Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Pages: 337

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Genre(s): Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.”

What Did I Think?

My reading Romanov could quite easily be equated to going on a blind date – I bought the book for the cover and my knowledge of any kind of Russian history is slim-pickens. But you know what? I think it was probably the best date I have every been on in my entire life by far, so SCORE!

For those of you who have followed me for a while now, it probably comes as no shock to you that going into this book, I knew absolutely nothing about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the execution of the real Romanov family in 1918. And to be honest, I’m so glad I was completely clueless, as my lack of knowledge allowed me to just completely immerse myself san background noise in an absolutely beautiful story that I don’t ever foresee myself forgetting.

The overall concept of Romanov was so intriguing to me – the more I read, the more I fell in love with this twisted tale of both true events and the magical elements Brandes incorporates to fill in some of the blanks the history books can’t seem to fill in. I greatly appreciated the fact that the horrific living conditions of the Romanov family weren’t overly romanticized, which allowed me to sympathize with their struggles but also admire the strong bond this family had with one another that much more. It comes as no surprise that Romanov was a rollercoaster of heartbreak and triumph, and it truly was so special to be able to experience all of these events and emotions right alongside the characters.

Speaking of characters… Let’s jump into my ramblings about our main protagonist, Anastasia. We meet Nastya when she is just sixteen years old, and if it hadn’t been written in the novel, I would have assumed that she was much older. I greatly admired her maturity and ability to face challenges head-on in a logical, well thought-out way. Regardless of the hardship thrown her way, she continued to carry herself with poise and never lost sight of the fact that even in the darkest of moments, hope for a better future can never be completely lost. I also appreciated the fact that she was never quick to jump to conclusions – she was almost always willing to listen to another perspective and try to understand their side of the story, which is something even full-blown adults have difficulty doing. On the flipside of her maturity, I equally loved the moments where her teenage shenanigans came out in full force. It really showed that she wasn’t going to let the Bolsheviks take everything she loved away from her and that deep down, she was still a kid who wanted to have some good old fashioned fun from time to time. Overall, I honestly couldn’t get enough of Nastya’s narration and watching her story play out, even when it broke my heart to see her struggle through some heartache along the way.  

One of the reasons Nastya is as mature and understanding as she is has to do with her upbringing and how much she cares for her parents and siblings. I love to see strong family dynamics in young adult novels, and I can admit wholeheartedly that the Romanov family unit has to be one of the best portrayals of this I have ever seen. Their family motto speaks for itself: “The bond of our hearts spans miles, memory, and time.” I greatly admired Nastya’s Papa and how even though the Bolsheviks mistreated and misjudged him, he was the first to throw compassion and understanding back at them rather than ugly retaliation, and his wife and children were quick to follow his lead. I could see so much of him in Alexei and Nastya, and I had so many “proud parent” moments as I watched them work through their trials with as much poise and dignity as their father would have.

The most complex character of the novel would have to be Zash, one of the Bolshevik soldiers charged with looking after the Romanov family during their exile. I’m a sucker for mysterious characters that have so much more depth than what they show on the surface, and Zash totally fits this mold. I won’t go into too much detail about his character (you’ll just have to read Romanov yourself for the full scoop!), but I will say that watching his walls come down as the story went on and seeing his perspective on his role when it came to the Romanov family continued to catch me off guard, but in the best of ways. I never knew what we were going to get from Zash, and that suspense factor is honestly what made his character so enjoyable.  

Though the overall concept and characters in the novel were intriguing right from the get-go, I don’t think Romanov would have been nearly as compelling had it not been for Brandes’ stunning writing style. Each line of the novel made me feel something, and I can’t think of one word that was just placed in the story as filler. I seriously couldn’t get enough, and I am so looking forward to diving into Brandes’ other books to get my fill of all her writing has to offer.

If I were to make a list of everything I would expect to see in an ideal historical fantasy novel, I have no doubt someone would hand me a copy of Romanov. I fell in love with the dedication these characters had to their causes, the bravery that shone through in the most dire of circumstances, and how through it all, they never completely lost hope in what could be for themselves and their country. The plot was engaging and kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, and I couldn’t help but want more by the time the tale came to a close. If you’re looking for a mysterious historical fantasy that’s quick to grab your attention and never let you go, look no further than Romanov by Nadine Brandes.   

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Romanov is perfect for readers who love standalone historical fantasy titles that are fast-paced with complex characters and strong familial relationships.

I would highly recommend Romanov to fans of Ryan Graudin’s writing style and eye for integrating fantastical vibes into her knowledge of history.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welsh

Pages: 506

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

Santorini felt like an island holding its breath. As if it were keeping in a secret…

Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

When she arrives in gorgeous Santorini, things are just as awkward as she’d imagined. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. Liv doesn’t want to get sucked back into her father’s world. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo, her father’s charismatic so-called protégé, to witness her struggle.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.”

What Did I Think?

Going into reading Love & Olives, I had previously read the other two books in the Love & Gelato series and thoroughly enjoyed them. Just like the first two, I thought Love & Olives was a super cute read, but there were a few things that made me like this read less than the other two.

