Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

Kingdom of the Cursed by Kerri Maniscalco

Amazon.com: Kingdom of the Cursed (Kingdom of the Wicked Book 2) eBook :  Maniscalco, Kerri: Kindle Store

Pages: 448

Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #2

Publisher: JIMMY Patterson

Release Date: October 5, 2021

Genre(s): Fantasy Romance

Format: Hardcover

*SPOILERS AHEAD! If you have not read the first book in this series, Kingdom of the Wicked, please stop reading immediately! Lots of spoilers for book #1 follow this warning, but no spoilers for Kingdom of the Cursed will be included in this review.*

Goodreads Synopsis

“After selling her soul to become Queen of the Wicked, Emilia travels to the Seven Circles with the enigmatic Prince of Wrath, where she’s introduced to a seductive world of vice.

She vows to do whatever it takes to avenge her beloved sister, Vittoria… even if that means accepting the hand of the Prince of Pride, the king of demons.

The first rule in the court of the Wicked? Trust no one. With back-stabbing princes, luxurious palaces, mysterious party invitations, and conflicting clues about who really killed her twin, Emilia finds herself more alone than ever before. Can she even trust Wrath, her one-time ally in the mortal world… or is he keeping dangerous secrets about his true nature?

Emilia will be tested in every way as she seeks a series of magical objects that will unlock the clues of her past and the answers she craves…

One sister.
Two sinful princes.
Infinite deception with a side of revenge… Welcome to Hell.

What Did I Think?

Holy cannoli, y’all! This book was SO GOOD, and my love for it really caught me off guard after I had such a neutral feeling about Kingdom of the Wicked. Also, I have never in my life experience a book that ended on a double cliffhanger, and even though I hate it now, I can’t wait to start the next book as soon as it comes out next year.

Let’s kick this thing off with a little recap of what happened during Kingdom of the Wicked. Emilia summons one of the Seven Deadly Sins “named” Wrath, and together, they work together (and bicker a lot in between) to discover the true culprit of Emilia’s sister, Vittoria’s murder. Even though Wrath and Emilia both have a lot of distrust and hate for one another due to their respective pasts/upbringings, the more time they spend together, the more they realize the other may just not be exactly as they prevously believed. The reader definitely gets smacked upside the head with the enemies-to-lovers vibe early on, and the SUPER slow burn romance continues to progress as the book goes on. Romance is anything but on Emilia’s mind when she realizes that the spell she cast to bind Wrath is actually one of betrothal, and while somewhat problematic at first, it does come in handy when disaster continues to strike on earth as demond escape through the gates of Hell to prowl the mortal world. At the end, Wrath and Emilia are on very unsteady ground when it comes to how they feel about one another. Emilia also learns that Antonio, one of the brothers of the monestary, is responsible for Vittoria’s death. Consumed with uncontrollable wrath and a thirst for vengence, Emilia signs a contract in her blood – literally signs her soul over to Pride – and we are left with her plotting the ways in which she can destroy those responsible for her sister’s death as the queen of Hell.

One of my favorite things about Kingdom of the Cursed is how there was so many drastic shifts in this series that managed to make everything about the first book that much more compelling in the second. The first of these shifts was the fact that Kingdom of the Cursed has moved firmly from young adult to new adult. While this is most drastically shown through the romantic elements, it is also shown through the mature thinking of Emilia and in the general shift in the tone in Maniscalco’s writing. Due to being a reader who loves YA but is in my 20s, I thought this shift was one of the main reasons why Kingdom of the Cursed grabbed my attention so quickly. The second major difference was in the story shifting from a plot based tale to one that is character driven. I felt so much more invested in the characters in Kingdom of the Cursed, and because there are so many parts of the plot that are complex, I found that it really helped me enjoy the series more by focusing in on the growth of the characters. I mention all of this because these new dierections Maniscalso is taking is what is going to not only ensure that I read the next book, but that I also run to the bookstore to grab it!

Speaking of Kingdom of the Cursed being character driven…. let’s talk about how Miss. Emilia di Carlo, the prospective queen of Hell who I didn’t wholly like in Kingdom of the Wicked. Man oh MAN did her character grow into her own in this book! Was she bloodthirsty, super pissed off a good portion of the time, and vengeful to the max like she was in Kingdom of the Cursed? Yes, yes she was, maybe even more so, but there was so much more to her character this time around! I think there is a lot to be said for the fact that our life experiences change us in more ways than we probably even realize, and the reader sees this come to life so clearly in Emilia’s thoughts and feelings about everything happening around her. I lived for the moments when she would stop and logically dissect the information she was given rather than just jump to conclusions. One of my favorite parts of her character development was the fact that Emilia began to no longer care about the expectations people set for her and instead made attempts to embrace her own thoughts/feelings and act on them. Given her character’s age and all the change (and risk-taking/scheming) that is often associated with late adolescence, I think Maniscalco did a remarkable job of showing this in Emilia’s character in a way that many readers can relate to. Overall, I’m so happy with how far Emilia’s character has come since the first book, and I can’t wait to see how much more she grows in the next book!

