities and differences with their worlds of water they found and had to leave. They were all so good.

I’m hoping to see these characters return in later books. This series has told a different plot every time with only two books sharing most of the same characters, and I hope to see them again later on because it is very entertaining to see them all.

Beneath the Sugar Sky gets a score of 3.5/5. If you had known your why, I would have rated you higher.


Welcome to my Dark Side – a review of The Cold is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale

Milla is kept in her home, forced to never venture into town, and she’s never met any young girls like her. That is until she meets Iris, betrothed to her brother Niklas. The two develop a deep connection close to sisterhood, but all too late. Demons are known to corrupt young girls, and Iris is the next target. She gets taken away before she becomes a danger to society. Milla goes out to rescue her, but as this goes on she seems to have her own problems. She may be turning into a demon herself…

This book’s strongest aspect is its atmosphere. This is key to any dark fantasy, and it certainly delivered. Setting up the dark things infesting this world, instilling fear into the citizens to force them to do good and avoid demonic possession, and yet it happens anyway. The demons are set up as ruthless and discriminatory no matter the rules the people think are put in place. Van Arsdelle worked wonders to make the townsfolk fear and the readers fear in turn.

The characters were very strong here too. I’m a fan of loyal characters, and Milla, Iris and Niklas tick that box in their many ways. They were too easy to root for and an exemplary, proactive trio who face their hardships throughout. And they did it for each other. Who doesn’t love that? It’s all brilliant, all what I’m here for.

So why am I not keeping this? Well, as much as I like dark fantasy, this I realise is not the kind of dark fantasy I like. I think the ending was one thing that didn’t make me like it as much. It felt too bright for a dark fantasy. I mean yeah, we often like happy endings, but the third act didn’t feel dark enough for a third act. I’m not an emotional masochist or anything, and I recognise the themes this book was trying to show, but I think it’s just my third act curse striking again.

Don’t let that bother you. Someone else is bound to like this, someone who likes a softer ending to a dark tale. I would still recommend it to someone with the right tastes, but this book is definitely not for me.

The Cold is In Her Bones gets a score of 4/5. The darker the weather, the better the book.


Magic Big Brother – a review of The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

This year I decided an initiative. Because too many people are wanting to go back to the magic school created by a TERF this time of year, the first book review every September is going to be reviewing a different magic school in rebellion.

Well, this isn’t EXACTLY a magic school. But it is still academic. The dark academia BookTok has freaked out over.

Six powerful magic individuals get selected to be taken under the wing of Atlas Blakely at the secret magical society, the Alexandrian Society. This gives them bountiful magical knowledge at their fingertips paired with the opportunity to grow their magical abilities further. Along with pursuing their other personal intentions of course. But things take a turn when it is revealed that not all of them will be selected, and then turn even further when they discover what dark methods they must take to secure their place amongst the magical elite.

For some reason, I read this book over a very long time, reading a section between other books I was reading at the time. This was meant to be a buddy read that ended up in a chaotic mess as people read this book faster and slower than each other. This is not a book to read the way that I wound up reading it. it became a blur. This may have made my opinions of this book decrease significantly.

This book was a full on mystery of discovering intentions and the complexities of alliances and intentions. It felt a lot like politics on a minute level, especially with stakes being revealed and amplified as it turns to a game of survival. It was entertaining to see the many ways alliances were made and broken. Then maybe this can’t be compared to politics. It felt like reality TV without the surveillance. Big Brother made magical. (I have never seen an episode to know fully what it is like).

The six main characters were hits and misses for me. Some of them were very strong, like Nico. Others had blurry intentions or became observers for most of the book, mainly Reina. And others had very twisted ways of thinking that became near captivating, those two beng Callum and Parisa. It was great to see such an array of people and their POVs, but it would have been nice if they were all more consistently great. The morally dark grey ones were the most entertaining, and I wished to love the others equally or more.

Because of my reading style I don’t remember the full details of the plot or the way that magic got studied and developed. The main part I remember is the ending, the last quarter or so. And that was a REALLY powerful quarter. Seriously eye opening and genius. It brought everything together so much that it almost didn’t matter that the rest of the book was a blur.