Let’s jump into the overall concept of this book – a highlight for me! The tie-in to the Atlantis legend was so intriguing to me, and it was so fun watching Olive, Theo, and Nico hunt for this oh-so-mysterious underwater city. I cannot even imagine all the research that had to be done in order to make this part of the story so compelling, to huge props to Jenna Evans Welsh for all of her efforts on that front! As with the other two books in this series, I found the international travel aspect to be an absolute blast. I’ve never been to Greece, but because of this read, I have no choice but to add Santorini to my bucket list of places to visit! As a whole, I thought the overall concept of this book – girl travels to learn about why her father left through their shared love of Atlantis and come to term with who she is and where she wants to go in life – was portrayed clearly throughout the novel and, for the most part, kept me wanting to read more.

Olive/Liv/Kalamata is the main protagonist of the novel, and the primary reason why I don’t think I enjoyed Love & Olives as much as I was hoping to, unfortunately. At just 17 years old, Olive has gone through a lot and had to overcome some massive struggles. While I do sympathize and can relate to a lot of what Olive has to contend with, I was not always a huge fan of her “Debby Downer” attitude that remained consistent throughout most of the novel. In some scenarios, it made sense, but in others, it just made her seem very self-centered and immature. However, her character did have some redeeming qualities that made her not a complete bust for me. Her interest in art was so much fun to read about, and I lived for the moments where she would embrace this side of herself that she so clearly got from her dad. While I don’t think her character grew leaps and bounds, I thought she embodied the “coming-of-age” component of the novel very well, particularly when she was contemplating what to do about her boyfriend back home, where to go to college, and generally what’s important to her in life. As a whole, I don’t think I particularly enjoyed reading things from Olive’s perspective a lot of the time, but did find myself appreciating some of the smaller components of her character that I wish could have been highlighted more.

On to the reason why I read this book to the very end: Theo, the super adorable and endlessly optimistic Greek teen with no filter whatsoever! I became literally OBSESSED with Theo from the moment we meet him. His excited energy was absolutely contagious and radiated right of the page, and I couldn’t help but smile at all of his shenanigans! I don’t really understand filmmaking at all, but it was clear that Theo is meant to be a documentarian and is so passionate about creating quality content that is meaningful for the actors and viewers alike. He served as the ultimate foil to Olive’s nature, and it was so good to see him begin to rub off on her by the end of the book. Overall, I need a Theo in my life! Side note: I am still not #TeamKalameo because I just don’t think these two fit very well together. Though sometimes opposites do attract, I think this is a stretch.

Before putting a wrap on this review, I feel obligated to highlight some of the main issues I had with this read. This book was 500 pages and while I enjoyed many of the moving parts of the novel, I felt like there were so many that things got lost in the shuffle. Some rather large things (no spoilers!) were mentioned, but were never double-backed to and, in my opinion, they warranted further discussion.  I also found the wording in the first quarter of the novel to be very repetitive – descriptions were essentially given twice sometimes, and it was totally overkill and became distracting. While this is a work of fiction, I also had an issue with much of the plot being quite unrealistic. For example, Olive hasn’t seen or spoken to her father in like 9 years, and then all of the sudden, her mother puts her on a plane by herself to hang out with him for awhile unattended? I went with it, but there were so many things similar to this that made me not find this book super relatable or realistic.

Though I have some mixed feelings about Love & Olives, I have to give credit where it is due – THAT ENDING! The last 30ish pages were absolutely BEAUTIFUL and served as the most perfect conclusion to the book. I just wish the whole novel could have been like that! The plot was paced nicely, the overall concept was compelling, the setting was absolutely stunning and well-suited for the plot, and I had so much fun discovering Atlantis alongside the characters. Issues aside, Love & Olives was a solid read with qualities I believe many readers will find themselves enjoying.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

 If you read and enjoyed Jenna Evans Welsh’s Love & Gelato and Love & Luck, I highly recommend checking out the adventure she takes you on in Greece in Love & Olives.

I would also recommend this book to fans of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, any of Kasie West’s contemporary novels, and Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Pages: 432

Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

.“Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price…

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.”

What Did I Think?

I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses back when it first released in 2015, but decided to give it a re-read to prepare for newest book in the series releasing this year. I can honestly say that I am so so happy I decided to pick this book up again because I had totally forgotten how much I enjoyed it the first time!

The fact that this book is basically a very loose, fae-themed Beauty and the Beast story made my fairytale retelling-loving heart so happy! I quickly started falling for the stunning descriptions of Prythian and the different creatures roaming the mystical lands of the Spring Court that sharply contrast with the simplistic (and poverty-stricken) mortal realm of the novel. Maas quickly but thoroughly establishes the history between the fae and humans, which allows the reader to sympathize almost immediately with why the humans are so fearful of their faerie neighbors. Overall, the overall set-up and concept of this beauty was right up my alley!

