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, 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!

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Pages: 705

Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: May 2, 2017

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

***NOTE: If you have not read the first two books in the ACOTAR series, A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury, please stop reading this review! You will be spoiled and this series is so good that you totally don’t want that!***

Goodreads Synopsis

“FEYRE WILL BRING VENGEANCE.

She has left the Night Court – and her High Lord – and is playing a deadly game of deceit. In the Spring Court, Tamlin is making deals with the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees, and Feyre is determined to uncover his plans. But to do so she must weave a web of lies, and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As mighty armies grapple for power, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

BUT WHILE WAR RAGES, IT IS HER HEART THAT WILL FACE THE GREATEST BATTLE.

THE THRILLING THIRD BOOK IN #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING FANTASY SERIES FROM SARAH J. MAAS.”

What Did I Think?

My oh my. A Court of Wings and Ruin sure does take its readers on one wild ride. I HATE rollercoasters, but this is one that I never wanted to get off of!

Before we jump into my review of this book, let’s do a quick recap of what went down in A Court of Mist and Fury. The book kicks off with Feyre and Tamlin returning back to the Spring Court following their time under the mountain. Understandably, Feyre has undergone a lot of trauma and is having issues coping with it, while Tamlin basically ignores the fact that the person he supposedly loves is wasting away right before his eyes. Tamlin and Feyre’s wedding day finally arrives, and just as Feyre is about to sprint down the aisle AWAY from her hubby-to-be, Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court, saves the day by whisking Feyre away to the Night Court to hold up her end of the deal they brokered while Under the Mountain. Though skeptical at first, Feyre starts to enjoy the company of Rhys and his Inner Circle, and quickly learns that Tamlin hasn’t been very forthcoming with her about many *very important* things. The closer Feyre grows to her companions in the Night Court, the more she loathes returning to Tamlin and the Spring Court, especially after the High Lord of Spring traps her in his manor. Luckily, Mor arrives to rescue her and Feyre opts to reside in Velaris on a more permanent basis. Hybern has begun his hunt for the Cauldron, and the members of the Night Court are determined to not let him succeed in his mission. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned after good ol’ pain in the butt Tamlin sells Feyre, Rhys, and crew out, and Elain and Nesta are Made into High Fae with the Cauldron. And oh, yeah. Did I mention that Rhys and Feyre are MATES? Well, the mating bond sure does come in handy when Feyre pretends to want to return home to the Spring Court with Tamlin out of her “love” for him, when really she’s going to spy on him for Rhys and the Inner Circle as the newly appointed High Lady of the Night Court. I could talk about that ending FOREVER because it was so good, but instead, I think I’ll just move right on in to my review of A Court of Wings and Ruin!

I really enjoyed watching Feyre’s character evolve in the first two books in this series, and that trend definitely continues in A Court of Wings and Ruin. In ACOTAR and ACOMAF, Feyre spends a lot of time overcoming the traumas she has experienced in life, but this shifts a little bit in ACOWAR. I was captivated during the moments when Feyre would just be totally content with simply living, and seeing her actually enjoy her life at times was honestly so awesome because those moments had been very rare up until this point. I also loved that Feyre was just as fierce and strong-willed as she was in the first two books, and that she used that fire within her self to serve the people of Velaris (and beyond!) over and over again. It would have been so much simpler for her to just turn a blind eye to their needs, and I honestly found her generosity to be one of my favorite characteristics about her. Overall, I still love Feyre (even though I will admit that I did get a little annoyed with her at times as I was reading this book!) and I’m excited to see where else she’ll go in the next book.

Though I’m convinced he was already stealing my heart in the other two books, Rhysand has officially been deemed the love of my life by the end of A Court of Wings and Ruin. I loved that even though this book was really serious at times, Rhys maintained his swagger, playful attitude, and kick butt magical/Illyrian vibes I loved so much in the first two books. However, there was also a major shift in his character that I really appreciated – the fact that was willing to finally let himself feel true joy without being bogged down with haunting memories of his past. The mix of exposing his vulnerabilities and soaking in the happiness those around him bring him was beautifully balanced. As usual, I need more of the High Lord of the Night Court in my life. Thank the Cauldron there are more books in the series!