It certainly captivated me enough to read the next book.

The Atlas Six gets a score of 3.5/5. I wish I didn’t read it the way I did so I could appreciate it more.


The Atheist Likes A Religion Study Book – a review of Forbidden Healing by Rachael Watson

This next read I came across on Booktok, but this one has its differences. I discovered an indie author making their namesake and promoting this book of theirs, and I got convinced to pick it up. I am so glad that I stumbled upon Rachael Watson and this impressive start to her storytelling.

Kyla finally gets her shot to join the religious elite, until one of the God Sage’s acolytes gets murdered and a secret of hers almost gets brought to life. Marlowe’s parents were executed by said religious leaders, and he tries to keep his sister, an illegal healer, safe from those wanting her dead. The two’s worlds soon collide as Marlowe seeks safety and Kyla searches for a sign.

I never expected to enjoy a fantasy book where religion was the core of the story, but I really liked this take! This may be a spoiler, but it pins on individuals within the religion being corrupt rather than the whole church. And I liked that being shown in and out of the religious circles, and then seeing how that impacted the world. Even though I’m not religious myself, I like to see these impacts on the world just knowing how much religion has impacted certain countries in our world.

The characters were very compelling. The first thing I always look out for is if the characters are distinguishable, and Watson completely achieved that beyond just sticking to character roles. Their personalities and motivations were each very clear and you could understand a lot about them as a result. They were very well rounded, distinct, and sometimes with stereotypes that hit too close to home.

However, I think the pacing of the A plot, Kyla’s plot, and the B plot, Marlowe’s plot, could have been mirrored better. Telling two stories at once is very hard, and Watson did NOT do a terrible job, but still improvements could be made. It felt like one story progressed slower than the other and then it switched around, until the climax where both hit at once. It felt like maybe two acts of a story instead of three. But it was a very entertaining two-act story, if you would call it that at all.

This book also had a very strong aesthetic feel in my mind. I envisioned this world as dark and gritty, especially as we took a glimpse at some of the darker magics, with the main magic system of the healing brought by the God Sage (and thus the churches) leaning to brightness, purity and cleanliness. A stereotypes that gets distorted and broken as we see more sides of the same story, and we see cracks.

Watson is an author to look out for. I’ll be picking up the rest of the books in this series very soon.

Forbidden Healing gets a score of 4/5. I guess religion in fantasy is fun to study sometimes.


The Art of Belonging – a review of Down Among The Sticks And Bones by Seanan McGuire

Jaqueline and Jill were raised as the poster children of parents who wanted nothing more than to have kids to show off. Yet they envy each other over lives they want to have. Jill, raised to be a tomboy yet yearning for more feminine touches in her life. Jack, wishing to use her intelligence instead of her beauty. Soon after they both turn twelve they discover a secret in the attic, stairs down to a world that will accept them for who they want to be and transform them forever.

I was heavily entertained by the writing style and how reminiscent it was of children’s classic literature. I don’t remember how strongly it held this style in the first book, but the second book had it from the get go and hooked me instantly. In spite of having a far more adult audience and mature settings and themes, it made the story as a whole feel far more vivid, engaging, and emotionally attachable.

The theme was so simple and so effective, and I realised that was the root of this series. Belonging. It took a whole book for me to get it, the art of teens finding a space they belong and finding themselves when the people around them don’t know their true selves. I certainly hope to see this theme in further become emotional to hear them.

Let’s talk about the characters to attach to. Jack and Jill. Now, we were introduced to them and their terrifying ways before this prequel (weird statement, I know) and I never thought much about them upon my first dive. But now I care for both of them so deeply as they struggled at home with identity and found peace in a morbid place. And even though their truest homes were dark, I was so glad that they found them.

My only complaint was that I wanted more. That time skip was so terribly disappointing, because I wanted to see Jack and Jill grow. I wanted to see them learn lessons and transform. We had a beautiful before and an extravagant after, but a missing middle. I severely want to know what happened, it would have made such a great story. Such a great development as two twins become totally twisted in a gothic world, becoming the bride of a vampire and an assistant to one reminiscent of Frankenstein. I would read that for hours!