Our main protagonist, Feyre, is so very human – both biologically and psychologically – and it’s one of my favorite things about her because it makes her experiences so relatable and understandable to the reader. The dedication she has to her family throughout the entire novel was so admirable, especially given the fact that they have undergone a lot of hardship that has created rifts in their bonds with one another. Through everything, Feyre continually cares for her family and ensures their safety, regardless of the way she’s been treated since her mother’s passing and the pain these efforts cause her. I really enjoyed the fact that while she is fiercely independent to the core, she begins to appreciate being cared for herself when she arrives in the Spring Court. Sometimes we all need some help, and seeing Feyre come around to that and to find joy in a life that could just be hers is something she wholeheartedly deserved. I also appreciated the moments when Feyre’s bravery shined through her fears – fears that fae wouldn’t have, but that any human in fae territory totally would have felt. Lord knows I would have been terrified to face half of the things Feyre did, but she took it all in stride to save herself and those she loves. I had a blast getting to know Feyre in this book, and I can’t wait to see how her character evolves in A Court of Mist and Fury.

Moving on to our Spring Court friends, Lucian and Tamlin. I am hands-down obsessed with Lucian. I found his bluntness extremely funny, even when his comments were not exactly the kindest by any stretch of the imagination. I also loved that he was always quick to admit when he’d made a mistake and try to make up for it however he could. Though he uses Tamlin as an excuse, I think he secretly has a soft spot for Feyre himself. Speaking of Tamlin… I also really enjoyed his character! While he not be my favorite male supporting lead of all time, his character certainly had a lot of depth. The moments when his true self managed to shine through the “beast” in him were some of my favorites to see, as well as those when he started to see Feyre as more than just a murderer/useless human. As a whole, Lucian and Tamlin were both very dynamic characters, and I’m excited to see how their viewpoints shift in the next book.

A Court of Thorns and Roses was just as fun to read this time as it was when I first picked it up. Maas’ world-building was beautifully done and had just enough detail for the reader to begin getting a feel for Prythian while leaving us wanting more of these mystical lands. All of the characters were nicely developed while leaving room for them to continue to grow as the series progresses, and the plotline was action-packed and well-paced. While this was a re-read, diving into A Court and Thorns and Roses once more felt like I was reading it for the first time. I am so excited to continue my re-read, and I have a sneaking suspicion that my love of these books will only grow as I keep flying through this series!        

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you love a good fae-filled fantasy novel that’s more on the mature side, A Court of Thorns and Roses may just be your next great read! I’d also recommend this book to readers who are suckers for loose fairytale retellings (like me!).

Fans of Holly Black, Jennifer L. Armentrout,  and Leigh Bardugo will also likely fall in love with the worldbuilding and characters in A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Historical Fiction, New Adult/Adult

Girl at War by Sara Nović

Pages: 320

Publisher: Random House

Release Date: May 12, 2015

Genre(s): Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.”

What Did I Think?

I’ll be the first to admit that Girl at War is not a book I would have gone to the bookstore and picked up to read for fun, and that honestly would have been such a shame because it truly was a  remarkable novel. I am so thankful that I got the opportunity to experience the brilliance of Girl at War for a good month as I crafted my final Senior Seminar research paper this past semester!

The overall concept and structure of the novel was very well organized and drew me in from the start. The novel is told in alternating story lines – Ana Jurić at ten years old, living in Croatia when then the Balkan Wars of the 1990s break out, and then Ana ten years later, attending college in the United States. In the early childhood chapters, the reader sees first-hand that the trauma she experiences is directly connected to the outbreak of the wars. I found these to be some of the most moving sections of the novel because though Nović was talking about so many tragic experiences, she did so with this very neutral, almost disconnected voice that likely mimicked the psychological “voices” of real people who underwent experiences similar to Ana’s. On the flipside, seeing the long-term effects of trauma and the way Ana manages to cope without finding closure as a child in her twenties allowed me to sympathize more with the struggles survivors (both veterans and civilians alike) of war have to contend with. Though I think most readers know that PTSD is certainly real and hits those with this condition hard, Nović uses heartbreakingly beautiful descriptions of Ana’s experiences to force the reader into a deeper understanding of how posttraumatic stress impacts the daily life of those who are working through their traumas. The moments Nović chose to switch perspectives were spot on, as they mirrored how a victim’s traumatic memories would typically resurface – something serves as a trigger, and memories spring to the forefront of their minds, sometimes in full detail and other times, just little breadcrumbs of remembrances come back.

Going into Girl at War, I didn’t know a single thing about the Balkan Wars, as embarrassing as it is to admit. In some ways, I’m glad I was so clueless. Not only could I just enjoy the novel for what it had to offer from a literary standpoint, but I also gained a lot of knowledge about the effects of these wars on citizens of Yugoslavia from a writer who uses her talent as a way to share the stories of her family and friends that lived through these conflicts. Nović’s writing style and structuring of the novel perfectly suited her subject, and I was hooked from the opening line. Girl at War is sure to take you on quite the educational adventure, with its hard-hitting subject matter, gripping descriptions of Ana’s traumatic childhood, and watching her emotional journey as she begins to heal from the ghosts that haunt her, but it’s totally worth the ride and more.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

The subject matter of Girl at War is so important that I highly recommend everyone give it a read!