One of the most exciting parts of A Court of Wings and Ruin for me was all of the supporting characters getting more page time. Mor, Cassian, Az, and Amren literally give me LIFE, you guys! I found myself always slowing down my reading pace when everyone was together because I didn’t want to see them all go their separate ways again. Dare I say it, but I think this is one of those rare times when I like the supporting characters equally as much (if not more!) than the main protagonists! Nesta, Elain, and Lucian are also starting to grow on me after giving this book a read. I wasn’t sold on them to begin with, but as more of their personalities come through on the page, the more I am rooting for them to find their happy endings. Each and every one of these characters and their stories were so well developed, and I am so excited to see more of them as the series continues!

While it wasn’t my favorite book in the ACOTAR series so far, that honestly isn’t saying much because I was completely entranced from beginning to end by A Court of Wings and Ruin. The smoldering romance, endless action, witty humor, ALL the drama… ughh! It was all there and flowed so nicely together in a well laid out plotline. If I had to pick a highlight, it would have to be seeing how far each of the characters have come and seeing the supporting characters’ stories be filled in more substantially. Just like the other books in the series, A Court of Wings and Ruin will draw you in from the very first page, and you won’t ever want it to come to an end.

..

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*** This book contains some mature elements (romance and violence) that may not be suitable for younger readers. I would only recommend this to readers ages 17+***

If you’ve read the first two books in the ACOTAR series and fallen in love with (almost) everything about them like I have, I highly recommend continuing the series with A Court of Wings and Ruin!

New Adult/Adult, Romance

Much Ado About You by Samantha Young

Pages: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“At thirty-three-years old Evangeline Starling’s life in Chicago is missing that special something. And when she’s passed over for promotion at work, Evie realizes she needs to make a change. Some time away to regain perspective might be just the thing. In a burst of impulsivity, she plans a holiday in a quaint English village. The holiday package comes with a temporary position at Much Ado About Books, the bookstore located beneath her rental apartment. There’s no better dream vacation for the bookish Evie, a life-long Shakespeare lover.

Not only is Evie swept up in running the delightful store as soon as she arrives, she’s drawn into the lives, loves and drama of the friendly villagers. Including Roane Robson, the charismatic and sexy farmer who tempts Evie every day with his friendly flirtations. Evie is determined to keep him at bay because a holiday romance can only end in heartbreak, right? But Evie can’t deny their connection and longs to trust in her handsome farmer that their whirlwind romance could turn in to the forever kind of love.”

What Did I Think?

Much Ado About You was just the book I needed to read right when I did! I’m starting to get a little antsy with this quarantine business, but the little English adventure this book took me on was the perfect escape from the wildness of our reality!

The overall concept of this book was literally EVERYTHING. The English seaside setting was absolutely dreamy! Even though I have never been there, I felt like I had because of all the beautiful details Young incorporates through the novel. Much Ado also threw together two of my favorite things into a fun little package: adorable indie bookstores and Shakespeare! Honestly, I would have died and gone to heaven if I had the opportunity to run a bookstore like the one Evie had all to herself! While a good bit of the book was fluffy and cute, there were some very moving moments and important lessons to be learned, too, and I found those to be equally as compelling as the cutsie moments.

In all my years of reading, I have never found a character that I would consider my twin, but that totally changed when I met Evie Starling. Even though she is a little bit older than I am, I saw so much of myself in her character. Her love of animals, passion for reading, and inner strength that came out when she least expected it to completely resonated with me. I also really enjoyed her witty sense of humor and the wisdom she was always quick to share with those who needed to hear it most. As a whole, Evie is just one of those characters you can’t help but love, and I honestly wish there was a sequel to this book just so I could see where life takes her from here!

Moving on to the LOML, Roane Robson. Ughh… this dude had my heart the second I realized that his Great Dane was his BFF. I mean, come on. Nobody can resist a super adorable farmer with a love for all animals, can they? One of the things I loved most about Roane was that he was such a hard worker and didn’t take even the tiniest of things for granted. He was always so present and willing to stick his neck out for anyone who needed assistance, and his kindness toward those around him really went a long way for me. I also really liked the fact that he wasn’t protrayed as this perfectly maculine man, but rather as someone who was warm, inviting, and just had a good heart. It’s hard to pick a favorite character, but if I had to, I think it might just have to be Roane (err, okay, maybe Shadow the Great Dane comes first, but Roane is definitely a close second!).

I couldn’t possibly end this review without expressing my love for all of the fabulous supporting characters. Caro, Viola, and all of the pub-goers were so much fun to read about, and I loved their banter with one another. The inclusion of such a wide array of characters with different backgrounds and lifestyle added an extra layer of depth to this already jampacked story, and I would pay good money for this small English seaside tale to continue with a book (or 50) about each of these guys!