Thus I had to deduct half a star from this otherwise masterpiece.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones gets a score of 4.5/5. I’m so sad to be robbed of such beauty, I must write more!


Not A Tale Of Women’s Wrongs – a review of Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire has monstrous blood and powers in her, such powers she wants to hide away knowing how much her deceased father abused it. But as royalty take notice of her heritage and the power that she holds, she wants them to use it for good. As war breaks out between nations, Fire’s monstrous charms could be the key to discovering traitors and getting hidden intel out of prisoners. While she’s reluctant to take on this role, she still raises the attention of many. Of crown princes hating her or falling head over heals for her, and of her jealous partner who doesn’t want her involved in royal affairs. And even her enemies are taking notice of the power she holds in this war.

This novel’s predecessor, Graceling, was the epitome of fantasy romance, so I was disappointed when romance wasn’t as dominant in this novel. Or well developed. It didn’t feel like Fire and her love interest, the one she winds up with in the end, spent enough time together or had enough moments for me to want to ship them together. Yes, it felt like a start of a relationship, but then my copy must have lost a few pages because by the end of the novel it felt like I missed a bunch of their chemistry.

Fire on her own was stellar as a character, and the journey she took was a beautiful one. It was a difficult journey in retrospect to get right, but one that was done so well. Written wrong it could have easily been a villain arc or a complete 180 on her gentle and empathic character, but she fought to stay that way in spite of the many ways she hardened. As much as I love a women’s wrongs tale, this was not for her. it was a beautiful tale of accepting every facet of herself and developing agency in a world where she didn’t think she deserved it.

This book taking place as an anthological book set in the same world made for a great chance to expand the world and take on a new angle. While Graceling was very much exploring the wilderness of one set of nations, Fire looked into the politics of kingdoms on the other side of an expansive mountain range. This really helped flesh out the world and made more much more variety of stories and characters to come out and shine. I can appreciate every angle of it with many stories that show different sides of the world.

I’m looking forward to seeing what other angles can be taken in this world now, as Cashore flexed her versatility in many ways in this novel.

Fire gets a score of 4/5. A pure story with a new look at the world.


Winter is Here – a REview of The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan

At the current rate I’m DNFing books, I’m glad it means I can reread some absolute classics. And this whole series, I tell you, will be considered classic in 50+ years time. But let’s talk about the midpoint of this series for a second.

A monster that could bring out the end of the world is on the loose. A goddess has been caught while trying to save it. And Annabeth has been captured in the mix of it all. In a bid to save her, Percy teams up with Camp Half Blood’s Grover and Thalia and the Hunters of Artemis to thwart the next plan in bringing Kronos back to life. But the threats they face are the deadliest they have faced yet. Undead and titans threaten to stop them and steal Annabeth away from the world forever.

As a kid this book was my favourite because it had my favourite character in it, Thalia. Choosing favourites was a far simpler game back then, back when I didn’t religiously study stories. This was also the darkest installment of the series yet, and back when I was 11 and reading this for the first time you could say I was going through a middle grade literature emo phase. So this book appealed to me a lot then.

But now is it my favourite of the series? No, that still belongs to Sea of Monsters. But that doesn’t mean it was bad. Far from it. Allow me to explain:

As usual, character was a highlight. Percy constantly steals the spotlight, but credit also goes to Zoe and Thalia (yes I still love her). Riordan is able to create such depth to characters that at first appear tropey. Goth girl Thalia’s struggling with destiny and desire. Zoe’s ancient spirit in a youthful body and her struggle with her family. Even the sides of Luke that we see were great dives into his character we’ve learnt to hate. This is the kind of character mastery I only wish I had.

A second highlight in this installment was, as mentioned, the darker tones. It was instantly misleading that this novel about a summer camp takes place in winter, but it was a beautiful way to set up what was to come. This is not what you’re used to, and things are about to change. It suited the themes of loss present in this book, yet still carved plenty of room for the quirks, style and absurdities familiar with this series. It was just on a darker landscape.