I would also venture to say that lovers of historical fiction would find Girl at War particularly interesting.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Pages: 321

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Release Date: October 14, 2014

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you enjoy celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or New Year’s there’s something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love.

What Did I Think?

Before sharing my thoughts on my favorite (and least favorite!) stories in this holiday-themed anthology, I want to share my individual ratings for each of the twelve stories with you, which average out to the whole anthology being a 3.91-star rating: 

  • Midnight by Rainbow Rowell: 4/5 stars
  • The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link: 1/5 stars
  • Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena: 4/5 stars
  • Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han: 5/5 stars
  • It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins: 5/5 stars
  • Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan: 5/5 stars
  • Krampuslauf by Holly Black: 3/5 stars
  • What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman: 4/5 stars
  • Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire: 4/5 stars
  • Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White: 5/5 stars
  • Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter: 4/5 stars
  • The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: 3/5 stars

I’ll be candid with you guys since we’re all friends here: I typically don’t read holiday/season-themed books. But, as weird as 2020 has been, I felt like reading something like My True Love Gave to Me would put me in the holiday spirit, and boy was I right! I always love Christmas time (there’s just something so magical to me about the season!), and many of these stories really captured the whimsicality and beauty of the holiday and its other wintery co-holidays for me.

My favorites of the bunch (as you can see from my ratings!) are Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me, It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown, Your Temporary Santa, and Welcome to Christmas, CA. The connecting factor among these pieces that made me enjoy them so much was that even though each of the main characters had their own trials and tribulations to contend with, they still managed to obtain joy from Christmas-y festivities and the people they met along the way. A true Christmas blessing –  you are never truly alone, even when you feel as though it’s just you against the world. I also thoroughly enjoyed the quirky writing styles each of the authors used in the tellings of their holiday tales!

Unfortunately, there were also a few stories in the anthology that just didn’t speak to me: The Lady and the Fox, Krampuslauf, and The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer. As a whole, I just didn’t get the holiday vibes I was craving. I appreciated the mystical/fantastical natures of the stories each of these writers was trying to convey, but they really just didn’t speak to me. I’m not even sure I would have been on board with these if they had just been published separately, either, unfortunately. Overall, these just didn’t mesh right with me, for one reason or another!

As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed My True Love Gave to Me. Every time there was a joke or reference to a holiday tradition I partake in myself or have heard of, I couldn’t help but grin. The joy, laughter, and moments of reflection these stories brought me made My True Love Gave to Me the perfect book to sink into for my final read of December!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re a total sucker for the holidays like I am and are looking for a light read to put you in the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year’s spirit, My True Love Gave to Me would be an excellent read for you!

I’d also recommend this book to anyone who loves a writer who contributed to this anthology. I have desperately missed Jenny Han’s writing (among others!), and was so happy to read just a few pages by her as I anxiously await her next release!

Fantasy, Young Adult

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Pages: 344

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?”

What Did I Think?

For the past four months, I have been trying and epically failing to find a young adult novel that would keep my attention – until I found To Kill a Kingdom. I picked this beauty up because its overall concept isn’t something I traditionally find myself reading. The novel follows the story of Lira, a royal siren known as the Prince’s Bane, who gets turned into a human by her mother in an attempt to get rid of the humanity left in her so she can become the ruthless leader her people “need” her to be. Prince Elian, the prince/pirate/world-renowned siren killer, is her target. Though I’m not one for the enemies-to-lovers trope, I thought it worked very well here and fit the dynamic between Lira and Elian to a tea. This being said, though, the romance didn’t steal the show, which I found so refreshing! I also really enjoyed that the reader is taken into this fantastical world where there are various folktale-esque rumors spreading about traits only the royal lines of each kingdom possess (i.e. like Elian bleeds gold instead of red). This novel is written from dual perspectives, which I though was a really good call, as it helped me to see that while Lira and Elian may be different species, their lives are much more alike than either of them really wants to believe. As a whole, I found the overall concept of the novel both intriguing and compelling, just like a siren’s song to a sailor (ha… I knew you’d get the joke!).

If I had to pick one phrase to describe Lira, it would be “a force to be reckoned with.” At first, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about Lira’s iciness towards basically everyone, but quickly realized that she was simply a product of the environment in which she was living – the next pawn in the perpetual cycle of ruthless Sea Queens. I absolutely loved watching her perspective shift as she learned more about what it was like to be human and starts to see the flaws in her own upbringing. I feel like this is something we all experience as we live more of life, and to see this represented so well in Lira’s character was lovely. Other than her fiery temper and sass for days, the only constant in her character was her love for her cousin, Khalia. I think the relationship these two had with one another was what helped me to get over Lira’s lack of empathy at the beginning of the novel. Overall, I found Lira’s character very dynamic, the overall lessons from her journey as a human relatable, and, for the most part, generally likeable!