Honestly, my opinion (and endless love) for Wrath hasn’t really changed much since Kingdom of the Wicked. If anything, I love him more, even though he had his moments in this book when I wanted to punch him for being so cold. The juxtaposition of his title and who he is at heart is equally as compelling now as it was in Kingdom of the Cursed, but, as twisted as it sounds, it was kind of good to see him actually see his darker side show. I mean, come on. You can’t expect a price of Hell to be a saint, can you? I have a strange feeling that this next book will be like Kingdom of the Cursed was for Emilia – an opportunity for his character to become more in tune with his feelings. Who knows? Maybe we’ll even get a deeper dive into his past and see his real truth! No matter, though. I would literally read 12 more books if there were that many in the series just to learn more about Wrath and laugh at his dry sense of humor!

Other than the relatively minor things mentioned above, there is one MAJOR reason why I couldn’t give Kingdom of the Cursed five stars. In Chapter 17 of the book, there is some demonic influence happening that, quite honestly, I found extremely disturbing and some things that go down don’t appear to be completely consentual. I personally feel as though the chapter does not add anything more to the book other than some very negative shock value, and while I think I understand what the author was trying to get at by including it, I’m just not on board and wanted to provide its potential readers with a heads up that this is something they should prepare themselves for. This didn’t ruin the rest of the book for me, obviously, but it did make me take a step back for sure.

I know everyone dreads the second book slump when reading a book in a trilogy, but I can honestly say that you have absolutely nothing to fear when it comes to Kingdom of the Cursed. Maniscalco’s writing was hauntingly beautiful, and the shift from a young adult audience to that of a new adult crowd was seamless. If you are like me and are obsessed with books that have complex plots but are mainly character driven, I have no doubt you will fall madly in love with Maniscalco’s newest installment of the Kingdom of the Wicked series and be desperate to see what is in store next for Emila, Wrath, and all of the supporting demons, witches, and mortals the reader is introduced to.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Let’s just keep this really simple: If you thought you loved Kingdom of the Wicked, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet so you best get you a copy of Kingdom of the Cursed ASAP, particularly if you are a reader who loves books that are YA/New Adult crossover titles!

Bonus Content, Book Tags

Twelve Days of Christmas Book Tag

Hello, bookish friends! We are now officially less than 12 days away from Christmas Day, and I can’t even begin to express how much I love the holiday season. It truly is the most magical time of the year. Around here, we typically eat delicious food (and have leftovers for days!), engage in family traditions, and spend much needed time with the ones we love creating memories we will remember forever! I love this time of year so much that I couldn’t imagine not doing a fun bookish tag as we count down to Christmas day. I originally saw this tag over on Confessions of a Serial Reader, so definitely head over and check out Elnade’s version once you are done here. Let’s jump right into all this Christmas fun, shall we?

The partridge stood alone in the pear tree. What is your favorite standalone?

Not only is Lovely War my favorite standalone, but it is also one of my favorite books of all time! If you love World War I/II retellings, Greek mythology, and are a helpless romantic at heart, Lovely War is totally the book for you!

.

Love is in the air! Who is your one true pairing?

Amazon.com: The Red Scrolls of Magic (1) (The Eldest Curses):  9781481495080: Clare, Cassandra, Chu, Wesley: Books
This question is so hard because I have so many favorites, but Alec and Magnus are definitely one of my favorite fictional couples! ❤

.

In the spirit of threes, what is the best trilogy you have read?

I finally read the Caraval series this year, and I am still kicking myself for sleeping on this trilogy for so long. It truly was like no other, and I highly recommend the Caraval series to ALL readers, especially those looking to dip their toes into the fantasy genre.

.

Since series usually consist of four or more books, what is your favorite series?

The truth is that both ACOTAR and TOG are my favorite series, but I went with TOG just because Kingdom of Ash was simply magnificent and a magical (while also being heartbreaking) ending to the series!

.

One ring to rule them all! Who is your favorite villian/antagonist?

No spoilers but if you know, you know!!!

.

Creation is a beautiful thing. What is your favorite world/world-building?

I am completely in love with Adrienne Young’s vision of the Narrows and Bastian. As cutthroat as it is, I would LOVE to be able to spend the day in one (or both!) of these locations!

.

Who needs seven swans when all it takes is one good animal sidekick? Who’s your favorite animal sidekick?

Roane’s dog, Shadow, was literally the most loyal companion ever and the goodest boy!

Milk is so 18th century. Which book or series takes beverages/food to a whole new level?

Reading about all the amazing food coming out of Sea & Vine made my mouth water. And the chapter with the cannoli has got to be one of my favorite scenes ever!

.

Dancing is just one skill of a lady! Who is your favorite kickass female lead?

Even though the Blood and Ash series by JLA isn’t my favorite of hers, I thought Poppy was an amazingly written characters. I’ve never seen a female lead as stabby as hers, that is for sure, and her development from the first book to the third is astounding!

How about your favorite leading lad?

The Six of Crows Duology Boxed Set by Leigh Bardugo
Kaz Brekker has been my favorite male lead since I read the SoC duology YEARS ago! So mysterious…. so morally grey…. swoon!


WWhat is your favorite book or bookish thing with musical influence? It can be about music, reference music a lot, etc.

I don’t want to spoil anyone, so I am just going to say that there’s a moment when one of the characters is so moved by music that it gets me all teary eyed in ACOSF!

Drum roll please… What is your favorite read of this year?