Much Ado About You is one of those contemporary reads that has the capability of melting even the coldest of hearts. The descriptions of its quaint and cozy seaside setting had me wishing I was there soaking it all in with Evie, Roane, and of course Shadow! The plot was nicely paced, and I really enjoyed that there was a good mix of humor and seriousness that permeated the story line at the most perfect of moments. If you’re looking for a romantic, Hallmark-esue tale sure to make you smile, Much Ado About You is the book for you!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’ve read almost every Shakespeare play in existence, dig cozy vibes and sickeningly sweet romance, and love a good English setting, Much Ado About You was MADE for you, my friends!

I would also recommend this book to Jenn Bennett, Mackenzie Lee, Rainbow Rowell, and Talia Hibbert.

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Pages: 637

Series: Blood and Ash #2

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Paperback

*NOTE: If you have not read From Blood and Ash, please stop reading this review NOW! Spoilers for this book follow, but feel free to check out my non-spoiler review of FB&A here to see if you’ll enjoy the series :)*

Goodreads Synopsis

“A Betrayal…

Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.

A Choice…

Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.

A Secret…

But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late.”

What Did I Think?

THIS. BOOK. KNOCKED. MY. SOCKS. OFF. ‘Nuff said. Kidding, kidding! You guys know me – I always have way too much to say about my favorite reads of all time, and I think the Blood and Ash series has officially made that very prestigious list!

Let’s kick this thing off with a little background on where A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire picks up. At the end of From Blood and Ash, Poppy learns that Hawke Flynn isn’t exactly who he says he is – she’s been kidnapped by the Dark One himself, also known as Casteel Da’Neer, the Prince of Atlantia. She also learns that he has every intention of using her as ransom by trading her in to the Queen and King of Solis so that Casteel’s brother can be released from his centuries-long captivity and torture by the Ascended. Poppy and Hawke certainly had a romantic connection with one another in From Blood and Ash, but there’s something about HARDCORE BETRAYAL that throws cold water on the romance blossoming between these two. Poppy feels very conflicted because just when she thought she managed to obtain freedom from her obligations as the Maiden and has escaped those that seek to harm her, she is once again a pawn in someone else’s game. Casteel is also in a very precarious position, as even though he had every intention of trading Poppy in to save his brother, it’s clear that he is struggling internally to decide if that’s really something he can do now that he and Poppy have become rather close. This confusion comes to a head when Casteel very unromantically proposes to Poppy at the very end of the novel, stunning Poppy (clearly) and all of us readers! Plans are made for the crew to travel to Atlantia for this very unexpected wedding (among other things), and that is where the reader is left to impatiently wait for A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, EEEPP!

The first thing I wanted to chat about is how the world-building has evolved so beautifully in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. Since it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of time and detail spent on explaining what’s happening in a fantastical world in a first book in a series, it was hard for me to get a complete picture of what each location actually looked like in From Blood and Ash. However, Jennifer, as always, gave us just what we needed in the first novel, as I was able to piece together those details with the new ones in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire so I could begin to visualize each and every location in vivid detail. The descriptions that she uses to illustrate what these places look like in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire are beautifully written, and being able to envision the places Casteel, Poppy and gang travel to was so much fun for me. I felt like I was on my own little adventure without having to even leave my couch!

I am completely overeager to talk about our absolutely stunning, murderous little creature, Poppy! I seriously do not even think it’s possible to have a character undergo more character development than this girl right here! By the end of FB&A, Poppy has transformed significantly, but that was just a drop in the bucket for how much she grows in this book. At the beginning of the novel, Poppy’s still reeling from Casteel’s betrayal, and while this leads to her making some imperfect decisions, I believe that this just made her character feel that much more human and relatable to the reader. I mean, come on! How the heck would you react if you went through half of what Poppy has? I think I would be more stabby than she is, and that is saying A LOT! Going off of this stabby note, one of the elements of Poppy’s character that remained constant was her need to fend for herself and her generally fiery personality. I love her sassiness and the fact that she is confident enough in herself now to snap back at those who are disrespecting and/or making false accusations about her. Both her saucy comebacks and kick-butt wielding of weaponry serve her well in this novel, that’s for sure! Moving past Poppy’s slightly violent personality, I think a lot of fictional characters tend to be a little blind to when the changes in themselves appear and what prompts them, but Poppy certainly does not fit this mold. I really enjoyed her reflections on how she began to take her life back into her own hands, and that she didn’t solely come to the conclusion that Casteel was the one who prompted all the changes in her (though he was definitely a catalyst for a good many). Her evolution began long before he even showed up, and her acknowledgement of this and giving herself credit for her own strength and fortitude was really nice to see. I also enjoyed the fact that she was willing to take a look at who she is and what she wants out of life. I found this so relatable because humans around Poppy’s age are trying to answer similar questions themselves as they journey into adulthood. As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Poppy’s character and watching her continue to learn more about herself in this book. Can’t wait to see how these plans shake out in the next book, especially given what she uncovers about herself at the very end of this one!