I still can’t get over how masterful Riordan is with his worldbuilding. Finding Athena at the Hoover Dam, raising undead in the Smithsonian, the climax taking place in San Francisco. And these are just the links directly to the US. The world gets expanded further as Riordan introduces us to new players in ways that completely make sense. Like meeting the Hunters of Artemis and learning of their rivalry with Camp Half Blood. That was a highlight to see them butt heads.

What can I say? Riordan is just good at what he does. Let’s hope I can DNF another book in the near future and pick up the next installment soon as a reward.

The Titan’s Curse gets a score of 5/5. Dark Percy Jackson still rocks.


It Can’t Be THAT Easy – a review of Burn Down, Rise Up by Vincent Tirado

We have another Pride Month review. This time it’s a dark fantasy that goes into NYC history with a sapphic relationship written by an NB author.

When Raquel’s mother gets hospitalised and her crush’s cousin becomes the next victim in a long list of disappearances, she’s convinced they’re connected. She and her crush Charlize soon learn about the Echo Game and the many conspiracies surrounding it. Their investigations lead them to the New York subways, a dark history of the Bronx, and a twisted alternate reality that leads them to making big mistakes.

The worldbuilding and the connections between the real world and the unnatural were stellar. It was what hooked me that combined into a story that is The Unsleeping City meets Stranger Things. Everything was so richly integrated, how the monsters were a reflection of what historically happened to the Bronx in the 80s. How the humans got affected by the dark alternate world. And above all else, how New York wasn’t the only affected city. I loved hearing hints of other histories across the world, and it makes a promising premise for an anthology series. But anyway, the world itself stole the book away. It had the best vibes that creeped you out at any possible turn.

The characters felt too much the same to each other. I cannot tell you the personality of the main characters to save my life. Raquel, Charlize, and every other character around their age felt so much the same minus one trait, if I was lucky. Oh, this one has the hots for Raquel and she doesn’t reciprocate. Like, is that even personality? They blur as I write this review even now. You should know by now how much I hate characters without character. And I was hoping they would show up this whole time. Guess what? They didn’t.

Second, the characters had it too easy. I like victory, but it didn’t feel earned in the climax of this novel. When this is marketed as a horror or a dark fantasy, I expect more terror and sacrifices than what I got delivered. I expect a greater struggle. The ending felt more suited to a middle grade story. Especially with the powers that got them off so easy. It felt too enlightening for such a dark setting. Altogether it made for a hollow conclusion.

Burn Down, Rise Up gets a score of 3/5. Let my characters struggle, please and thank you.


This New Old World – a review of Expanding Cracks by Ben Pick

We’re continuing the Into the Void series! With a promising start from the first book I was intrigued to see where this would go. Those Stranger Things vibes do continue in this series, and I knew that from the start, I looked forward to see what more would come from this book – the second book so far in this series.

Derek, Rachel and Tracy have gained celebrity status in their hometown as defenders from magical monster attacks; it seems the monster Derek summoned when he first got his powers and defeated weeks ago is not the only thing threatening their town. Shadow monsters have broken through the void to attack anyone that stands in its away. And that’s not the only thing worrying the trio, with training pulling them away from their normal lives and impacting their friendships and grades.

Pick nailed interpersonal conflict in this novel and I was here for it. I’ve lately had a sweet tooth for this sour patch in narratives, and this book satisfied. Everyone at war with each other as they decide their present and their future… It was addictive to read. Especially with how well Pick understood the motives and angles of each character in play. You couldn’t tell whose side to be on, and those are among my favourite interpersonal conflicts. Because you no longer care who’s right and you just want to have everyone make up.

I liked the take on contemporary fantasy where the magic gets known by everyone. While the secret keeping sides are fun, it was intriguing to see the cultural impacts of a small town knowing magic for the first time and the magical knowledge expanding throughout. From the heroism facing Rachel, Derek and Tracy to the systems in place to protect against monstrosities. The building of this world as it changes was fascinating.

This plot felt very high and low stakes at the same time. The balance of these two plots was masterful as the characters navigated this new world together. I was constantly wondering where these worlds would collide, how interpersonal and external forces would clash and how everything affected each other. It was the perfect chance to explore this new world that was starting to get at risk. The fun and games in the hero’s journey if you will.

With all these forces now together, I’m excited to see how it goes coming forward.