This question is such a hard one because it has been a year of amazing reads, but KOTC kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end! I can’t wati for Kingdom of the Feared to released in Fall 2022 🙂

Thank you guys so much for tuning into this super cute Christmas book tag! Wishing all of you the merriest of Christmases, and I’ll see you back here next time!

<3,

Sarah

.

All the Recs, Bonus Content

Holiday Gifts Ideas for the Reader in Your Life

Hello, bookish friends! The holiday season is quickly approaching, and sometimes, we all need a little help figuring out what to give to the most important people in our lives. One of my favorite things about the holidays is being able to spoil the people I love with things (both purchased and handmade!) I know they will enjoy for years to come. As an avid reader, I can only imagine how difficult it can be for a non-reader to come up with meaningful gift ideas for the book lovers in their lives – I sometimes even struggle with this and I’m supposed to be the biggest book nerd on earth! To lend a helping hand to book lovers and non-readers alike, I have created this gift guide to assist you with all your bookish holiday shopping needs. Who knows? You may even find a little something you’d like to add to your own letter to Santa. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

1) A Bookish Bouquet

If you are looking for a thoughtful keepsake that your reader will love and cherish forever, a bouquet of flowers made from the pages of one of their favorite reads might just be the perfect gift. The arrangment shown above was made by Blooming Books and I am completely obsessed with them. I love Gloria, the small business owner, because she is always willing to work with clients to create the most perfect, custom bookish centerpieces/wreaths/ornaments/so much more and the quality of her work really will last a lifetime!

2) Personalized Book Embosser/Stamp

Okay, so here’s the deal: I don’t actually have one of these myself. I know, right? How could I possibly be an avid reader, reviewer, blogger AND bookstagrammer and not have one of these bad boys to claim my books with? The reason is that I am completely head over heels in love with so many of the options out there that I haven’t figured out which one I want to purchase yet, so trust me when I say it’s a WHEN, not an IF kind of situation! I love these because you have the ability to make them completely your own. You can choose different fonts, what the stamp actually says on it, and whether you prefer an ink stamp or an embosser that creates your design by pressing into a page. The images above are just a few of the many styles you can choose from, but really the options are limitless!

3) Reader’s Journals

Bibliophile Reader's Journal: (Gift for Book Lovers, Journal for Readers and Writers)
You can purchase this journal on Amazon or at your local Barnes and Noble. Each page includes: start and end of reading dates, star rating, book title, author, plot notes, character notes, favorite quotes, and other books to read by the author.

If you’re looking for a gift that was literally made to aid reviewers, bloggers, bookstagrammers, and more compile their thoughts on the books they read, look no further than reader’s journals! The one pictured above is actually the first one I’d ever come across and I immediately fell in love. The beauty of this little notebook and those like it is that as you read, you can jot down any important notes that you’d like to include in a review and/or those you will need to remember for the next book in a series. I would venture to say that this might just be a reader’s most trusty companion!

4) Framed Book Page Prints

The Great Gatsby Book Page Art  Dictionary Page Art  image 1
BarkersBookArt is one of many places that can create these beautiful customized prints

The perfect addition to any in-home library or office space occupied by a book lover would be a framed book page print. The beauty of these is that they are completely customizable, so if you know one of your bookish friend’s favorite book quote (and bonus: the page number the quote is on in their respective book!) you can give them a really classy/sophisticated wall hanging that shows them that you have indeed been paying attention to their bookish ramblings, haha! This gift is even more sweet in the sense that if you’re a crafter like me, you could even put one of these together yourself fairly economically. Handmade gifts do hit differently!

5) Bookish Pins + Display

I know this gift may seem a bit obvious since basically every reader I know has at least one bookish pin, but what’s funny is these beautiful pieces are acquired, book lovers rarely know what to do with them. Well… at least I don’t anyway, and I am boldly assuming there are more people like me out there! Some pins have such elaborate detailing while others may feature the reader in your life’s favorite quote, so why not purchase them a simple display like the one pictured for them to hang on a wall in their homes to enjoy? This practical gift solves the problem of readers not getting to enjoy the tiniest pieces bookish merchandise they have collected over the years, and they will likely be shocked you even thought of such a nifty gifty!

6) Ideal Bookshelf Print

Custom PRINT
Just one example of the many customizable prints available from Ideal Bookself

Do you have a reader in your life who just moved into a dorm room or new apartment that is too small to store all of their beloved books from their family home in? Gifting them an ideal shelf print is an excellent gift for folks like these, as they can hang a customized collage of their favorite books on their wall and think of them fondly until they can be reunited once they return home again for a visit (or until they can finally move somewhere with enough space to store their books!). Though this item is on the pricey side, the enjoyment and comfort it will bring your reader will be priceless!

7) My Life In Chapters Journal

Guided Journal : My Life in Chapters | The Playful - Keeptake
My Life in Chapters journals come in many different colors, which can be found on the Keeptake website

If your book lover is like me, they have probably told you a million times that while they love to read what other people write, they can’t imagine ever trying to write something themselves because they don’t feel as though they have a story to tell. Purchaisng them a My Life in Chapters journal might just be the push they need to start thinking about all the amazing things that happen to them in their life. Once a year for ten years, the reader will take the time to reflect on various experiences they had that year through a set of relatively short prompts. At the end of the ten years, I’m fairly confident that if your reader wanted to end up writing their own book, they will have plenty of real life material to inspire their own work of fiction or nonfiction! And don’t tell them, but finishing the journal is basically finishing a little book in and of itself!