Onto our princely pirate, Elian. From the very first chapter told from his perspective, I knew I was going to love him. He’s got sass, he’s got class, and he’s always ready to kick some… err… you can fill in the blank for where I was going with that one. While his risk-taking often stressed me out to high heaven, his purpose behind brokering such extreme deals made my heart so happy. Though a prince, Elian is the first to think of the betterment of humanity as a whole rather than his own personal and/or princely interests. In addition to enjoying his very dark but super funny interactions with Lira, the relationship Elian has with his crew was so much fun to read about. Any time he was around them after attending to his royal duties, I could totally visualize Elian letting go of the deep breath he’d been holding in and just letting loose with his most loyal friends. While I am sure Elian is not hard on the eyes (I mean, come on. Even Lira was intrigued and she’s COLD sometimes!), I mostly enjoyed the fact that Elian, deep down, had a good heart and a willingness to risk everything for those he cares about.

Christo’s writing style is what made reading To Kill a Kingdom such a treat. I found myself reading along, completely absorbed in the plot, and then BAM! She would hit me with a line that cut deep and encourages the reader to stop and reflect on its meaning in our own lives. There were also moments that were so beautifully worded that I had no choice but to stop in my tracks and take it all in. Though I thought some lines were a little bit clunky to read through at times, that in no way overshadows how magnificently written the vast majority of novel is.

I could not have asked for a better book to help me move past my (very lengthy) reading slump. To Kill a Kingdom was full of both loveable and complex characters that were constantly keeping me on my toes. I thought the plotline flowed nicely, and though the world had to be established rather quickly, it was executed very well. The only major critique I can think of is that the ending felt very abrupt, given that the few chapters before novel’s end were very detailed – overly so, for my liking. While To Kill a Kingdom is a standalone novel, I could totally see it having spin-off stories in the future with an ending like that, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be reading them all should they surface!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you are a fan of YA novels that are ultimate examples of a well-constructed enemies-to-lovers trope, pirate-y adventures, and (on the outside) coldhearted characters who aren’t afraid to throw down to get what they want, To Kill a Kingdom is totally for you!

I would also wholeheartedly recommend this book to those of you who thoroughly enjoyed the overall theme and plotline of Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King duology. And, if you loved the wickedly loveable characters of Holly Black’s Folk of Air trilogy and Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers series, you’re sure to enjoy the characters Christo has created for To Kill a Kingdom.

New Adult/Adult, Paranormal

Haze by Rebecca Crunden

Pages: 265

Publisher: Independent

Release Date: August 6, 2018

Genre(s): Contemporary with Paranormal Elements

Format: PDF Copy from Author

*** I received a copy of Haze from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts/opinions in the review below are all my own and have not been influenced by this exchange in any way.***

Goodreads Synopsis

“When Eliza Owens gets a phone call in the middle of the night from a girl she’s never met, she doesn’t know what to think. The girl introduces herself as Paige, and says she used to date Erik Stern, Eliza’s fiancé. What’s more, she has something important to discuss.

The only problem? Paige has been dead for years.

Believing it to be a sick prank, Eliza tries to force it from her mind until Sam, Eliza’s older sister, tells her she met Paige only a few weeks before. And, according to Sam, Paige has nothing nice to say about Erik.

The fight which follows shatters the lives of everyone involved, and Erik disappears without a trace.

Five years later, Erik returns to town after his father’s death. Old wounds quickly resurface, and with them several burning questions. None the least of which is: Who spoke to Eliza and Sam if it wasn’t Paige? And why?” 

What Did I Think?

To describe this book in a few words …. dark, mysterious, and downright spooky!

The overall concept of Haze fascinated me from the get-go. The vibe is probably split 50/50 between contemporary and paranormal, which I found really intriguing, given that I haven’t encountered other books with such an even mix of both before. Though the narration isn’t truly alternating between our main protagonists, I found myself really enjoying learning about what Erik and Eliza were doing separately just as much as I liked the moments when the story was being told with them in the same location. I’m a total sucker for anything in books that breaks from the normal text, so seeing those journal entries pieced into Haze was so cool to see. Though the main plotline of the book is pretty intense and serious, I think the humor in the dialogue between characters kept me engaged and from getting too sad about the events that sparked our characters’ adventures. While Haze isn’t something I likely would have picked up on my own due to it being on the darker side of things, I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and exploring a novel with an overall concept so different from anything I’ve read before.

Though I’ve never experienced half of what Eliza, our main protagonist, has gone through in her life, I found myself so sympathetic to her cause, even when she turned to not-so-great habits to cope with these hardships. After the death of someone very close to her and another just up and leaving, it seemed perfectly reasonable for Eliza to crack and sink to her lowest point. I appreciated the realness we got to see from her character during this time even though it totally did break my heart to read about. However, Eliza’s fiery personality we see at the very beginning of the book is never fully smothered. I lived for the moments when she would put her foot down and stand her ground, even when I thought she was totally crazy for doing whatever it was she insisted on — it’s the effort and drive that counts, right? My favorite moments from Eliza were those where she used her inner strength to help pull others out from under the control of their own personal demons (though it was a little hypocritical in some instances). It didn’t happen often, but I couldn’t help but appreciate this compassionate yet insistent side to Eliza that I also think helped her move past her anger and bitterness for life. As a whole, I liked Eliza’s character okay, though I did find it difficult to connect with her in any real way outside of just being sympathetic to the struggles she has been going through since tragedy struck.