Expanding Cracks gets a score of 4.5/5. *insert Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain here*


Let’s Explore A Castle! – a review of The Mystery of the Golden Card by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

I will admit, after the disappointment of the previous book in the Troubletwisters series I was worried that maybe this series wasn’t all that I thought it was as a kid. when book one hooked me and book two had the thread fraying, I was worried my love for the series would drop the deeper into it I got.

But hey, we’ve risen up to the peak of the series now.

With Grandma X, the main defender of Portland from the Evil, gets hospitalised after a car accident, her grandchildren Jack and Jaide feel it is their responsibility to solve the latest catastrophe happening in their small town. Master Rourke died mysteriously in his old and lavish castle, and the twins suspect it has something to do with the Evil, especially when their father is involved too. But all is not as it seems in this castle, as the Evil seeks out a powerful magical artefact that the twins now must get their hands on without anyone else knowing.

This book made me regain my faith in the series. If you’ve read my thoughts on the previous book, then you’d know that its quality sagged in a book that felt like filler. Book three, however, was far more enthralling. It had everything the first book had and more. It felt fun, connected. It had a lot of purpose and connections to what I remember was in the fourth book in the series. All the flaws from the previous book were basically solved.

The vibes in this book were exquisite. The minor academia vibes from earlier on in the series were amplified as Jack and Jaide explored his castle and I was here for it! Who does find the prospect of exploring an abandoned castle exciting? And the magic really dove into those vibes in quirky ways. the aesthetic really tied together and amplified the old house vibes from the previous two books.

The twins are once again shining in this book with their personalities and teamwork. Each book we see the various ways in which Jack and Jaide’s ways of thinking diverge, Jaide’s energy and Jack’s caution especially. It’s also enjoyable to see how loyal thare to each other in this book. There’s just something about siblings bonding to me.

People often underestimate simpler plotlines and how enticing they can be, and the object quest in this book was severely fun. I forgot many of the clues that lead to finding the titular gold card, and the trail that we went down to find them was thoroughly entertaining. Pair that up with the social side of things and the lies the twins must tell to solve this mystery, and the whole plot ties together neatly with a little bow.

So now I’m waiting for the time to be right to read book four.

The Mystery of the Golden Card gets a score of 4.5/5. You had me at exploring a castle.


Witches be Snitches- a review of Sanctuary by V.V. James

Of course my first crime solving detective novel has an element of fantasy in it. And I knew this one would be tame in terms of the crime side. But nothing else was tame.

The town’s heartthrob quarterback becomes the victim of this small, uneventful town’s latest murder case. Detective Maggie Knight leads this investigation, in which the daughter of a witch is accused of murdering him via witchcraft – a state offence that could land her on death row if convicted guilty. This sets the girl’s mother against the victim’s mother, as the two fight first to keep each other together then for the rights of their own children. Maggie must solve this case before the town of Sanctuary goes to war over the death of a quarterback while a lot of secrets her kept to the grave.

The drama in this novel was to die for. Mothers at war over each others believed wrongdoings as they defend their children creates so much tension and conflict it is crazy. This is why you don’t mess with mothers and mother figures. They will do anything for their children, and this book showed that like nothing else. The emotions you feel from both Sarah and Abigail evoke inside of you as well, as their perspectives dominate the book like nothing else.

I don’t have much to say about the crime solving side with this being my first dive into the genre in a bookish sense. The laws that involved witchcraft in this almost magical realism kind of world were fascinating, but the interest was blocked by cliches. Chiefs trying to stop a case being solved, the way information got discovered and how the detective was the last person to find a key puzzle piece which we knew from other perspectives. Maybe Maggie was a poor choice of a POV character, because while i wanted to find out who did it her chapters held the least interest.

This is gonna be a theme for a lot of upcoming book reviews including this one; the third act disappointed. I looked at a lot of reviews saying that the third act was the only part of the book they liked, but I am the opposite. I am very much a person who goes into a book with expectations and expects the blurb to deliver the vibe. The blurb did, but the first two acts didn’t hint at the climax being so different to the rest of the book.