8) Bookish Scratch-Off Poster

Some readers really enjoy setting various goals for themselves, such as setting a number of books they want to read in a year’s time on Goodreads. If you want to help them take their goal setting to a brand new level, consider gifting them a scratch-off poster! As they read various titles on the poster, they are provided with instant gratification as they scratch off the coating to reveal the book’s cover. They make these posters with books from all kinds of genres and for different age groups, too, so you are sure to find one that your book lover will love!

9) Literary-Inspired Cookbooks

If you find that your reader is in the kitchen whipping up something delicious when their nose isn’t shoved in a book, this next gift is perfect for them! Over the years, there have been many literary-inspired cookbooks written and published, so there is bound to be one out there for them to enjoy. With this gift, your book lover can read a recipe that references their favorite novel(s) while they simultaneously fix themselves something yummy to eat – it’s the best of both worlds!

10) A Bookish Care Package

This is an example of a box put together by The Librarian Box

I don’t know about you guys, but I absolutely ADORED putting together care packages for people, especially when they’re bookish! In addition to packing a box up with a book and bookish merchandise (bookmarks, mugs, etc.) you think your book lover will enjoy, you can also include body care items, snack/drink items, a gift card, and so much more! The beauty of this gift is 100 percent customizable and you can adjust the types and number of items you include to fit any budget.

I hope that you enjoyed taking a gander at this book lover’s dream gift guide! I had such a blast writing this post, as even though I love the warmer weather, the holiday season is my favorite time of the year. If you’re a reader, what do you hope to recieve (or gift to a fellow reader!) this year? Let me know in the comments and we’ll chat about all the bookish goodies!

Until next time, bookish babes!

Sarah ❤

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

Kingdom of the Wicked #1 (Hardcover) - Walmart.com

Pages: 372

Series: Kingdom of the Wicked #1

Publisher: JIMMY Patterson

Release Date: October 27, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy with Romantic Elements

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Two sisters.

One brutal murder.

A quest for vengeance that will unleash Hell itself…

And an intoxicating romance.

Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe – witches who live secretly among humans, avoiding notice and persecution. One night, Vittoria misses dinner service at the family’s renowned Sicilian restaurant. Emilia soon finds the body of her beloved twin…desecrated beyond belief. Devastated, Emilia sets out to find her sister’s killer and to seek vengeance at any cost-even if it means using dark magic that’s been long forbidden.

Then Emilia meets Wrath, one of the Wicked-princes of Hell she has been warned against in tales since she was a child. Wrath claims to be on Emilia’s side, tasked by his master with solving the series of women’s murders on the island. But when it comes to the Wicked, nothing is as it seems…”

What Did I Think?

I was on the hunt for a spooky book to read this fall, and boy oh boy did Kingdom of the Wicked deliver… in that regard, anyway! I went into reading this book knowing that there was a crap ton of talk about it, most of which were overwhelmingly positive reviews and people completely falling in love with it. I really really wanted to love everything about Kingdom of the Wicked, but I ended up feeling both overwhelmed and underwhelmed about it, which I was no expecting at all. If you’re in the mood for a review filled with unpopular opinions, keep on reading for the tea, y’all!

Let’s start with the plotline, pacing, overall concept, and worldbuilding, shall we? After reading the synopsis, I was completely OBSESSED with getting my hands on Kingdom of the Wicked. I don’t typically go for books that are about uncovering the mysteries surrounding a murder, but I am 100 percent on board for anything witch, magic, and Seven Deadly Sins related, so the general concept of the book totally did (and still does!) make me want to fangirl all over again! I enjoyed the Italian setting and the fact that a good portion of the book focused on religious sites and in the di Carlo’s family-owned restaurant, Sea & Vine. I am a total sucker for fantasy novels that take place in actual (or close to actual) locations, and it was so much fun to just sit back and absorb the culture/atmosphere of Italy for the first few chapters of the book. However, I personally felt like there was too much lead up to the action as a result of so many descriptions, which made the plot drag on for a long time – like for the first 180 pages, unfortunately. This is kind of where my being both overwhelmed and underwhelmed stems from, as the beginning was underwhelming but the end was SO GOOD it was overwhelming and made me want to keep reading the series.

Emilia di Carlo was one of those characters that I couldn’t help but love and hate at the same time. One of my favorite things about her character is the love she has for her family and her willingness to literally go to the ends of the earth to keep them out of harm’s way. I always felt warmth spark in my chest when reading the dialogue between her and her sister, mother, and grandmother, as I could feel their love for one another radiate right off the page. After Vittoria’s murder, I could completely understand Emilia’s bitterness as she battled through her grief, and I really appreciated that her emotion didn’t just get swept under the rug after a couple of chapter. This made Emilia’s character relatable and more authentic, even when her lack of ambition and sometimes, her inability to move forward became frustrating at times as I was reading. Though I can’t say that Emilia is my favorite female lead of all time, I’m looking forward to seeing how she harnesses her grief and, more generally, how her character is shaped by what she has been through in Kingdom of the Wicked. She is one of those characters that you just know will evolve so much as a series goes on, so I can’t wait to see her progression in the books to come.