I found that I had a stronger connection with our second main protagonist, Erik. While I couldn’t connect with the tragedy he’s had to face and the people of Riverside’s general wariness of him due to his father’s past sins, I think his reserved yet sincere personality is similar to mine, making it easier for me to understand his motives (even if I didn’t always agree with how he approached things). I appreciated the fact that while Erik has made some pretty terrible choices in life, he does his absolute best to atone for his actions and make it up to the people he’s hurt. I also loved the fact that he didn’t hide what he was feeling or mince words — he’s always quick to tell Eliza how he feels about things, even though she did her best to avoid any emotional topics (to her own detriment, I think!). Overall, Erik’s charismatic nature was kind of hard to resist, and I couldn’t help but respect him all the more for how hard he tries to make up for time lost in Riverside with those he cares about.

I’ll be the first to admit that if there had been no Miles in this book, there’s a good chance it would have been way too dark for my psyche to handle. This dude brought all the humor, laughter, and a good time to all the situations he was put through and did so with a great attitude. I loved the banter he carries on with both Eliza and Erik, as well as how he wasn’t afraid to give them a piece of his mind when they needed it. I think everyone needs a friend like Miles in their life — funny, loyal, and ready to face whatever comes his people’s way right along side them!

While I very much enjoyed Haze, there were some things I wasn’t super keen on. One of the main issues I had dealt with the lack of development from the main characters. I thought there were so many times where a moment would help one of our protagonist start to change course but never did. While not all characters have to have a huge amount of development, it just seemed like all of them stayed relatively stagnant throughout the course of the novel — I just expected so much more from them, in the end. I also had some issues with pacing. I’m a huge fan of fast-paced plots, but this one almost moved TOO fast, leaving some plot holes and the storyline feeling rather incomplete in the end. I think slowing down the action and spending some additional time on transitions (i.e. making it clear when a character left one place to go to another, as one example) would have made the plot a little more clear and easier to follow. The only other component of Haze I just wasn’t sold on was the ending bit. No spoilers, but it just went too far into the paranormal. Did I enjoy it? Totally, but it didn’t work for me in terms of consistency with the rest of the book.

Haze is a quick read sure to satisfy any reader’s paranormal contemporary romance craving! It was spooky, funny, and a whole barrel of mystery I had a blast uncovering alongside our crew of characters. If you’re looking for a dark, ghostly read to get you in the mood for the fall season/Halloween, Haze would be the perfect choice!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

***NOTE: While nothing is necessarily explicit, there are certainly mature themes mentioned on more than one occasion (drug usage, some components of romance, and violence) that you should be aware of before giving Haze a read!***

If you are a fan of the New Adult/Adult paranormal/paranormal romance genres and don’t mind a substantially dark read, Haze is the perfect choice for you!

I’d also recommend Haze to fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Don’t Look Back and Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June

Pages: 269

Publisher: Blink

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Winner of the 2018 Young Adult Virginia Book of the Year

Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client). When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.”

What Did I Think?

While the overall concept of It Started with Goodbye appears to be like other fluffy and sweet contemporaries, this book was so much more than that! The other loose fairytale retellings I’ve read have been in the fantasy genre, and I loved that June was able to create such a fabulous retelling of “Cinderella” through a modern, contemporary lens set in today’s world. The emphasis on Tatum and the relationships she has with the other members of her blended family remained at the forefront, setting the tone for the wonderful coming-of-age story that this book transforms into.

For someone as young as our protagonist, Tatum, she sure does handle all the new changes in her life like a trooper. Unfortunately, Tate was the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when some shizzz went down and has basically been forced into seclusion by her father and overly-controlling stepmother… well, except when she is out on the town doing community service. I greatly appreciated the fact that while Tate wasn’t thrilled with how her summer unfolded, she managed to find some good in what was thrown her way and took the extra time she had to focus on things that she saw value in, like honing her graphic design skills. A part of me got really upset that it took Tate so long to stand up to her stepmother in a constructive way, but given her reserved, quirky personality and her parents’ refusal to listen to her previously, I began to understand why she was so hesitant to handle conflict head-on until she really hit her breaking point. Overall, I found Tatum’s character relatable and the development we see from her very realistic for the age and stage she’s in.

I can’t help but take a moment to comment of how intriguing Tatum’s family is. She is a part of a big blended family (something so many readers can relate to!) and the personalities of each member are vastly different from that of other members. I loved how Tatum’s abuela was so free-spirited and always willing to use logic to help sort out conflict within the family. I also appreciated the fact that she wasn’t afraid to step in on behalf of Tatum when her stepmother and father were way out of line. Tilly sure had a massive attitude on her, I found it interesting to see how she and Tatum got along as sisters, as their personalities were kind of born to clash. I think it would be a hoot to see this family spending time together all at one time — I’ll bring the popcorn!