Pair that with an ending that goes against so much in the actual book. That ending made me so freaking confused. It is natural for there to be red herrings within a crime novel, but nearly every piece of evidence in this book wound up as a red herring based on the actual ending and what we actually find out happens by the end of the book. It almost defeats the point of what was fought for.

Sanctuary gets a score of 3/5.


The Mask Indeed Fell – a review of The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon

We’re slamming the breaks on reviewing the Bone Season series as this is the last book available to date. And I need that. Because I have a lot to think about regarding this series since reading The Mask Falling.

Paige and Arcturus, criminals of Scion London, are now hiding in Scion-run Paris. As recoveries from battles won are had, they have to get their next moves ready to take Scion down. While they have their own plans and ambitions to forge alliances with the clairvoyant gangs beneath the city, other rebellion groups want them to take out Scion from the inside using Paige’s powers of possession. But when things gets personal in this battle, by how much do they cloud Paige’s vision?

The characters keeping getting narratively stronger after every novel. Paige continues to stand out as she grapples so much at once – her body, her beloved, her cause and her motive. It was also nice to see characters returning from other installments and the ways that they played their games.

Worldbuilding as always felt very intriguing, and this time culturally rich. But not in a touristy way. This was a realer Paris. Each act focussed on a different part of Scion Paris and the ways that Paige had to work her plans around them. The streets, the political sphere, and then the hidden catacombs and beyond. I loved the underground aesthetic of the clairvoyant societies for sure. The visuals of these world are a very strong suit for Shannon.

But then the mask fell at the third act. A lot of it felt like it didn’t need to be there or drama got concocted for the sake of making drama. There was an edge of disjointedness even though I knew why everything was happening. Maybe things were happening too fast? I don’t know for sure why it didn’t sit with me.

And that ending left me so confused. I was left with no breadcrumbs to follow and not even a gingerbread house. I severely hate endings like that, where it feels like a chapter is missing to explain what the hell is going on and at least have an idea of what to expect in the next installment. To make kind of a spoiler like comparison, this felt like Paige was ripped out of one world and is in the process of falling into the next.

So it makes me both excited and not excited for book five. I have so many emotions about this book now yet the inability to say them beyond one word; what?

The Mask Falling gets a score of 3.5/5. Never end a book like that.


The Trunk of this Tree – a review of Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Traditional high fantasy is something I stayed away from like a bad smell. This book was gifted to me and for a few months it was the prettiest book I owned. I had the full intent of reading it and expecting something vanilla.

But vanilla is my favourite scent. So who am I to be hypocritical now over a classic view of the genre?

After saving an old prince, Lady Katsa is soon to meet someone else who was looking for him. Thereafter the two of them grow curious as to why he was captured in the first place. With her strengths in the art of killing and her new friend Po’s own royal connections and battle talents, the two of them team up to travel through kingdoms to find answers. And the ones they do find may unearth one of the seven kingdom’s greatest corruptions hidden behind the most powerful being unknown to anybody.

The first act was borderline boring. I will straight up say that. I get it, you have to build up and explain the world and establish motivations. But I feel like a bit too much was spent on such matters. So much drawled on about Katsa’s relationship to the king and her reputation in the court. So much was waiting to happen without actually happening. I was so close to putting this book down for good.

I am so glad I didn’t DNF Graceling. I kept going and found riches.

Because when we get to the second act that was where I truly got hooked. The plot takes a simpler turn and it gives so much a chance to shine. From the plot and what happens to the characters as they become fugitives of kingdoms, how they wind up bonding and developing, seeing the natural world and how beautifully Cashore made it. For such high stakes the second act felt so cozy, and then the high action parts where things turn sour felt all the more crucial to get through as a result.

This was because of how much our main characters, Katsa and Po, truly shined. These two carry the whole story with their arcs, their banter and their relationship as it develops. They are the trunk of this tree of a story. Everything great in this story builds up from them, every scene they share and every time their motivations cross. They create something very calming and cozy throughout this whole novel. They epitomise the vibes.

This being the start of an anthology in the same world, I look forward to diving in to the rest of this place. Let’s see what Cashore has to offer. I’ll let you know if more riches come.