You all know I’ve gotta yap about my new book boyfriend, Wrath, don’t you? I saw this shirt once that said “morally gray all the way” on it, and after reflecting on some of my most recent fictional BF picks, I realized that I have a major thing for princes of Hell…. who, obviously, are all morally gray to the max….. eeeepppp! Wrath was no exception to this trend, and might just take the cake for the most loveable prince of Hell I’ve ever read about. Maniscalco did an amazing job of juxtaposing who people perceive Wrath to be with moments where he appears more human than his mortal counterparts. Like who would have thought a demon could actually be GOOD? I’ll be honest with you all: my complete love and adoration for Wrath’s character is one of the main reason I plan on finish this series, as twisty as it sounds. Even though I don’t think we’ll see Wrath develop too much in the next two books, I’m interested in seeing how his interactions with Emilia and relationships he forms play out! I’m also super excited to see more of him in Kingdom of the Cursed, as I didn’t think he was around enough in Kingdom of the Wicked.

Kingdom of the Wicked is the perfect series to start if you’re looking for a dark fantasy to put you in the fall/Halloween spirit. The fantasical element of sorcery and spooky murder mystery elements taking place in a place that feels so real to readers was both chilling and compelling – the reader was left wanting to know more, whether it be about their favorite character or what will go down plotwise in the next book. Though there were occasional plot inconsistencies and the fact that the pacing felt off-kilter at first, I’m really looking forward to diving into Kingdom of the Cursed, especially after we were left with such a cliffhanger!!!!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you are in the mood to read a darkly spooky fantasy with all kinds of morally gray characters that straddles the young adult and new adult line in content (the tiniest sprinkle of a slow burn, enemies-to-lovers romance with a lot of violence and bloodshed, oh my!), Kingdom of the Wicked might be for you!

I would also highly recommend fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash series, Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series, and Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely series give Kingdom of the Wicked a read.

Fantasy, Young Adult

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Amazon.com: The Shadows Between Us (9781250189967): Levenseller, Tricia:  Books

Pages: 326

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?”

What Did I Think?

The social season of Bridgerton meets the wickedly fierce characters of Throne of Glass in Tricia Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us, and I am HERE for it!

My first Tricia Levenseller book was Daughter of the Pirate King, and while it was enjoyable, I could totally see how far the author’s writing has come since its publication. I was hooked on The Shadows Between Us after reading the very first chapter, and that feeling continued for a long time after I finished it. The overall concept of the book was wholly centered on enemies-to-lovers (err… kind of a twisty friends-to-lovers vibe too!), and while I usually don’t love that trope, it was perfectly suited in this context and very well executed. I quickly fell in love with the royal court atmosphere that was full of political intrigue, and I found the romantic elements to be perfectly woven into the fast-paced plotline. I don’t think there is one negative thing I can say about the overall concept and plot construction – it was dark, captivating, and purely MAGICAL!

I haven’t come across many books in which the protagonist is established as a “villain” from the very first page, but I LOVED Alessandra’s character. YA fantasy novels often give lead characters like Alessandra tragic backgrounds that explain where their evil side comes from, and it was so refreshing to have that not be the case in The Shadows Between Us. Alessandra was just 100 percent her authentically wicked self from the start, and while she did face some hardships in her life, she was never apologetic about the darker side of her personality. She’s never afraid of what other people with think when it comes to her ambition and intellect, and her fierce advocacy for women having the same opportunities as the men had me thinking “yass girl, you tell’em!” on numerous occasions. By book’s end, Alessandra was still so authentically her but had some major development when it comes to her feelings about romance, and while I normally would have liked to have seen a character grow leaps and bounds, seeing her remain true to herself was so much more powerful in this case. I seriously would give this book 5 stars just because Alessandra was that awesome, but there is plenty of more awesome to talk about yet to come!

Moving right along to our good ol’ friend, the Shadow King. I can honestly say that he really wasn’t anything I would consider overly special, but I still couldn’t help but love him. Like Alessandra, the Shadow King certainly had his dark side, but I appreciated the fact that he seemed so human, even with so much responsibility (and like five million literal shadows) on his shoulders. His humor was contagious, and I found myself smiling right along with him and rooting for him when times got tough. I think his calmer personality balanced out Alessandra’s wildness in the best of ways, and I was shipping them both from the moment they met at the ball!

The Shadows Between Us went above and beyond my expectations for a standalone fantasy novel. The plotline moved quickly, there were twists and turns galore, and the breadcrumbs of romance sprinkled in were honestly to die for! I seriously cannot rave enough about this book, and The Shadows Between Us will certainly go down as one of my favorite fantasy reads to date!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re on the hunt for a wickedly addictive fantasy standalone full of political intrigue amidst a court full of people who may not be as they seem, I highly recommend you give this book a read!

Fans of Sarah J. Maas, Jennifer L. Armentrout, Alexandra Christo, and Holly Black will also fall head over heels in love with this magnificent read by Tricia Levenseller.

Bonus Content, Book Tags

The Finally Fall Book Tag

Hello, bookish friends, and welcome back to the blog! Wednesday marked the first day of fall, and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the changing leaves and cool breeze than with the Finally Fall Book Tag! I first saw this tag over on Lauren’s Bookself, so thank you Lauren for the inspiration for today’s post. Let’s fall right into this thing, shall we? 😉

In fall, the air is crisp and clear: Name a book with a vivid setting!