While the vast majority of the story follows Tatum and her family, there is also a very charming and endearing virtual Prince Charming we totally need to discuss. While under house arrest, Tatum works on a website for her “virtual pen pal” of sorts and they strum up a solid friendship. I enjoyed the fact that like Tatum, Secret Pen Pal was kind of quirky and certainly not what one would consider a mainstream teen. I loved the fact that both Tatum and Mystery Man were able to help and support one another from a distance and seemed to be what the other needed just in the nick of time.

It Started with Goodbye was a very sweet, wholesome, and beautiful read that highlighted the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you and mending relationships that have never quite been whole. It has the perfect blend of humor and hardship, friendship and family, and misunderstanding and learning to understand. The characters were flawed but relatable, the family dynamic was complex but so intriguing, and June’s writing was just stunning to read and totally fit the fairytale whimsicality that frames Tatum’s story. The lessons presented in this book are timeless, and I truly believe that readers of all ages can take at least a tiny morsel of wisdom with them by the end of their reading of It Started with Goodbye.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re in the mood to read a contemporary with hilarious dialogue between characters, a strong emphasis on family, and a coming-of-age tale through and through, I highly suggest giving It Started with Goodbye a read!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Jennifer E. Smith, Miranda Kenneally, and Morgan Matson.

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Pages: 625

Series: Blood and Ash #1

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Release Date: March 30, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.”

What Did I Think?

Y’all, I am SHOOK. A little backstory for you all: JLA announced the title and cover of this book on THE DAY IT FREAKING RELEASED (yes, seriously — not even exaggerating!) AND it was her very first time releasing an adult high fantasy novel. As if that didn’t shock me enough, I am completely flabbergasted to say that now that I’ve read it, From Blood and Ash just might have made my top three favorite books of hers of all time!

Now that you understand why I am completely SHOOKETH, let’s discuss the overall concept of this total gem! From Blood and Ash had just about everything I could ever want in an adult high fantasy novel: multi-dimensional characters, stunning descriptions of the very complex world of Masadonia, all the political intrigue, and an action-packed plot that kept me on my toes from beginning to end. I thought the religious tie-ins were fascinating to read about, and I thoroughly enjoyed them in conjunction with the mythical creatures and themes that were also woven into the story. From Blood and Ash has so many moving parts, and I thought all of them worked together beautifully — like a well-oiled machine!

Poppy, our main protagonist, is a force to be reckoned with. Given the role of ensuring the Ascensions of the people of Masadonia, Poppy is forced to live her life in solitude, following the explicate orders of the Duke, Duchess, and priestesses. However, the reader learns quickly that Poppy often secretly breaks away from what is expected of her in order to try and maintain some control over her life. From the very first chapter, we see that she’s not too keen on following direct orders from the people who are supposed to “rule over her” and that she is more than capable of protecting herself when need be. Throughout the course of the book, we continue to see her question everything she previously thought was true, and the more she manages to discover, the more she begins to fight for what she feels is right and what she wants, rather than what those around her expect her to do for the “good of humanity.” I loved that the reader sees the fire in her from the first page and that we hardly ever see it go out, even as she struggles through some very tough moments. I found myself rooting for Poppy over the course of the entire book, and I am so excited to see how the events of this book have shaped her character in the next one!

As always, JLA gives us a totally swoon-worthy supporting lead, and this go-round, it’s Hawke Flynn: handsome, crazy clever, and one of the wittiest JLA characters of all time, if you ask me! Though he comes across as this very mysterious tough guy, he also has a softer side to him that had me saying “awhh!!!” in my head like a million times over. One of my favorite components of Hawke’s character is the fact that instead of trying to protect Poppy from every little thing as her royal guard, he understands her need to take control of her own life and fight for herself. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the whole “tough guy constantly save the damsel in distress” trope, so I was happy to see that Hawke helped when needed, but wasn’t the overbearing, brood-y male lead we often times see in similar novels. To say that Hawke never got on my nerves/made me really angry is a total lie (no spoilers, friend! Just give this book a read and you’ll totally get what I mean!), but a part of my soul still loves him to pieces. Hawke’s character has so many secret layers, and I cannot wait to see more of them unravel in Book #2!

One last comment before I cap this review off: THAT FRICK FRACKIN’ ENDING, YOU GUYS! PREPARE YOUR HEARTS AND SOULS BECAUSE THAT WAS CRAY!

From Blood and Ash was basically what you’d end up with if Throne of Glass and Twilight had a baby. I loved watching Poppy navigate through the uber-controlling world she lives in and how Hawke provided the breadcrumbs she needed to sort the facts from fiction she’s been told her entire life. The romance was legit FIRE, the characters had so many layers that I loved seeing unravel as the story went on, and the plotline was so fast-paced that it was legitimately breathtaking. I am so thankful that the second book, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, releases tomorrow because I seriously cannot wait to dive back into this world!