On to a character who I think managed to give me legit anxiety: Casteel Da’Neer, aka Hawke, aka The Dark One, aka Cas… yeah, he’s got way too many names, but all are equally as endearing, I suppose! This may be a little inflammatory (sorry, FB&A Casteel lovers!), but I wasn’t really sure I was Team Hawke even then, and then when that shizz went down happened right at the end, my distaste for his character was even more potent. However, you all will be happy to know that I am OFFICIALLY on the Cas train after reading this book! I am a total sucker for characters that are a little mysterious and dangerous, but have this softheartedness to them that’s just super hard to see. Until this book, I legitimately found Casteel SUPER heartless. I know, I know. The dude has been through stuff, but I think because he wasn’t opening up to anyone about it, it was hard for me to like him and just take his word for it when he wasn’t exactly forthcoming about a lot of things surrounding his past. However, this book showed me how very wrong I was about him, so thank you Jen for helping me see the light! As with the first book, I really enjoyed Casteel’s hilarious banter with those around him and seeing the various sides of his personality (both the ones I find so adorable and those that freak me out a little because he can get downright scary). The love that Casteel has for his fellow Atlantians really shined in this book (ughh… I can’t help but also bro-ship Cas and Kieran… they are so cute!), and it was so great to see that though his actions were questionable at best sometimes, he truly was doing what he was in an effort to protect those he cares about. Reading about Casteel’s past with the woman he previously loved and when he was in captivity in Solis seriously broke my heart, but I think those moments were what allowed me to truly understand how far Casteel’s character has come and why I should respect him, even if the reader wasn’t introduced to him until after he has managed to partly move on from these experiences. Overall, I found myself swooning amongst the rest of you Casteel-lovers in this book, and I literally cannot wait to read more of his witty (and often, wholly inappropriate but oh-so-humorous) commentary in the next installment!    

You really thought I was going to skip over discussing the ROMANCE in this book? Heckkkk no, y’all, though I am going to be super vague since I’m not about that spoiler life. First and foremost, THE ANGST. Normally, I don’t mind when there’s a little “I love you, I love you not” action going on, but there were moments where I literally wanted to throw my book across the room because I literally couldn’t take the back and forth anymore. However, I do think the romantic tension between Casteel and Poppy was completely necessary in this book because they had so much they needed to work through following all of the half-truths told and betrayal from the first book. All of the back and forth really did make certain moments that much more moving. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think I would be shipping these two nearly as hard if there hadn’t been as much angst and if I hadn’t had watched them both try so hard to move past their previous baggage to make it work between them. I wish I could say more, but to avoid spoiling anything for you all, just know that there were moment where I got legit teary-eyed because Poppy and Casteel are EVERYTHING!

Before closing out this review, I have to take a second to talk about all of the out-of-this-world-amazing supporting characters in this novel. With the exception of Kieran (who without a doubt is right up there with Poppy and Casteel in terms of LOML status), I am hard-pressed to pick one that I like more than the others. Just as Armentrout spends time developing our main leads, she doesn’t shirk her responsibility of creating equally as compelling side characters that make the dialogue and action within the story that much more enjoyable. Each and every one serves a purpose, and I had so much fun seeing each of their personalities shine. I am so looking forward to seeing more of these guys in the next book!

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire had everything I was expecting it to have and more. I loved each and every character, the movement of the plot was smooth as butter, the action and romance were on-point, and the descriptions of this fantastical world were beautiful to read and envision for myself. I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, and I am absolutely STOKED for The Crown of Gilded Bones to release in April of 2021… or before? PLEASE?!?!