Adrienne Young did such an amazing job describing all of the locations the characters traveled to in such vivid detail!

.

Nature is beautiful… but also dying: Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.

Amazon.com: The Rest of the Story: 9780062933621: Dessen, Sarah: Books
Though this book loosely discusses grief due to the MC not remembering her mother, I think that the premise of Bailey going to stay at the lake with family to learn more about her late mother totally counts for this one!

.

Fall is back to school season: Share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.

Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains:  Chambers, Cassie: 9781984818911: Amazon.com: Books
This book taught me so much about poverty in Appalachia and the tenacity and resourcefulness of the people who live in this region.

.

In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: Name a fictional family/household/friend group that you’d like to be a part of.

I can’t even tell you guys how much I would love to be an honorary member of the Brown sisters crew!

.

The colorful leaves are piling up on the ground: Show us a pile of fall-colored spines!

Love all the deep reds, oranges, browns, and golds of fall!

.

Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: Share a book wherein somebody is telling a story.

The Arabian Nights (Paperback) | Tattered Cover Book Store
Had to throw in a classic for this one – love a good frame story!!!

.

The nights are getting darker: Share a dark, creepy read.

The Cellar (paperback) By Natasha Preston : Target
Fun fact: I read this book when I was pretty young and thinking about it today still gives me the heebie jeebies!

.

The days are getting colder: Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

Much Ado About You - Kindle edition by Young, Samantha. Literature &  Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
I don’t know one person who can read this book without cracking at least a million smiles!

.

Fall returns every year: Name an old favorite that you’d like to return to soon.

You know it’s time for a re-read when you can’t remember why you loved a book or series so much! Hope to get back to these beauties before the end of the year.

.

Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: Share your favorite cozy reading accessories!

All I need is a mug for a yummy drink and a fuzzy blanket and I am set to read!

.

Thank you all so much for tuning into the Finally Fall Book Tag! I hope you all have a wonderfully cool weekend filled with all things pumpkin spice (if you’re into all that!) and that you can spend the next couple of days curled up under a fuzzy blanket with a good read!

<3,

Sarah

.

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

The Crown of Gilded Bones by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood And Ash Series): Armentrout, Jennifer L.:  9781952457258: Amazon.com: Books

Pages: 645

Series: Blood and Ash #3

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Release Date: April 20, 2021

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Paperback

*NOTE: If you have not read the first two books in the Blood and Ash series (FB&A and AKOFAF) please stop reading this review NOW! Spoilers for this book follow, but feel free to check out my non-spoiler reviews of FB&A and AKOFAF :)*

Goodreads Synopsis

She’s been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

And now she will become Queen…

What Did I Think?

Before I jump into my (likely unpopular!) opinions of The Crown of Gilded Bones, let’s recap where things left off in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. Poppy and Casteel had A LOT to work through since he basically kidnapped her to use as ransom against the Queen of Solis in From Blood and Ash. Understandably, there’s a ton of conversations in which Casteel, Kieran, and everyone else has to convince Poppy that the Atlantians aren’t the enemy and that they really are (mostly) peaceful people, but it takes awhile for Poppy to come around. There is also lots of chatter about the impending marriage of Casteel and Poppy, which clearly she was not down for since Casteel whisked her away from Masadonia. However, as the novel progresses and more evidence of the horrors of Solis are exposed, Poppy’s hatred of Casteel starts to dwindle and she realizes that even though his approach to wooing her wasn’t ideal, she really does love him. Eventually the two marry (right before a straight up battle goes down in Spessa’s End… YIKES!), and she and Casteel travel the rest of the way to Atlantia to meet up with Casteel’s parents. Long story short, everything goes to heck in a handbasket, as Poppy is attacked and it is revealed that she is the true queen of Atlantia by bloodright. Then BOOM! We had to wait for the next book on that wild cliffhanger.

As I mentioned in my reviews for the other two books in this series, I thoroughly enjoy the way Armentrout has crafted this universe. I won’t lie to you all: There are still times that it is so complex that my head spins a little and I forget things, but I think she and her editors knew this would happen, as there are often clarifications added into those points to jog the reader’s memory. However, in terms of plot, I felt like the storyline drug on for too long at some points and that not enough details were included in others. The plot still flowed nicely from point to point, but the inconsistent pacing was jarring sometimes as I was reading and messed with my ability to fully absorb what was happening at times.

Since From Blood and Ash, Poppy has come a long way in terms of character development. This was particularly evident in the leap from From Blood and Ash to A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, with less development occuring in The Crown of Gilded Bones. This totally makes sense in a way because Poppy has so much coping to do in the first two books that probably things that were happening around her didn’t shock her a ton in the third book except for some more traumatic experiences that went down (no spoilers, I swear!). I will say that I was pleased to see that she does become more comfortable in her own skin and isn’t afraid to speak up as much in TCOGB, and I was always so excited to see her put her foot down and basically command any room she was in. Through everything, I was so pleased to see that Poppy is still super kickbutt at fighting and being all stabby, and I hope this trait continues to be a part of who she is in the books to come because it is my absolute favorite thing about her. I can’t really talk about the ending because *spoilers*, but I will say that that was my absolute favorite Poppy moment to date and I hope the fire we see in her then will stick with her in the next book!