Graceling gets a score of 4/5. When something ends so sweet, you forget how sour it was to start.

Every Heart a Doorway

Not Your Storybook Ending- a review of Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Has a premise ever hooked you so much that you just had to read that book? Something so abnormal and unheard of that provides the best insights never delved into before?

I found that book. Hear me out:

What happens when you return from Wonderland? Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children cares for children who have returned from other worlds, offering them education and therapy to help them return to their normal lives. Nancy is the newest student, having returned from an Underworld and having her entire being changed as a result. And she learns she isn’t the only one to experience this. But with her arrival death is close behind, and now the school must find the source of the untimely deaths before the school is shut down.

Instantly this premise charmed me, more so as a writer of a portal fantasy series and a fan of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland and the like. The whimsy of these worlds and the entrance and exit out of these portals overshadow what happens when these children return. How does one begin to explain the madness they saw and how they were changed by it? This all dealing with mental health surrounding getting evicted from a place you once belonged was a very interesting insight and the main dealings with the introduction of this world.

The characters were quite unrealistic, but that was the point. Abnormal worlds affected their personalities and turned them all mad, and each wound up mad in a different way. The worldbuilding even had systems for it. This felt like a mixed bag at times, because while these characters were unlike anything I’d ever seen their quirks overshadowed their depth at times. In fairness, it is very difficult to balance the two to the extent that is required for this book.

To combat the complexities of these characters, the simple plot of a murder mystery really helped to balance things out. It was a genuine shock to me in a very sensible way. The stakes were solid within this plot and left me constantly guessing who would die next or who was behind it – was it magic or mundane? This made for a very engaging story.

The ending was not something I was fond of however because of how disconnected things were. The ending was only partly solved by our main character Nancy, and the lesson she wound up learning to get her perfect ending was disjointed from the main plot. For things that were so promising to start with and something really compelling, this really brought it down for me.

Every Heart A Doorway gets a score of 4/5. Fairytales don’t end in the nicest ways once you look beyond the pages.

Falling Through

Cousin of Stranger Things – a review of Falling Through by Ben Pick

I’m not only happy to be reviewing another Indie book, but the book of another author I know. For proof, I was in the acknowledgements of this novel and needless to say that touched me. Made me feel kind of guilty for reading it so late, but I’m glad to be reading this nonetheless.

Because I’ve yet to read another book anything like this one. Well, until the sequel comes out.

Derek’s developed powers beyond his imagining. When he shows this off to his best friend Tracy, he brings forth a monster into their town that gives him the chills every time he’s near it. Still, Tracy ushers him to train and experiment despite the damage he’s doing to himself and those around him. And when it gets too far, he drags him and his friends into a journey across time to fix his own mistakes and many others they made throughout history.

This book has one of the tightest plots I have ever read. This was absolutely the strongest suit for Pick and showed a bunch of effort and care as threads got tied and Chekhov’s Gun got fired multiple times. Not only that, but is was a very easy story to follow. The magic system, character relationships, arcs… everything was solid.

It was refreshing to see two sides of teen characters that people complain don’t get seen enough or claim is unrealistic. We see both the characters who care about their grades and the characters wanting to truly embrace their powers and not think of the consequences of them. Both are underrepresented in the contemporary and urban fantasy books I have come across, and it was such a delight to see those sides here in this book.

That being said, the one things that wasn’t realistic in all this was dialogue. It quite often felt clunky and screamed that this dialogue wasn’t written by a teen. A lot of teen characters are of course not written by teens, but with this book you could really tell. It painted the teen characters as mature with some lines, which there is nothing wrong with, but then the following dialogue lines felt like they came out of someone much younger than seventeen.

I didn’t mind when the vibes of this novel were so strong! I’d describe this novel’s vibes as the cousin to Stranger Things, where it is different for sure but with enough similarities to entice fans of the series. The small town vibes, monsters versus superpowered teens, family amongst friends… See what I mean? Now pair that with the magic exploration and journeys across time in so many different formats and you get Falling Through. Good vibes.

All in all a strong debut and career-started for Ben Pick. Look out for what’s next for sure.

Falling Through gets a score of 4/5. El would be envious of what’s happening in this book.

Yours in writing