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 thought you were totally in love with this series after reading From Blood and Ash, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet – pick up A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire immediately! It won’t disappoint 😊

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Pages: 626

Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

***NOTE: If you have not read the first book in the ACOTAR series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, please stop reading this review! You will be spoiled and this series is so good that you totally don’t want that!***

Goodreads Synopsis

“Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.”

What Did I Think?

.It’s rare that I get chills when I read a book the first time. It’s near impossible for the same work of literature to accomplishing this TWICE, but A Court of Mist and Fury was that book for me. I honestly think I could read it a million times and still be moved by its awesomeness!

Before jumping into the fun of this book, let’s recap the ending of the first book in the series, A Court of Thorns and Roses. Amarantha is FINALLY long gone (may she NOT rest in peace), and though Feyre ended up dead at her hands in the process of freeing Tamlin and breaking the curse, each of the High Lords of the various courts brought her back to life, but in High Fae form. Tamlin and Feyre return home at the very end of the book, but there seems to be a lot of tension between them because of Tamlin’s lack of a backbone and Feyre’s need for independence. And oh, yeah. Did I mention the very mysterious yet eerily handsome High Lord of the Night Court brokered a deal with Feyre, requiring her to stay with him at his home a week out of every month? Ahh… a very important detail to remember as we jump into my through on this beauty! The reader is left with the vibe that war is still on the horizon, and Feyre’s going to have to figure out where her loyalties lie to save those she cares about most.

Anndddd that brings me to my thoughts on A Court of Mist and Fury. While I was super impressed with the worldbuilding in ACOTAR, it was even better in this book! The first book stayed mostly to the human realm, Spring Court, and Under the Mountain, and it left me wanting to explore more of what Prythian. Boy did Maas deliver on that one! I had so much fun getting to take a closer look at more of the fae courts in this book, as well as seeing how each of them were adjusting to life post-Amarantha’s reign. With so much of this world left to sift through, I’m really looking forward to seeing how Maas’ worldbuilding continues to evolve. I hope it involves visiting more courts because I am here for it (though I think the Night Court may have stolen my heart forever!).

I honestly cannot express how much I loved watching Feyre’s character grow in this book. After her experiences Under the Mountain, it comes as no shock that she felt completely insecure in her own skin and wasn’t happy with who she was made to be. Not only that, but she now has to come to terms with the fact that she is now immortal while still having mortal thoughts and feelings. I absolutely loved the way Maas portrays Feyre’s ways of coping in this book following the aftermath of the trauma she experiences. There are moments of vulnerability that broke my heart, but other moments where Feyre’s independent nature comes to the forefront that kept me rooting for her to find her own sense of happiness in the world. In just 600 short pages, Feyre “Cursebreaker” Archeron grew leaps, bounds, and then some, and I can’t wait to see more of this fast-moving yet oh-so-believable character development in the next book in the series.

Moving right along to my Fae Baes: Rhysand and his entire Inner Circle. In short, I LOVED their characters with literally every ounce of my being. Maas crushed giving each of them their own unique backstories, and I loved learning how Cassian, Azriel, Mor, Amren, and Rhys all ended up knowing each other. Sometimes friends become your family, and though they’re hella dysfunctional at times, I loved the fact that these guys were always there for each other through thick and thin. I am HYPEEEE to see what this gang gets up to in the next book in the series because when the Rhys and the Inner Circle are in the house, it’s bound to be a good time!

In case you were wondering, yes, Tamlin and Lucian are still doing their thing in this book, but my love for Rhysand and his crew is just much stronger than what I have for the Spring Court buds. You guys will all just have to read the book and pick your team, but #sorrynotsorry for being super vague about what these two are getting up to in the Spring Court!  

A Court of Mist and Fury had everything I wanted to see in this second book and more, and my expectations were super high to begin with! “Second Book Slump” is a real thing, but there wasn’t one piece of this book that I wasn’t obsessed with. The characters continued to grow, but did so in a way that felt very real, and the plotline was paced so nicely with plot twists thrown in that caught me off guard time and time again. The second I set A Court of Mist and Fury down, I immediately began the next book because that ending was EVERYTHING! ACOMAF was so amazeballs that I don’t even know how Maas can make this third book any better, but I am so ready to find out what tricks she has up her sleeve next!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*** This book contains some mature elements (romance and violence) that may not be suitable for younger readers. I would only recommend this to readers ages 17+***

As obvious as this may be, I highly recommend you continue reading the ACOTAR series if you loved the first book as much as I did! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet until you’ve read ACOMAF, trust me!

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.

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.

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.