Oh, Casteel. Okay, so like I said, this review is going to have some unpopular opinions in it, and this could be one of the big ones for those of you who are fictionally married to this guy. I’ll start with the positives here: He’s super smokin’, has some really dope combat skills (just like Poppy those his methods of murder are somewhat unconventional), he does everything he can to protect those he loves, and when he takes a notion to joke around, he’s super witty and funny. However, I really had an issue with Casteel in The Crown of Gilded Bones. It has been established that Casteel loves the people of Atlantia, but that didn’t really shown through since he was more concerned about Poppy 99% of the time. Yes, he should care about her, but sometimes I felt like it was at the expense of others which just doesn’t line up with how devoted he was said to be to his people. Additionally, he was selfless to the point of no return. I love a good character that is willing to do anything for those they love, but some of his actions just seemed unnecessarily heroic to me. I know some of you want to punch me and that’s fine (unless you actually try to… then please refrain!), but something about Casteel just wasn’t it for me in this book. I have faith that the next book may change my mind about him, but alas it is too soon to tell!

A huge plus for me was getting to reacquaint myself with all of the amazing supporting characters in this series. Kieran has my freaking soul, and dare I say this… I like him so much more than I do Poppy and Casteel at this point. I’m not even sure why that is but I can’t help but smile every time his name popped up or he cracked some joke at the most inappropriate of times. Delano, Naill, Vonetta, and Emil just keep getting better and better, and it was so good to see more dialogue pop up with these guys in it in TCOGB. I’m super excited to see more of these guys in the next installment, and I hope they have even more opportunities to showcase their personalities then becuase I literally live for them!

And here I go, beign the bearer of bad news. Unfortunately, there were some additional aspects of this book that just didn’t jive for me. The first is that the partnership aspect of the romance is starting to fizzle for me a bit. For some reason, it just felt like Poppy wasn’t as invested in being a support system for Casteel when he is firmly invested in providing emotional support to her. This one-sidedness really got on my nerves, and I really hope this gets turned around in the next book because I really want to love this couple. Speaking of romance… Each book in this series has been someone scandalous in one way or another, but I felt like TCOGB took this to an extreme that, for me, disrupted the plot in not great ways. I totally understand that one of the big things about Poppy’s character is the fact that she has been forced to not have physical connections to other people, but it just seemed like certain types of moments were overused in this book.

As a whole, I really enjoyed The Crown of Gilded Bones. The worldbuilding was exceptional, the supporting characters were so much fun to get reacquainted with, and, per Jennifer’s style, the plot twists just kept on coming. While I can’t say this book didn’t have some (what I would consider) flaws, the overall reading experience was enjoyable, and I am eager to get my hands on the next installment, The War of Two Queens, in March of 2022. Thank goodness I have A Shadown in the Ember, a spin-off novel, releasing in just a few months to tide me over until next year!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: This book is definitely only for mature readers (the romance is STEAMY and there is also quite a bit of graphic violence/murder). I would not recommend this book to readers under the age of 18.*

If you enjoyed the first two books in the Blood and Ash series, you will definitely want to continue the series with The Crown of Gilded Bones!

Bonus Content, Let's Talk Books!

Let’s Talk Books: My Reading Comfort Zone

Hello, bookish friends! I hope you have all had a wonderful week thus far and have a restful weekend ahead of you. I always love to read posts by other bloggers that ramble about their favorite genres and the kinds of books they are most content with reading, so I thought I would share some of the same little tidbits with you all in a low-key, discussion-type post. Let’s get to it, shall we?

When I first started reading for fun back in 8th or 9th grade, I found that I would only read books that were ridiculously hyped up. Back then, this mostly consisted of (somewhat) cookie-cutter dystopian novels and a few fantasy series. However, I quickly learned that there were so many other great genres of fiction that I hadn’t yet discovered, and when I did, there was no turning back to my Hunger Games/Divergent days.

One genre of writing that I’ve been reading for years and don’t think I will ever tire of are young adult contemporary romance novels. There’s just something so calming about picking up one of these lighthearted, fluffy beauties that fills my heart with so much joy. When I was later into my high school years, I also started reading contemporaries that were a little bit darker and more mature. I quickly grew out of the “tough stuff” contemporaries that were uber dark, but have continued to read those that cover very current and complex topics.

Since starting college, I’ve realized that my reading comfort zone has certainly become much more vast than it once was. In addition to my love of contemporary romances, my go-to genres are fantasy (young adult, new adult, and adult), historical fiction, and even a few true new adult romances thrown in there. I’ve also found that I enjoy reading memoirs, occasionally. I have yet to branch out into the sci-fi and thriller/horror/suspense genres yet (and likely won’t just because I have never been a fan!), but almost anything else is fair game. I also think I’m starting to become a reader that is more inclined to branch out from my reading comfort zone these days, which is so exciting because you never know what hidden gems you may find by taking a chance on something out of your standard box!

If you’ve been following the blog for awhile now, you know that my love of young adult and new adult novels knows no bounds, and it is extremely unlikely this is going to change too drastically for a good long while. I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about how my reading tastes have changed (and all that have remained the same!).

What genre(s) of books fall within your reading comfort zone?