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’ve read Jennifer L. Armentrout’s other books (particularly her paranormal romances!), From Blood and Ash may just turn out to be your next great read!

I’d also whole-heartedly recommend From Blood and Ash to fans of Sarah J. Maas, and Stephanie Meyer.

Fantasy, Young Adult

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Amazon.com: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (The Cursebreaker Series ...

Pages: 484

Series: Cursebreakers #1

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: January 29, 2019

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

Fall in love, break the curse.

Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s pulled into a magical world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.”

What Did I Think?

A Curse So Dark and Lonely was my very first Brigid Kemmerer book, and I can honestly say that it totally lived up to all the hype surrounding its release,

The overall concept of A Curse So Dark and Lonely in some ways fits what I was expecting from a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but also completely broke away from any preconceived notions I had before giving it a read. The bones of the story remain the same as the tale: a curse that needs to be broken, a misunderstood beast, and a distraught (at first) damsel who has the power to break the curse and save the land. I loved that this retelling creates a modern twist to the tale by having the perfect blend of time spent in modern-day Washington, DC and that spent in Emberfall, the story’s magical land. I really enjoyed the fact that it was told from both Rhen and Harper’s perspectives in alternating chapters, as they both have such distinct voices and life experiences that are equally important to the story. As a whole, I found the overall concept to be intriguing from the very first page. Pair that with the beautiful writing and world-building, and I am SOLD.

Harper’s character was one of those I don’t foresee myself forgetting for a long time (if ever!). As we learn early on, she has a pretty rough home life. Her brother is trying to make ends meet by taking less than ideal jobs from a group of criminals in DC, and Harper spends her time watching over him and their terminally ill mother. I’ve never read a book where the protagonist has cerebral palsy, and I found reading about Harper’s struggles with this condition in her daily life really enlightening, as I wasn’t all that familiar with what someone with a less severe case of this condition goes through to accomplish everyday tasks. Though she doesn’t have a cream puff life, Harper is a SPIT FIRE, let me tell ya! She has sass, class, and is totally kick… err, you can fill in the blanks on that last one, but I absolutely loved all of the moments where we got to see Harper open a can of kick butt up on someone, as well as when the more compassionate side of her personality shined through. While Harper has a whole lotta layers, all of the facets that made up her characterization worked together beautifully. I can’t wait to see how her character has changed (and stayed the same, in some ways!) in Book #2.

Rhen, Rhen, Rhen. While the whole “tortured male lead that decides to just hide his problems from everyone” trope isn’t my favorite, I thought having his character fit this mold worked perfectly in this case due to A Curse So Dark and Lonely being a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Rhen is the prince of Emberfall, and for someone who was cursed at the age of 18 by the evil enchantress Lillith, he has had a rough go at life so far. In order to break the curse that has held him hostage for so long, he has to fall in love, but this is obviously easier said than done. What I liked about Rhen’s character the most was that even though Grey’s job is to protect him and Harper was brought to Emberfall to essentially serve as a contestant on The Bachelor, Rhen protects those he’s close to fiercely and doesn’t let his past mistakes dictate the decisions he makes in the present. I also loved the fact that while he is haunted by his past, Rhen cares deeply about the people he rules over (as the reader sees time and time again) even if his subjects don’t realize it. While I enjoyed Rhen’s character in this book, I’m looking forward to getting to know him in a more sincere way (if I had to pick one fault, it was that I couldn’t connect to his character in this book) and seeing how Harper’s presence changes him as the series goes on.

Last but certainly not least, let’s discuss Commander (aka Scary) Grey. If I had to pick a favorite male character from this book, it would 100 percent be Grey, hands down. Even though he’s around the same age as Rhen and Harper, he is definitely wise beyond his years. I cracked up every time he gave Rhen advice (good advice at that!) because he sounded like a legit prophet or something. He was the only guard to survive a brutal attack on Emberfall, and now serves as Prince Rhen’s personal guard (and, maybe just maybe is also his only true friend). I loved that even though Grey was super hardcore on the outside, he also had a softer side to him that was hard not to love. I think everyone needs a friend like Grey — smart, witty, and loyal to the core. After that ending, I am so excited (but also slightly afraid!) to see what’s up with Grey in the next book!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely was one of those books that I found myself unable to put down. The plot was perfectly paced and full of action, the journeys of the characters were both heartbreaking and compelling. Kemmerer’s writing style was the icing on this beautiful cake that made this story come straight off the page. I’m really looking forward to picking up the next book, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, in the very near future!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’ve read Brigid Kemmerer’s other works and enjoyed her beautifully whimsical writing style, you should totally check out A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

I’d also recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast-paced fantasy read with complex, witty, and clever characters that are sure to steal your heart. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a little dash of romance as well? If you’re into all of these things, go get you a copy of this book!

Fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Holly Black, and Sarah J. Maas will also likely enjoy A Curse So Dark and Lonely.