Until next week, bookish loves! May your weekend be filled with all the reading your hearts desire 😊

Bonus Content, Let's Talk Books!

Let’s Talk Books: OTPs – Can You Have More Than One???

Hello, bookish friends, and welcome back to the blog! I’ve been reading so many books lately that have some of the most shippable characters I have ever seen, and it got me thinking: Is it permissible for us readers to have more than one OTP? After doing a quick Dictionary.com search to define the parameters of an OTP, I was left feeling a little dead inside. One True Pairing (OTP), according to their definition is “a term that signifies a person’s favorite fictional romantic relationship.” Yes, you read that correctly – SINGULAR, both in definition and the meaning of the acronym itself. As in you can only have ONE.

I got a little amped up after pondering this for a lot longer than I probably should have, so I’ve decided to write an entire post explaining exactly why I completely DISAGREE with the singular OTP thought process. This post could get a little controversial (but in a respectful/kind way!), so feel free to hit me up in the comments with your thoughts on whether or not One True Pairing should only be limited to one per reader or naw. Cool? Dope! Let’s get it, let’s go!

OTPs kind of remind me of when you ask someone what their favorite color is – some people have more than one and therefore, have a tough time only answering this question with the name of a single color. Similarly, if someone were to ask me what my favorite couple from the young adult fantasy genre would be, I’d probably list out at least five couples from five different book series. I mean, HELLO! Virtually an impossible decision to make when there are so many fabulous pairings to choose from.

Speaking of genres: I find that because there are so many books out there in all kinds of genres, it would be super hard to limit OTP to just one couple out of all the books in the world. This is because the fictional romances you see popping up in different genres can be very different from one another. For example, a romantic connection may blossom between old friends in a contemporary novel, but in a fantasy novel, there may be some enemies-to-lovers action going on. If a reader were to love both equally as much, then it is absolutely preposterous to ask them to choose only one oh-so-deserving couple as their OTP.  

As you can clearly see from this very ramble-y yet therapeutic post, I am all for us readers being able to have an unlimited number of OTPs stashed away in our brains to enjoy for all of eternity. Writers want us to fall for their fictional romantic pairings (even when some make us hate them at first!), and therefore, asking us to only choose one out of a sea of irresistible choices would just be cruel!

….

Enough about my thoughts on OTPs – what do you guys think? Do you have one couple that you believe will remain your only ultimate ship, or are you like me and have LOTS of fictional couples that you couldn’t possibly choose between? Let’s chat about it in the comments!

Until next week, bookish peeps! I hope the rest of your week is filled with beautiful visions of all your favorite fictional couples 😊   

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon: 9781524718961 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Pages: 304

Publisher: Penguin (Delacorte Press)

Release Date: June 3, 2021

Genre(s): Contemporary Romnace

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“In this romantic page-turner from the author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star, Evie has the power to see other people’s romantic fates–what will happen when she finally sees her own?

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?”

What Did I Think?

Don’t be fooled by the vibrant cover that gives off all kinds of happy vibes. Instructions for Dancing will tear your heart into tiny little pieces, glue it back together, and repeat this cycle a million times over before its end!

I picked up Instructions for Dancing because I was super intrigued by the whole “romantic psychic” part of the story, as well as the fact that I’m kind of obsessed with ballroom dancing (even though I’ve only taken one lesson in my entire life!). Usually it takes me a few chapters to become hooked on a story, but within the first two pages, I was completely entranced by Yoon’s writing. The whole book was written in a pretty casual voice, but then there would be moments when I would be totally caught off guard when a beautifully poetic line would pop up that made me stop and think a little harder about what the story was trying to convey. Between the super interesting overall concept, stunning writing, and this book was an absolutely gem from the get-go!

I always love when the protagonist is a fellow book lover, so reading Instructions for Dancing from Evie’s perspective made this tale that much sweeter, even though she could also be considered an anti-book lover when we first meet her. Evie’s been through the wringer over the past year, and I think anyone who has ever been through what she has would totally understand why she is so against falling in love. Though her character continued to evolve as she figured out how much she wanted to risk herself, I appreciated the fact that her dry sense of humor and love that she has for her friends and family never left her, even when she didn’t realize it. Overall, I thought Evie’s character was very well developed and I found that I could relate to her more than I originally thought I’d be able to, which was a total plus!

I was absolutely obsessed with X, his whole family, and Fifi the dance instructor. They brought so much life and light to a story that has so much heartbreak thrown into it. They always kept is realer that real, and I think that was exactly what Evie needed in her life. Seeing some of these characters’ lives play out in Evie’s visions were some of my favorite moments of the entire book, even when we got glimpses well into the future that my heart was often not prepared for. You seriously can’t help falling in love with the whole dance crew, so don’t even try to resist it – it will be to no avail!

Instructions for Dancing was the book I never knew I needed to read. I thought it was going to be a standard, fluffy contemporary, but it was so much more than that. Yoon’s writing was absolutely captivating, and through it I think all readers will learn so much about what is most important in life.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

I’d highly recommend Instructions for Dancing for anyone looking for an unconventional contemporary read with both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments that you may not even see coming. If you’ve read any of Nicola Yoon’s previous books and thought those hit you in the feels, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Sarah Dessen, Mary H.K. Choi, and John Green.